In Their Own Words: Arjan De Zeeuw, Sylvain Distin, Svetoslav Todorov, Gary O'Neil, David Norris & Co on why Portsmouth's fans are among best around

Pompey’s supporters have long been recognised as some of the most vocal – and passionate – in the English game.

Sunday, 26th December 2021, 4:55 am

But don’t take our word for it, let others explain how the Fratton faithful inspired their playing performances while representing the Blues...

I will never forget playing Arsenal at Fratton Park in the FA Cup in March 2004 and it wasn’t because we played really well! We got hammered 5-1.

The thing that stuck out from that game were our fans. We were losing 5-0 at one stage and they were singing, still behind us every step of the way, chanting ‘We’re going to win 6-5’.

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Thierry Henry, who scored twice, turned to me and said: ‘Your fans are mad, they are brilliant, they keep on singing’.

Looking back, those days at Fratton were wonderful and as long as the fans know I appreciated them very much, that is the main thing.

As supporters go, there are not many I have met better than Pompey’s.

(Arjan De Zeeuw, Played Up Pompey, 2015)

Arjan De Zeeuw was a pivotal figure in Pompey's 2002-03 promotion to the Premier League. Picture: Steve Reid

Players can go through whole careers without winning anything or experiencing being part of a proper team, where colleagues battle for each other to the backdrop of magnificent supporters providing their backing.

The Bulgarian game does not attract a lot of fans – you can play in front of 4,000 crowds – so can you imagine the difference having the Fratton faithful on your side, providing you with that lift in the fight?

(Svetoslav Todorov, Played Up Pompey Too, 2017)

I loved my time as a Pompey player. In a 22-year professional career, it’s not often fans hold you in such high regard and it was something I treasured.

The mercurial Sylvain Distin claimed the 2008 FA Cup during his time at Fratton Park. Picture: Daniel Hambury

They even had a song for me and created T-shirts saying ‘Ain’t nobody like Ben Davies’! Hopefully, I was somebody they could relate to, a footballer they appreciated giving his all on a Saturday afternoon, working hard for their team.

I was a Pompey player for 12 months, I wish it could have been longer - it’s such a special club.

(Ben Davies, Played Up Pompey Three, 2020)

That was my first relegation, except it never felt like a relegation battle, and when it was sealed by a 2-1 home defeat to Derby County in the penultimate game, the supporters were unbelievable.

David Norris entered into Pompey folklore with his spectacular last-gasp leveller at Southampton in April 2012. Picture: Steve Reid

The players were instructed to go on a lap of appreciation, something we weren’t keen to participate in considering it hadn’t been a very good season, but the fans clapped and cheered when, in truth, we didn’t deserve anything.

Pompey fans are like that. To concede a goal and the supporters respond by singing is unheard of. I’ve played in teams drawing 0-0 at half-time and been booed off.

(David Norris, Played Up Pompey Too, 2020)

I know back in Pompey there’s a little group that used to call me ‘Scully’, well tell the Scully fans I’m wishing them all the best.

And tell the rest of them, I love them all to bits.

(Mick Kennedy, The News, March 2018)

Gary O’Neil came through Pompey’s academy and made 192 appearances before departing for Middlesbrough. Picture: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

The atmosphere was always amazing at Fratton Park, but the fact we were playing a club like AC Milan sent the fans crazy, with the Milan fans also very good. The whole place was really friendly and really enjoyable.

I can recall it wasn’t possible to hear anything between the players when speaking on the pitch, Fratton Park is a small stadium and the supporters are so close so when they are loud, it really is loud.

(Sylvain Distin, Played Up Pompey, 2015)

Even though I took loads of stick at Southampton, it’s not an intimidating place to play, but when Pompey get going it’s worth a goal.

Part of being a professional is handling performing in front of crowds and how you deal with it. Lots of top players who trained out of this world couldn’t translate it to the pressure of playing in big games.

Elland Road could be hostile, they made it difficult. Fratton Park was the same, they were able to batter the opposition - and I loved witnessing that.

(Darren Anderton, Played Up Pompey Three, 2020)

My Pompey debut was against Nottingham Forest at Fratton Park with a crowd of 18,910 – and I have never played in front of anything like that in my life.

I’ve turned out in a stadium with a crowd of 100,000, appeared in front of 40-50,000 week in, week out, but had never performed to anything like that before.

(Paul Merson, Played Up Pompey, 2015)

I loved it there and still feel I have unfinished business. I established a relationship with the fans which I never had anywhere else in my career.

Even though I was from Bromley, in Kent, I did my real growing up at Pompey, this schoolkid who arrived - then left as a Premier League footballer.

I’m certain that one day I will manage Portsmouth Football Club, that’s my aim. Hopefully that moment is part of my future.

(Gary O’Neil, Played Up Pompey Three, 2020)

‘I know people bang on about it, but I have never seen supporters like it. I have played in most divisions, in most stadiums around the country, and when the Pompey fans get behind you they are pretty mad.

‘Do you know what, they’re better than Southampton’s support. There were some great atmospheres at The Dell, don’t get me wrong, but for pure passion and the non-stop chanting and the bell, Pompey fans were unbelievable.

‘I think Southampton died when they left The Dell. All those modern stadiums look the same and there’s not much atmosphere going on there.

‘Then there’s Fratton Park. What a place and what a club.’

(Matt Robinson, The News, November 2021)

I was starting to love the Fratton Park atmosphere and couldn’t believe during the visit of Colchester United in our previous home game how the supporters were still trying to encourage us when we were losing.

We weren’t proud of that performance and lost 2-1, but they still backed us. You don’t see that at many places.

For me England is a footballing country, with lots of supporters, and Fratton Park may be little but I thought the ground was perfect.

It could get so loud sometimes, especially when they sang ‘Play up Pompey’.

(Robert Prosinecki, Played Up Pompey, 2015)

Pompey is one of the rare clubs which has been saved by supporters, a fantastic achievement which shows their passion, commitment and determination.

This is one story which will remain through history – the supporters helped get that club back on its feet. I have so much respect for Pompey fans, I cannot emphasise that enough.

(Niko Kranjcar, Played Up Pompey Three, 2020)

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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Ben Davies made 51 appearances for Pompey, all arriving in the 2015-16 season. Picture: Joe Pepler