Portsmouth FC fans return for 'surreal' first match at Fratton Park since Covid-19 restrictions were lifted
FANTASTIC, surreal, and like Christmas come again – this how returning Pompey fans have described being back at Fratton Park for the first since Covid-19 restrictions were lifted.
Saturday’s match against Peterborough was played before the largest Fratton Park crowd since 16,775 fans were present for the March 2020 draw with Fleetwood, just weeks before the country was put into lockdown.
Since then, 2,000 lucky supporters were allowed in for December 2020 home matches against Peterborough and Fleetwood.
But now the stadium is at almost full capacity – with the North Stand and the lower South Stand off limits due to building work.
For one life-long Pompey fan, returning to Fratton Park was like celebrating Christmas again.
Karen Fraser, a 47-year-old resident of Buckland, said: ‘This is like Christmas Day for me. I couldn’t sleep last night I was so excited.
‘I have been coming here with my dad for about 35 years. It’s our tradition. It feels fantastic to be back.’
At The Shepherds Crook pub, a regular haunt for fans due to its decorations stepped in Pompey history, the atmosphere was one of relief but not elation, according to manager Lawrence Hall .
He said: ‘We weren’t expecting it to be rammed – but with a pre-season friendly we were expecting this.
‘It’s a bit of a relief in terms of the fans, the football club, and us, a businesses near it, the general feeling is relief.
‘It’s not necessarily elation – it’s just nice to see some happy faces.’
After a long spell without fans inside football stadiums, clubs should be thinking of ways to show their appreciation for supporters – with free beer not being a bad idea, according to friends Harrison Hazell, 23, and Adam Fowkes, 23, who were enjoying a drink in the Shepherds Crooks pub before the game.
Adam said: ‘We’re buzzing – a bit surreal – but buzzing.’
‘I think they need the fans, especially Pompey. We’d take a free pint at the game.’
Harrison agreed: ‘They need every fan they can get. Financially stable clubs don’t need the fans so much.’
Signings are more important than beer when it comes to showing that supporters and their feedback are appreciated by the club, according to returning fan Reece Hawkins, who shared the frustration felt by many over a lack of pre-season deals.
He said: ‘I don’t mean splashing some money about. Fans want to see effort getting some good players in.’
Off the pitch, the club has stepped up during the pandemic by offering a flexi-season ticket, launching a new Pompey fan loyalty scheme, and keeping fans connected through social media – and that was good enough for Sarah Powers, a supporter of the city team for more than 10 years.
Sarah, who attended Saturday’s match with her 17-year-old son James, said: ‘I think the club has looked after us and kept us connected through out the pandemic. It has done a good job.
‘I came to my first match about 10 years ago because James wanted to come and I got bitten – now there’s times where I’m the one saying, ‘let’s go!’
‘It feels great to be back.’
But rumblings about a government mandated Covid vaccine passport scheme for Premier League games has Sarah concerned if their family tradition is in jeopardy.
She said: ‘Obviously James hasn’t had his vaccines yet. I think it’s for people to make their own decision.’