A 2am start and £700 losses - Portsmouth fans counting the cost of Sky's Sunderland fixture meddling
For 34 years, Paul Banks has coordinated Pompey supporter coaches.
Yet before tomorrow’s Sunderland trek, Blues dedication had never involved a 2am start.
Pompey’s fans are sustaining the impact of an unreasonable kick-off time and Sky’s escalating dictation of football fixtures.
A third visit to the Stadium of Light in three-and-a-half months for Kenny Jackett’s side has, justifiably, been allocated a live television audience.
The decision to decree a 12.30pm kick-off, however, has had brutal ramifications on those supporters wishing to attend.
The 669-mile round trip is scheduled to total 11-and-a-half hours by car, albeit dependent on the generosity of traffic.
Meanwhile, those wishing to travel by coach from the south coast face a gruelling 21-hour day overall.
It’s an infuriating scenario costing the Pompey Supporters’ Club Central Branch an eye-watering £700 in lost revenue.
Banks orchestrates the group’s transport, with Wheelers Travel providing a 57-seater coach.
Traditionally it is full for Blues fixtures spread across the country – yet 27 fans have signed up for Saturday.
It’s a direct consequence of a 2am departure required in order to attend a 12.30pm fixture in the north-east.
And Banks has been left counting the cost financially.
The 56-year-old said: ‘It’s disgusting, the fans aren’t considered at all.
‘You can’t really repeat what I said when I found out Sky had changed the kick-off, even though I predicted it would be televised. Although a Friday night game would have been even worse.
‘But what can you do? You have to follow Pompey, haven’t you. You have to. I’m not going to miss it.
‘I must say, in 34 years of running coaches, this is the earliest we’ve ever had to leave to make a game.
‘There have been a few 3.30am starts, I recall going to Leeds on a Sunday morning for an 11am kick-off, but never this early.
‘The sad thing is it’s going to cost our supporters’ club, probably about £700, although we are confident we can make that up over the course of the season.
‘The coach is normally full, but there are 27 people booked for Sunderland, so the fixture change has affected numbers – that and the fact it’s on TV.
‘Still, at the moment everyone has two seats each, so can stretch out and have a bit of comfort, which is the way to look at it.
‘Although we have only 21 hours to do the journey. I believe it is roughly 10.45pm before the driver’s tachograph finishes and, in theory, we should be home before that.
‘Should we run out of hours, though, we do have a back up. That will involve parking up and then another driver turning up to take us home.
‘John Martin is our regular driver. we’ve had him for more than 20 years, he’s absolutely brilliant and will definitely look after us.’
With inevitability, ticket sales for Saturday’s away end have fallen in comparison with both of last season’s trips.
Around 800 seats have been sold, with an allocation of 2,000 already reduced following the April smoke bomb controversy.
That League One encounter saw an away end consisting of 3,222 Pompey fans in an overall attendance of 41,129.
A fortnight later the sides were back at the Stadium of Light in the play-off semi-final first-leg, this time fulfilling a 7.30pm kick-off.
On that occasion, away numbers registered at 1,288 in a total crowd of 26,610.
Pompey’s chief executive, Mark Catlin, has sympathy for supporters affected by Sky’s intervention.
Yet insists there’s little the Blues can do.
Catlin said: ‘As a club, we have very little influence on televised kick-off times.
‘It’s part of the conditions of the Sky pay-out received by the two clubs featuring on television, conditions which have been accepted by all 72 EFL clubs.
‘You are advised that should you give good cause, in regards to safety and security elements, then it can be looked at. Otherwise there is very little you can do as a club.
‘Obviously we have empathy and sympathy with the fans, but it’s not within our direct control.
‘As a club, we are also inconvenienced. I suppose the difference is we suffer financially by having to change our own travel arrangements and accommodation.
‘Although, while that is a lot of money to us, individually it is also a lot of money to supporters.’
Unquestionably, the long-established ‘Banksy’s Bus’ service is familiar among Pompey supporters.
And those 27 fans booked to be present tomorrow morning are guaranteed of an excellent trip, irrespective of the football result.
Banks, from Newcome Road, Fratton, added: ‘We try to give our members a good day.
'We organise match tickets for the majority of them, they don’t have to do a thing, all they need to do is turn up on the day.
‘We even sort out their food, pre-ordering it for the designated pub along the route to the match.
‘There’s music, DVDs and a blackout, which can help to pay for parking fees.
‘At the moment we’re trying to rig up a Blu-ray player, which can give us more variety, while we’re working on getting a USB port to run off a box.
‘Hopefully we won’t get bricked through, like the April trip to the Stadium of Light.
‘We were waiting for a couple of fans to come down in the lift, so all the other coaches had gone. Eventually, as we left, there were bangs on the side.
‘People at the back saw blokes throwing bricks, there must have been four or five bricks thrown at least, you could hear the thuds.
‘Thankfully it was superficial damage to the coach and we informed the police, so for the play-off match we were given an escort.
‘Years ago you would meet at Washington services, now you usually have to make your own way there, it just shows there’s no longer any money about for the police.
‘We’re looking forward to Saturday, though. We always look forward to watching Pompey, no matter where we play.’