Making an offer Pompey fans can’t refuse

Pompey boss Paul Cook Picture: Joe Pepler
Pompey boss Paul Cook Picture: Joe Pepler
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The doors aren’t shut on Pompey’s promotion aspirations, likewise the gates remain open at their training ground.

‘The invite is there, we’ve got nothing to hide,’ said Cook, ‘Supporters always leave appreciating we don’t leave any stone unturned in our preparation.

‘It’s not something I have done before at a football club – then again, I’ve never experienced this much stick!’

The Blues boss may jest, yet has elected to embrace discussion with fans on territory previously rigidly out of bounds.

The training ground domain represents a prized bolthole for players and staff, a bombproof shelter from piercing eyes and barbed tongues in the pursuit for footballing perfection.

Rarely is the fortress drawbridge lowered as clubs focus on cosseting the football family from outside influences ahead of the customary Saturday outing.

Except Cook is encouraging such supporter intrusion.

What’s more, he’s offering a cup of tea and a chat for those wishing to take up such an intriguing invite.

Pompey’s manager has not escaped criticism during his 21-month reign, the stings often defying the granite-skinned exterior adopted publicly.

The day one pledge of promotion has so far eluded, with 16 matches remaining to achieve his goal during a second Fratton Park campaign.

Yet amid the piling pressure, Cook has taken a conciliatory stance towards the Fratton faithful.

And an open-armed welcome to their Hilsea training base awaits those willing to accept his novel gesture.

Cook added: ‘We’ve had a few supporters down, it’s been very good, and that’s what this club is about.

‘Nowadays, the higher up you go in the leagues people aren’t allowed into training grounds and I find it so sad. Our doors, though, are never closed.

‘The lads represent our city and you should know them, you should be able to say “there’s a big game Saturday, good luck”.

‘You don’t want the opposite end were it becomes a little bit of a wait until Saturday before shouting at them, I’m not sure that will ever achieve anything.

‘I think it helps. I’ve shown fans video clips, had a nice talk with them, and that’s what football should be, it should be educational.

‘It’s not me trying to get sympathy by saying “look at the problems we have”. My job is to find solutions, that is the challenge.

‘But I believe if you can educate people better, it makes them a little bit more aware.

‘Last Sunday the lads were in the gym and a fella came over and said “it’s great to see how hard the players work”.

‘These lads want it badly, that is why I don’t understand the criticism they sometimes get, they haven’t done anything wrong.

‘Sometimes supporters see you just turn up on a Saturday and don’t realise we have worked hard all week.

‘So come down, have a look and we’ll have a chat. Our doors are always open.’

According to the club, between 15-20 supporters have taken Cook up on the open invitation since its delivery.

Among their number has been Sam Bowers, who contacted fans’ liaison officer Johnny Moore after seeing a Twitter discussion.

Ahead of the Accrington Stanley clash, the 22-year-old from Southsea joined four other supporters at the Copnor Road venue to watch training and then meet Cook.

‘I found it informative, we could have any discussion we wanted,’ he said.

‘Among the subjects was Cook explaining how no matter what formation you play, if people are going to park the bus it will be tough to break them down.

‘He was extremely honest and we saw the real Paul Cook, which doesn’t necessarily come across in media interviews.

‘We watched them train for a bit and he spoke to us on the touchline, explaining what he wanted the players to do. Occasionally stopping the session to point things out to them.

‘At one point he gave Christian Burgess a right rollicking, he was livid!

‘With us, though, he was courteous and polite, answering everyone’s questions. He wasn’t trying to appease fans, just getting his point across.

‘I told him there are a lot of people supporting him. There are those in the Fratton End who don’t always vocalise their support.

‘Fans have nothing to lose by going down there, I guarantee they will walk out thinking Paul Cook is actually okay.’

The concept is certainly new to the long-serving Moore.

Traditionally, a siege mentality operates at training grounds as clubs battle to keep away outsiders’ prying eyes.

Now Moore is being asked to hold the gate open.

Pompey’s fans’ liaison officer added: ‘Supporter feedback has been very positive. I don’t say it changes people’s minds, but they are appreciative of the chance to have their say and see how it all works.

‘There is no shouting, you are actually learning something because you will get an alternative view on why the management are doing certain things.

‘Supporters don’t always leave in full agreement, although some do.

‘In 19 years of working at the club, we’ve often invited guests to the training ground, particularly under Harry Rednapp, but I’ve never really known it as open house as it is now. It’s totally new to me and refreshing.

‘It’s open, so what more can you do to liaise and communicate with fans?’

Supporters wishing to visit Cook at Pompey’s training ground are advised to contact