Fans are back at Fratton Park - but it could take up to four years before usual Portsmouth attendances are possible
Fratton Park is ready to embrace its biggest crowd in 16-and-a-half months.
Yet it could be up to four more years before Pompey’s famous old home is able to again welcome attendances at pre-coronavirus levels.
Championship side Peterborough visit the south coast on Saturday (3pm) for a friendly against Danny Cowley’s men.
It will represent the largest Fratton Park crowd since 16,775 were present for the March 2020 draw with Fleetwood before the country was put into lockdown.
Since then there has been just a flickering of normality, with 2,000 supporters allowed in for December 2020 home matches against Peterborough and Fleetwood.
Now the Fratton faithful are back, albeit initially with the North Stand out of bounds and the lower South Stand closed for the Posh encounter.
Still, Andy Cullen is delighted to finally welcome back the Fratton roar on Saturday.
The Blues chief executive told The News: ‘We’ve got seats that are no longer safe to use in parts of the North Stand, so the capacity is obviously going to be reduced because of the work going on,
‘In terms of numbers, we will see a capacity reduction to just over 16,000 for this season and then start building towards 20,000 during the next 2-3 years as each stand takes shape, culminating in the Milton end.
‘Against Peterborough, the whole of the North Stand will be out of action because those works are still going on and will be completed by August 14. By that stage we’ll have a number of seats back available.
‘It’s going to be inconvenient for some, we are going to see some supporters having to move seats.
‘I appreciate that’s going to be difficult, but if they can just bear with us. What they’ll get in return will be better sightlines, better seats and a better experience in coming to watch their team. That will be a major step forward.
‘There will also be some seats in the South Stand which will be out of action. Once we have completed the works in the North Stand towards the middle of this season and into next, we will then start to reprofile the South Stand.’
The North Stand is pivotal to current ground improvements – and it remains the case for future ambition.
Permission was granted for the Milton End to be redeveloped in August 2020, with discussions with stakeholders ongoing.
Yet, looking ahead, the centrepiece is unquestionably the North Stand.
Cullen added: ‘The Fratton Park work is hugely important for the long-term future of the football club.
‘It’s a massive investment from the owners, a declaration of their long-term intentions and what they want to achieve at the football club.
‘We will get beyond a capacity of 20,000 with the improvements, but the plan is to then see what else we can do with the development on the site – particularly that North Stand.
‘The land beyond it would enable you to create that stand – should we get some other things we want to do agreed down the line.
‘The improvements we’re making at the moment in that stand is a 3-4 year project at least. If we can make headway into some of the things we want to do on the site, that will allow us to develop that stand and increase capacity further.
‘To what number, let’s wait and see. It’s part of the exciting project.’
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
The News has launched a subscription offer which gives you unlimited access to all of our Pompey coverage, starting at less than 14p a day.
You can subscribe here to get the latest news from Fratton Park - and to support our local team of expert Pompey writers.