Gone – but Pompey fan legacy will be forever applauded

Pompey fans celebrate community ownership on the opening day of the 2013-14 season. Picture: Joe Pepler
Pompey fans celebrate community ownership on the opening day of the 2013-14 season. Picture: Joe Pepler
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The sky had been prevented from falling in, yet how the rain raced groundward.

Around 20 volunteers toiled beneath violent weather deep into that Friday evening, their resolve unflinching.

Battle-hardened from previous conflicts, the arrival of torrential downpours and swirling winds represented nothing more arduous than a minor irritant.

After all, those supporters had months earlier peered into the abyss and survived.

It took three hours to correctly position those coloured cards in the Fratton end, following Tom Dearie’s spreadsheet to precision.

Several volunteers returned next morning to retrieve those cards flung on to the pitch overnight by mischievous gusts, returning them to their allotted position ahead of the League Two opener against Oxford United.

And so sunshine crowbarred its way through the clouds and Fratton Park shouted ‘Ours’.

Fate would decree that four years to the day since club photographer Joe Pepler captured the iconic image, the fans relinquished their hard-fought ownership.

Michael Eisner’s arrival had received the blessing of Pompey shareholders almost 10 weeks earlier, initiating the due diligence process.

On Thursday afternoon, the £5.67m deal was completed as the Tornante investment group settled around the boardroom table and kicked off their shoes. Their arrival had been approved by 80.5 per cent of Pompey Supporters’ Trust shareholders, in addition to 75 per cent of the club’s 16 presidents. Clearly emphatic.

Yet almost four years and four months since defeating Portpin in Court 31 of the Rolls Building to prevent liquidation, there remained an underlying sense of loss among the Fratton faithful.

This day had been anticipated, certainly since March when The News broke the story of Eisner’s interest.

Nonetheless, irrespective of the new owners’ excellent credentials, there was a finality to a brief period in Pompey history which will be regarded among supporters with immense pride.

In those dark days, when the bulldozers rumbled towards Fratton Park and the wrecking ball swung into action, supporters stood hand-in-hand in their path, without a flinch, spared of doubts.

That camaraderie forged friendships and created companionship as fans united in the cause of keeping their football club in existence against the common enemy.

There was a spirit for a scrap, the heart for a brawl and the motivation for a confrontation – the future of their beloved club had been threatened.

A shrug of the shoulders or gazing at rainbows pining for unicorn-saddled heroes wasn’t a consideration.

The Fratton faithful were not prepared to step aside and cheerfully wave the tanks through.

Such was the awe-inspiring outcome, other supporters continue to regard Pompey as the template for fan ownership, a glorious beacon of hope for the boot-stamped underdogs.

Football fans, drinking colleagues, many no more than passing associates for 90 minutes every weekend, joined forces with former players and city politicians to purchase a football club which five years previous had hoisted aloft the FA Cup.

An improbable scenario, nonetheless it succeeded.

The responsibility has now passed on to Tornante but the bond constructed among the street fighters can never be severed. For many, those allies on the battlefront have become lifelong friends.

Of course, there are those who gloomily predicted the Trust amateurs and their lack of experience overseeing football clubs would precipitate a rapid reunion with administration.

Regardless of every heartening balance sheet, irrespective of burgeoning season-ticket sales and a reconnection with a fanbase left splintered and damaged by ex-owners, the rabid detractors’ entrenched views could not be budged.

As for accusations that fan-run clubs can never achieve success, that tattered excuse was debunked so gloriously at Fratton Park in May.

Instead, ignoring the dazzlingly obvious to fulfil a bitter desire to disparage and ridicule became an egotistical badge of honour to parade amid social-media circles.

There are those who have sought to antagonise and goad strangers over a keyboard, only to shriek foul and victimisation whenever the inevitable emotional reaction is provoked.

Granted, there may have been short-term gains such as training ground tours, yet condemnation to an eternity of irrelevance in the eyes of supporters reflects an overall crushing defeat. However, the Pompey fan ownership story centres on those destined to be long remembered with respect and affection.

People such as Tony Goodall, Jim Riordan and, former Trust chairman, Ken Malley, contributed towards initiating the fightback but are sadly no longer with us.

There are those inscribed on the Shareholders’ Wall of Fame outside the North Stand who have since died, yet their essential assistance will never be forgotten.

This is a football club which possesses a rich heritage created and secured by the Fratton faithful, the fans who refused to accept the fate dictated to them by others.

The Eisners should not be burdened with their predecessors’ failures, they arrive offering treasured opportunity to build upon excellent community ownership foundations.

Yet as Alan Ball once decreed: ‘This is Portsmouth, people went to war from this city.’

Pompey fans don’t fear change – but change should fear Pompey fans.