The day Fratton found its voice again - and Portsmouth helped football find its soul

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The adrenalin shot through the bloodstream as emotion welled through the rest of the body.

A poignant period of applause in memory of that gentle giant Papa Boub Diop had intensified into a throaty roar at the prospect of what was about to unfold.

And then, after 270 long and arduous days, it reverberated around Pompey’s home of 121 years.

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Rarely, if ever, has the Chimes been greeted with such appreciation, as the moment warmed those tackling the December chill after making this savoured pilgrimage on a special Fratton return.

If that was how it felt to a mere onlooker, imagine how it would’ve been received by the 11 men in royal blue.

After being starved of the oxygen of support for nine months that hallowed turf was once again their stage; but this time there was a discerning audience.

To not have that crowd to perform to and, crucially, be roused and draw inspiration from has had a huge impact. Ask any Pompey player and they’ll tell you so.

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Jack Whatmough celebrates his first goal at Fratton Park with Pompey fansJack Whatmough celebrates his first goal at Fratton Park with Pompey fans
Jack Whatmough celebrates his first goal at Fratton Park with Pompey fans

What we have been witnessing through these unprecedented times hasn't been football. It’s an imposter; a weak, diluted imitation of the real thing.

With minutes of this meeting of two promotion pretenders, that fact was reaffirmed to us in irrefutable fashion.

It’s took the presence of 2,000 hardy Pompey souls to underline that, as their return provided the missing ingredient which set the tempo for the game.

Unlike recent months there were no breathers to be had, no lulls intensity; there was three stands of royal blue bloods who wouldn’t allow it.

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Kenny Jackett’s players responded with the synergy between those on and off the pitch palpable.

The men like Ronan Curtis, who so clearly thrive off the energy of fans reacted. John Marquis chased with a little more vigour. Things were sharper.

‘Shoooootttt!’ the home crowd demanded of Tom Naylor; a request he was to later honour in memorable fashion.

‘We’ve seen you beforreeee,’ Nathan Thompson was informed before he was later withdrawn so save his expulsion.

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They were well-worn interventions from the fans but they were welcomed like a warm, loving embrace on a wet and freezing winter’s afternoon.

Pompey lacked the final piece of the jigsaw, however. On the pitch, at least.

And when Curtis snatched at a second-half chance with the goal gaping, the fear was the change of environment could have contributed to a hurried miss which should’ve been gleefully accepted.

But then came the moment which saw the star and crescent align in poignant fashion in the shadow of the Fratton End.

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Jack Whatmough has been waiting his whole footballing life to score a senior goal at PO4. Imagine how much would’ve been lost if the moment he’s dreamed of arrived without fans to share it with.

The joyous explosion would’ve been nowhere to be seen. The knee slide as the Gosport lad fed on the energy of those who’ve willed him to recover from career-threatening injuries, would never have been.

This was football. This was the game in all of its beautiful theatre and majesty.

But it was also a football club once again armed with the most potent weapon in its arsenal.

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This was a landmark day for the English game - but it may just also be one for Pompey’s promotion ambitions.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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