Pompey fans still short-changed by Sondico

The Pompey Megastore. Picture: Habibur Rahman
The Pompey Megastore. Picture: Habibur Rahman
Jamal Lowe celebrates scoring against Scunthorpe. Picture: Joe Pepler

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Noa had become familiar with the photographs, while the occasional summons to watch YouTube footage was just as illustrative.

Daddy was, like him, a striker, a player who made supporters happy with his goals. They cheered and clapped many times, judging from what he had seen.

Last Saturday, Svetoslav Todorov was back at Fratton Park among his adoring fans, this time accompanied by six-year-old son and wife, Severina.

Following the arrival of the Bulgarian season’s two-month winter break, it was an opportunity to reacquaint with an old friend – and also introduce Noa to the club which provided the finest times of his football career.

To mark the reunion, Pompey granted Todorov junior the honour of serving among the mascots for the League One clash with Bury.

In preparation, the proud dad ventured to the Pompey Megastore, on the corner of Fratton Way and Goldsmith Avenue, to buy a home shirt, adding print bearing his son’s name. He was delighted with the outcome.

Then he was challenged to purchase home shorts.

The Sports Direct-run club shop no longer had in stock shorts suitable for junior boys. What’s more, no deliveries were expected this side of Christmas.

Noa Todorov, a club mascot against Bury, the son of a Pompey Hall of Famer who collected the Division One golden boot while firing Harry Redknapp’s side into the Premier League, would instead have to don his black tracksuit bottoms.

Welcome to Sports Direct. Have a nice day, call back soon. Hopefully what you’re looking for will be in stock upon your next visit to England. Just as long as it’s not Christmas.

Fortunately, the football-mad youngster was spared striding out on to the Fratton turf wearing tracksuit bottoms by a kindly member of office staff, who borrowed a pair from a relative.

The loaned item had to be returned afterwards. Understandable considering how scarce Pompey home shorts clearly are in this day and age. This Christmas’ Hatchimals.

The Torodov family’s frustration is a familiar story, many others have suffered similar plights this festive period while visiting the Pompey Megastore in search of presents for loved ones.

Neither is the scenario exclusive to this season. During four-and-a-half years, Sports Direct and their subsidiary Sondico have become deeply unpopular tenants.

There is a logical reason why, according to analytical data, The News’ most-read online sports story during December involves Mark Catlin discussing a potential replacement for Sondico.

The tenure has yielded many supporter complaints over standards and quality, ranging from poorly-stitched shirts to the attachment of old club badges.

Ahead of the 2014-15 campaign, the home kit wasn’t available until five days before the League Two kick-off at Exeter City.

Sports Direct’s presence has also long despaired Pompey. The five-year arrangement reportedly worth around £800,000 is up for renewal in the summer – expect a separation.

Still, they remain as the Blues’ merchandising arm for a while yet, with one final Christmas rush for Mike Ashley’s business empire to capitalise on.

Yet while Pompey’s shop is well stocked for Sondico football boots, there remain glaring gaps in club merchandise – and not solely junior shorts.

This Christmas, customers have highlighted the absence of third kit shirts for sizes XL and beyond. Curiously, these have been out of stock since October.

Meanwhile, some kits designed for those aged nought to three years have run out, with others infuriatingly low on numbers.

For babies marking their first Christmas in this world, many will do so without the reassuring embrace of a Pompey kit.

At least Blues followers can seek solace in the fact their club shop does, however, stock Oldham Athletic and PSG alternatives. Well, the official online store does anyhow.

Yes, for £9 you can purchase an Oldham lunch bag, something of a bargain in its reduction from £12.99.

Stuck for something to keep your keys together? Why not invest in a £1.75 Oldham key ring, whose price has been slashed from £5.99.

And for those whose football support is of the Gallic persuasion, French Ligue 1 leaders Paris Saint-Germain also boast stock in Pompey’s online shop.

So for a mere £6 you can snap up a PSG gym bag. Incidentally, it’s the same cost as the PSG shoe bag, which has been reduced by a bigger margin so represents far better value.

Incidentally, a nickname of the French club is Les Rouge-et-Bleu. Quite how a team bearing such colours can be mistaken for inclusion on a Pompey online store is baffling.

Then again, this is Sondico, so lovingly nicknamed ‘Sondinlo’ by the exasperated Fratton faithful.

Catlin earlier this month told The News: ‘In regards to the new kit supplier, that is in progress. We are talking to a specific supplier but no deal as yet has been concluded.

‘We have learnt our lesson over the last five years and will be taking those on board along with the views of our fan base.’

In the meantime, the club shop represents an untapped resource, surely a frustration for the Tornante regime considering their Disney background.

Nonetheless, at the season’s end they will finally be able to remove Sports Direct’s skeletal-fingered grasp around Pompey’s throat.

And perhaps Pompey’s mascots and the next generation of supporter will no longer be short-changed.