In Their Own Words: Why Sir Alex Ferguson, Thierry Henry, Jose Mourinho, Benjani, Ralph Hasenhuttl & Co love Portsmouth's Fratton Park

Fratton Park is widely regarded as a stadium capable of creating one of the great football atmospheres in the English game.

Friday, 24th December 2021, 4:00 pm

But don’t take our word for it, let others explain just why Pompey’s 122-year-old home is regarded as a special stadium among even non-Blues supporters...

I have got the communication lines in place, but the only problem is that it's such a noisy place.

It's one of these old stadiums – it's a bit rickety, the stand nowadays. The directors' box is towards the end where all the noise comes from – the drums and whatever the hell they have got going on at that place.

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But it's a good racket. It's a terrific football stadium, really.

(Sir Alex Ferguson, The Guardian, November 2009)

Away teams really didn't want to play at Fratton Park because of the distance and the stadium itself.

The changing rooms are horrendous, absolutely horrendous, and let’s not forget the mindset of the professional footballer is everywhere they go they are kings, whether on buses, private jets, it’s travelling first class. Then you go to Pompey.

Legendary Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has spoken glowingly about Fratton Park. Picture: Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images

Stood in that Fratton Park tunnel you saw the opposition thinking "What’s going on here?”. I was once one of those players, I knew exactly how they felt.

The whole place is set up for the home team, if you have a half-decent side you can exploit it extremely well – and I loved playing in that environment.

I like smaller cities, I like football clubs I feel part of, I like being in a team structure and the teams I did well at, such as Forest and Pompey, had those positive elements.

(Steve Stone, Played Up Pompey Too, 2017)

Niko Kranjcar, pictured celebrating with Papa Bouba Diop, credits winning the FA Cup with Pompey in May 2008 as the best moment of his club career. Picture: Joe Pepler

No, (Old Trafford) is not Portsmouth. I remember Portsmouth when they were in the Premier League, such a small stadium, the atmosphere was absolutely incredible.

In here the atmosphere is a bit quiet and it is not very, very enthusiastic.

(Jose Mourinho, The Sun, February 2018)

I loved Pompey, I loved everything about it.

Thierry Henry named Fratton Park as one of his favourite away grounds. Picture: David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

At the time, football was starting to move away from those small, intimate, old-fashioned, tight grounds, instead it was about the construction of big stadiums – but I liked playing at places like Fratton Park.

The fans are right on top of you and you can feel the atmosphere, while it can sometimes be tough for the opposition to visit.

(Shaka Hislop, Played Up Pompey Three, 2020)

Ask Patrick (Vieira) and myself to name our favourite Premiership football ground and, for obvious reasons, it will be Highbury.

For me, though, Fratton Park would be right up there as another of my favourite grounds.

Portsmouth is a remarkable place. I know of no other club where, despite 5-1 down in our FA Cup sixth round match two years ago, the home fans would have been supporting their team so vocally.

Pompey favourite Steve Claridge fends off two Stockport defenders in February 1998. Picture: Steve Reid

It would happen only in English football.

(Thierry Henry, Sky Sports, March 2006)

I soon discovered that top Premier League teams found it difficult at Fratton Park. The atmosphere was intimidating, the stadium not so big and it was a tough place to come and perform. Definitely no easy points.

(Dejan Stefanovic, Played Up Pompey Too, 2017)

When they were singing that Benjani song, you just wanted to die for the supporters, to go in there and fight to get a goal.

When things became better for me, at home I always knew I could get a goal with them behind me – the atmosphere at Fratton Park, oh my God! There would be games which you started slowly, but the fans would push you – going onto that pitch you would be like “I must push myself – for them”.

Pompey and Manchester City were my favourite clubs in England, I cannot separate them, but those Pompey fans, wow. They’re the best I came across in my career, so loud.

With that small pitch, when they sing it comes into your mind, it was so motivating. Manchester City also have great fans, but I am talking about the atmosphere – and that atmosphere when you come to Fratton Park is different, I loved it. It was the best.

(Benjani Mwaruwari, Played Up Pompey Three, 2020)

As for Fratton Park, I love it. The majority of stadiums in Croatia have a track around the pitch, half of them were used for athletics as well as football, which made an atmosphere even harder to create.

As for the passion of the support, well I’ve played at Tottenham Hotspur and Glasgow Rangers – and the Pompey fans are definitely second to none.

(Niko Kranjcar, Played Up Pompey Three, 2020)

It’s unbelievable. I must also say they didn’t stop singing after being four down.

You could feel the tradition that is in this derby.

I think I have never had such an atmosphere in a stadium so far and I have seen a lot in my entire footballing career.

It was a very special game for me also.

(Ralph Hasenhuttl, Southern Daily Echo, September 2019)

The Stockport atmosphere (at Fratton Park) was as good as people reminisce about. It was constant, non-stop, growing louder as the game went on. You would never believe 8,622 people were present to conjure up this cacophony of noise reverberating around.

Everybody sang, not just one or two, everybody. It was so special.

I have played at Wembley in a Coca-Cola Cup final, featured in a play-off final against Crystal Palace and, while at Birmingham, had to win at Huddersfield Town in the final match of the season to take the Division Two title.

Well, the Stockport atmosphere was right up there among such occasions.

(Steve Claridge, Played Up Pompey Too, 2017)

Of course, (in English football) you hear the atmosphere and whether the fans are loud or not, and you hear the individual shouts that stand out during a quiet moment, but it’s mainly the overall atmosphere you feel when you are on the pitch.

After a while, you get to know the specific atmosphere of individual stadiums. I always loved to play at Portsmouth.

Although it was one of the ‘worst’ stadiums in the league with the worst pitch – there was a huge bump in the goalmouth, like a hill you had to run up when a cross came from one side to the other – the atmosphere was always great.

There was the drum, the fans never stopped supporting their team. It had a particular charm.

(Petr Cech, Chelsea FC, November 2021)

There are stadiums containing 50-60,000 people in which you cannot hear yourself think, but to experience that (AC Milan) in front of 20,403 at Fratton Park was extremely special.

It was loud, communication was redundant. I was playing alongside Papa Bouba Diop, and there wasn’t a lot of talking with Papa anyway, but none of the players could be heard. The noise was relentless from start to finish.

In general, I believe home fans can have a more damaging effect than a positive effect. From my experience, as a visiting player, you drew a lot of energy from home supporters getting on the backs on their team.

Pompey was unique, however, with a good home atmosphere helping establish a good Fratton Park record most of the time. The presence of AC Milan, though, took it to another level.

Just when you thought the noise was starting to relent, it would crank up again, it was perfect.

(Richard Hughes, Played Up Pompey Three, 2020)

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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Jose Mourinho felt Fratton Park created a better atmosphere than Old Trafford on occasions. Picture: Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images