The Â£1m project breathing new life into Pompey's home
As ever, looks can be deceiving. Certainly Fratton Park may this season bypass even the most intense scrutiny.
A summer programme of work costed at approaching £1m has been implemented at the 119-year-old ground as a matter of urgency.
The final act of community ownership before the anticipated arrival of the Tornante regime, it signals another crucial contribution towards the legacy handed over.
The necessity for deep structural strengthening ensures that, to the eye, little has been resolved.
Yet sections of steel stanchions which for so long have manfully held up Fratton’s stands have been overhauled among the execution of extensive health and safety operations.
Today the under-repair South stand remains out of bounds to those supporters descending upon Frogmore Road for the friendly with Bournemouth.
Instead only the Fratton and Milton ends will be employed as Pompey negotiate the continuing work at their home ahead of the League One kick-off on August 5.
Meanwhile, the escrow account which previously housed the Tesco money now stands empty as a result of this summer’s essential programme.
Regardless, the ‘big ticket’ repairs are underway, although Mark Catlin admits they may not be noticed by many of those visiting Fratton Park beyond this weekend.
Pompey’s chief executive said: ‘By the time we have finished, and that includes some low priority work ongoing to Christmas, the club will have spent around £1m.
‘Even regular spectators will struggle to see where most of the money has gone, but it is deep into the guts of Fratton Park.
‘It has improved the basic infrastructure, met health and safety compliance and provided facilities for our less mobile supporters.
‘Over the past three or four seasons, the club have invested around £1.5-2m on what I would call soft infrastructure projects such as a new PA system, CCTV, toilet refurbishment and lounge re-decoration.
‘Unfortunately, while these works look great, they are not the real “big ticket” items. Everyone has seen earlier reports of potential costs of around £5m and that is the broad number we are working to.
‘However, having seen deep into the South stand this summer, I would now expect a few surprises to come out of the woodwork on further projects. It’s like doing up an old car or property, it’s not an exact science.
‘By the end of these current works, all the remaining escrow money will have been spent – and some more.
‘The additional money has come from the club’s contingency fund, which itself has been helped by increased cash flow from the promotion to League One.
‘However, the further programme of works must be completed and therefore that funding requirement is key to our sustainable business strategy.’
Pompey’s capacity currently registers at 18,931.
Compare that to attendances peaking around the 20,500 mark during the Premier League years and the impact of Fratton Park’s creaking limbs is obvious.
In the interests of avoiding further reduction, the club are co-operating with Portsmouth City Council’s building control and licensing officers.
Work required to maintain even the current capacity is considerable.
Catlin added: ‘One of the trickier elements was the replacement of sections of the main steel stanchions holding up the stands.
‘The original steel is softer than modern steel and Portsmouth can be a harsh environment with its wind, rain, cold and plenty of salt. Over time this combination lowered the steel’s integrity in places at just below ground level.
‘Similarly, if you have a look along the North stand lower concourse, you’ll see new supports have been put in place to help the main lattice beam running the length of the stand.
‘The additional steel structure not only had to be carefully welded piece-by-piece into the old structure, but required new foundations drilled through the concourse into the subsoil below.
‘New stairs have been constructed in the North stand and both stair towers at each end of the South Stand have been replaced.
‘A lot of additional fire safety and compliance work has been undertaken throughout the North and South stands, while the stairs on the terraces have been repainted to highlight the routes.
‘Barriers throughout the stadium have been tested, with new or strengthened ones installed in various areas. Meanwhile, in the South stand, ceilings, wiring and electrical fittings have been stripped out and replaced or upgraded to ensure more robust fire separation.
‘Finally, there has been a new extension to the North stand lower food kiosk, which we hope will provide a better and quicker service.’
Prospective owner Michael Eisner has already announced his intent to maintain the funding of Fratton Park’s costly repair programme.
Yet Pompey fans are hoping for a vision beyond the short-term.
Catlin said: ‘It’s difficult to maintain spectator capacity levels in older stadia. As compliance requirements increase annually, more and more has to be spent on older buildings just to stand still.
‘It has patently been a problem for the club over the past few years and some issues had been allowed to build up. However, we are working with the council on a multi-phase remedial works programme.
‘We know where we need to be in the next couple of years. The funding is now being sourced and the strategy put into place.’