What is it about football?
What is it about this sport, this game, that makes people want to wake up before dawn to travel the length of the country and watch 22 men kick a ball for 90 minutes?
This was the first question that came to my mind when my alarm went off at 12.45am and then again at 12.50am and 12.55am.
As I dragged myself downstairs for a coffee, passing my dozing housemates – their Fridays not yet over as my Saturday was beginning – I found myself thinking yet again: What is it about football?
Is it simply just to have something to do on a Saturday afternoon, a sense of duty, or something more ineffable?
Well in the many, many hours to come I was about to find out.
The journey began just before 2am with me standing on the corner by the Electric Arms in Fratton waiting for the Portsmouth Supporters Club and their bus to arrive.
As I wait for their arrival there is an assortment of nighttime characters that pass me by.
There are the supermarket workers heading off to begin their shift, the stragglers from a night out heading home, and a man who asked if I knew where to get a gram of weed.
A few moments later my travel companions arrive.
There’s Paul ‘Banksy’ Banks, who has organised away day trips for 34 years, Cheesy, Stumpy and more; the brave - or foolhardy depending on your perspective - souls daring to trek to Sunderland despite Sky moving the game forward for TV coverage.
There is much grumbling about that during the journey, including from Banksy who says that Sky have killed the game’.
With the first lot of passengers on-board, the coach doors closed and we set off.
While it may have taken Ulysses 10 years to make it back to Ithaca, it felt in those early moments that my own odyssey seemed even further than that.
In truth I had been dreading the trip, travelling makes me anxious at the best of times, worrying about making it on time, let alone to be stuck in a coach for seemingly endless hours.
But the drowsiness of the early hours helped to calm my anxious mind as did the comfy seats.
The first few hours passed in a haze of sleep deprivation, but it didn’t do much to help answer my question.
It can’t be the lure of sitting in nice seats that would make these people set off on a 600-mile-plus round trip.
However as the sun began to rise and dawn turned into morning the answers started to become clearer.
We stopped at a pub for breakfast and as the once-sleepy group woke up I started to get the sense that this was one big family.
Everyone knew everyone’s name, they all happily greeted and bantered with each other.
It was one of the supporters’ birthday, so a cake appeared and songs were sung.
Friends caught up and laughed over early morning pints.
Speaking to Meg Davies and her partner Paul Argyle – spelt like the football team he assured me – it came ever more clearer.
Chatting over sausage sandwiches, Meg said: ‘It is such a long day. It tends to be the same group of people who come to the away days, so we get to see familiar faces.
‘It is like a family.’
Paul added: ‘We used to go with Lucketts, the official Pompey ones, but we had to get to Fratton Park and then back again after the game. But Banksy picks us up wherever so it’s a no-brainer for us.’
Then Meg said something that really piqued my interest.
‘The football is an added bonus.’
There’s that cliched adage it’s about the journey not destination.
So for these fans while they clearly want Pompey to win, but the reason they come back for these away days is the journey. Seeing familiar faces, finding new pubs, and visiting places they never would.
So you could say that thing about football that makes people willing to wake up at the crack of dawn and travel hundreds of miles is that it’s more than just football.