Heavy cost of keeping Pompey's home fit for football

Fratton Park requires an estimated £1m worth of work carried out over each of the next five summers to keep it up to scratch.

Wednesday, 29th March 2017, 9:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 9th May 2017, 8:17 pm
Fratton Park Picture: Joe Pepler

Pompey Supporters’ Trust board member Mike Saunders has revealed the full extent of maintaining the Blues’ 118-year-old home.

Under community ownership, more than £2m has been pumped into the ageing ground to ensure it remains fit to stage football.

Improvements include a sprinkler system, new floodlights, better stairwells and the refurbishment of toilets.

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Mike Saunders, right, with Pompey chief executive Mark Catlin

However, the necessity for more work is set to escalate considerably during the next few years as Pompey fight the ravages of time.

Saunders, a registered architect, has overseen a stadium sub-group to help plot the future of Fratton Park.

And he admits the battle to patch up the grand old lady never ceases.

He said: ‘It’s like painting the Forth Bridge, we will need to invest a lot of money just to get it back being safe, compliant and structurally sound.

Mike Saunders, right, with Pompey chief executive Mark Catlin

‘Fratton Park requires a lot of work. It is in pretty good nick. Cosmetically, it has been given a makeover and safety work has been carried out to get it where it needs to be for now.

‘But it is an ongoing programme – you are taking about £4-5m over four to five years.

‘We have fallen well behind because the ground wasn’t maintained for 20-30 years before the current regime arrived.

‘It’s like your house, if you don’t maintain it and it starts getting leaks then, over time, a little leak becomes a major problem.

‘That’s what has happened with some of the issues at Fratton Park. They have patched up what they are able and it has left other things rotting away in the background.

‘There have been some structural surveys carried out in the last year or so, basically flagging up everything is old and everything needs work.

‘It has been costed by various people and there are ballpark figures – you truly don’t know until you have busted out things and looked into what actual issues cost.

‘However, an ongoing programme of work probably requires spending around £1m a summer over five years to keep the ground ticking over. Things will deteriorate during that time as well.

‘We have a stadium which needs to be maintained, Fratton Park is just a mammoth task.

‘Don’t get me wrong, you can invest £3-4m in the next couple of years and the ground could get to the point where it could be sound for another 10, 20, 30 years or whatever. But it is ongoing.

‘In theory, the powers-that-be in building control could one day turn around and say “we’re going to say all structures which have timber in them are to be outlawed in five to 10 years”. That’s a concern.

‘It’s a bit like putting good money after bad, but has to be done.

‘Some of it is cosmetic, some of it is structural, some of it for safety reasons, it just goes on and on.’

An updated PA system has already been commissioned to be installed this summer.

Elsewhere at Fratton Park, there is new CCTV in place, ground work has been carried out to the rear and front of the Fratton End, commercial lounges have been refurbished, while artificial turf has been installed around the outside of the pitch.

Visitors to the historic Frogmore Road entrance will notice rotted windows have been tended to, while previously-unsafe guttering has been remedied.

However, such improvements are regarded as soft infrastructure and Fratton Park’s ills run much deeper.

Saunders is passionate about stadium architecture and a Fratton Park regular as a supporter.

With its mock Tudor facade and Archibald Leitch-designed South Stand, there remains a timeless charm about the ground.

But ongoing work to maintain its existence continues to be a costly outlay for any owner.

Saunders added: ‘Virtually everything other than the Fratton End doesn’t now comply with modern standards.

‘Most of those standards are guidance, not necessarily something you can close someone down on. From a safety point of view, we can still use these things at the moment.

‘But there could come a time when the safety people turn round and say “look, that’s no longer acceptable”.

‘The Fratton End is completely fine, it is relatively new, complies with all the standards and is easy to maintain. There are no issues with that stand at all.

‘From what I have heard, the South and North stands have corrosion issues which need to be addressed and maintained.

‘The staircase in the North upper is deemed as not acceptable, if somebody fell they could tumble all the way down.

‘The steps on the Milton End are well-known problems and that extends to the North lower as well. Basically, they all need to be re-profiled at some point to comply.

‘There are loads and loads of things, some to do with structure, some to do with steps, some to do with maintenance.

‘Let’s face it, the South Stand is coming up for 92 years old, while the North Stand is 82 years old – neither have been maintained properly for decades.

‘During the last few years there has been a new pitch, new floodlights, things people physically see.

‘However, what they don’t notice is every summer loads and loads of seats being ripped out, the concrete relaid, and seats put back in. It’s unglamorous stuff to keep ticking along.

‘In an ideal world you would knock things down and build them afresh, then you don’t have to keep putting good money after bad. But we’re not necessarily in that position yet.’