Well, it should be exciting; for some fans, it could well turn out to be the most enjoyable part of the entire campaign!
Ahead of Thursday’s 2022/23 fixture release, here’s six burning questions all fans should be eager to have answered
1) Who are we playing on the opening day?
It’s always good to be home. The hallowed turf never looks greener, never looks more lusher, than at 2.59pm on the day the curtain is metaphorically lifted on a new footie campaign. Hope springs more eternal than ever, even if that is what eventually kills you months down the line. No refereeing decisions have gone against your team, no passes have been misplaced. The sun will be shining. It has to, that’s the law.
For Pompey fans, though, chances are the first game will be away following a Blues request not to have a Fratton Park opener. If that’s the case, make it a cracker - a Derby County (if still in existence, high profile fixture) or a Forest Green Rovers (new ground). Need to lose some weight? Try running up the hill – very topical given Kate Bush’s mid-80s song has just reached top spot in our music charts – to Forest Green’s New Lawn stadium on a hot summer’s day.
2) Who are we playing over the festive period?
Same as the opening day, I’d always prefer to be at home on Boxing Day. Just easier after the previous day’s orgy of food and drink. If away, please somewhere relatively local. Not, God forbid, Morecambe. Or Fleetwood.
Still, if Pompey get Lincoln away on December 26 excuse me for chuckling. Back in 1991/92, my club (Exeter City) were given a Boxing Day trip to Wigan Athletic, a 486-mile round trip. Of course I went. And of course we lost (4-1). Still better than cold turkey sandwiches at home, and it gave me a little anecdote for a newspaper article three decades later.
3) When are our games against our local rivals?
As an Exeter fan, we’ve got our friends from Plymouth back on our fixture list. These were regular Boxing Day fixtures in the late 70s, early 80s. Doubting that now, though.
Without wishing to troll Blues fans, obviously there are no derby games on Pompey’s fixture list. Oxford United - a 160-plus mile round trip - is the nearest club. And the ‘dockyard derby’ against Plymouth is not a derby.
The 2022/23 fixture list will be another reminder of how football fortunes can change, seemingly in the blink of an eye. Back in 2009/10 - not that long ago, not really - Pompey were Premier League with Southampton and Brighton in the third division. Bournemouth were in League Two. Compare that to now.
From a Pompey perspective, that’s not great, but all fanbases have their own frustrations. Look at Derby. If they survive, they will be playing Burton Albion next season. That is no different to Pompey playing a league game against Havant & Waterlooville (who in 1999 trounced Burton 6-0 in a Southern League fixture at Westleigh Park).
I grew up in the 80s watching Exeter play Bournemouth, Brentford and Reading. I didn’t think any of those clubs were much different to mine, same sort of crowd figures, same lack of success. Yet all three have since milked Murdoch’s Premier League cash cow. Two are there now, while Exeter remain where we have always remained - in the lower divisions. Life as a football fan IS frustrating, whoever we follow, however big - or small - their history, tradition and list of trophy wins are.
I’m delighted, as a Portsmouth-based Grecian, to be visiting Fratton Park again in 2022/23. No doubt more delighted than Pompey fans are to be visiting the East Devon theatre of dreams (but at least there’s a roof on the away end now). As an away fan, I love Fratton Park - the history, the location, the Archibald Leitch stand, the noise (and, on our last two league visits, the three points … I’ll get my coat).
4) When are the fiendish long midweek away treks?
For those fans whose devotion is forever at fever pitch - whatever their club’s league position - midweek away games can present the toughest obstacles to an ‘ever present’ campaign. Hearts will sink amongst the southern-based League One diehards - you, dear Pompey fan, and me both - if Morecambe, Fleetwood, Accrington and Lincoln are down as ‘Tuesday away’.
During my (much younger) fever pitch days following Exeter, I took a week off in order to visit Crewe on a Tuesday (420-mile round trip) and Halifax (550 mile round trip) three days later (Halifax away on a Friday, cheers!). A total of 970 miles in four days to watch fourth tier football. After losing at Crewe, at least we won at The Shay, though the trip back was one to forget as one fan - who couldn’t take their drink - threw up and the coach stank of vomit all the way back to Devon. And it’s a long way back from Halifax …
5) When are the chances to tick off some new grounds?
For Pompey fans, as mentioned, Forest Green’s New Lawn is a new ground to be crossed off the list. It features - unique in the EFL - an open-sided terrace. Needless to say, when I visited with Exeter five years ago, it lashed with rain. The ground is situated in Nailsworth, a town whose population could fit inside Fratton Park almost three times over. It’s a must-do trip. Lovely pubs, very bucolic, like Pompey playing in Hambledon.
There’s also a trip to Port Vale for the first time since April Fool’s Day 2000. Not so hilly. And certainly not bucolic.
For me, I’ll be scanning down Exeter’s fixture list to see the words ‘Barnsley away’. I don’t know if you’ve ever met anyone genuinely looking forward to visiting the place, but put me in that group. I’ve never been, not totally surprising as we haven’t played at Oakwell since 1980/81. In my mind’s eye I picture pubs with friendly locals and beer at 80p a pint. Will home fans look like the ones who featured in the (excellent) BBC drama Sherwood currently on our screens? And as for finding a pub that serves boxed ciders …
There’s also Ipswich away, where Exeter haven’t played a league game since 1956. And Derby, where Exeter have never played a league fixture at all. I can’t wait, though I appreciate the home fans might not be so enthusiastic about the same fixtures.
6) Where will the promotion party (or escape from relegation party) be held?
The last three or four fixtures of the season are always eagerly scanned to see where thousands of your club’s fans will hopefully be celebrating. And possibly the opposition’s as well.
If Pompey are to win promotion in their last away game, ideally it would be at a ground capable of holding a large away support (similar to Notts County five years ago). MK Dons, or Charlton, appear the best bet if you want to avoid a long trek north (and, fellow southerners, don’t we all!)
Winning promotion at an away ground only holding a couple of thousand of visitors at best - Exeter! - is not one to savour. Though no doubt if Pompey are going up next April, escaping the torment of life in the lower divisions and returning ‘to where we belong’, I guess most of the Fratton faithful couldn’t care less where the party is held.
Apart from probably Morecambe. And on a Tuesday night after the mid-season trip was postponed due to bad weather ...