WATCH: Depressingly eerie atmosphere as Wembley misses Portsmouth 50,000-strong army for Papa John's Trophy final against Salford

It was only 10am when swathes of the Fratton faithful had already packed into Boxpark, all supping a pre-match beverage.

By Will Rooney
Saturday, 13th March 2021, 1:00 pm
Updated Saturday, 13th March 2021, 1:43 pm

For all the criticisms of the competition that had gone before it, nobody with allegiance to Pompey seemed to care.

The beers were flowing, chants being bellowed out and the atmosphere palpable.

Among the supporters was Haji Mnoga, who’d made three appearances on the road to Wembley and undoubtedly proud he’d played his part to enable his fellow Portsea Islanders to make the pilgrimage to the capital.

Pompey's coaches parked outside Wembley. Picture: Habib Rahman

It was the perfect start to what would end up being the perfect day for the Blues two years ago. The 2019 Checkatrade Trophy final had everything – drama, late goals, penalties and, of course, Pompey claiming the silverware in front of more than 40,000 of their followers.

However, there’s none of this today as Kenny Jackett’s side finally defend their crown almost 12months later than scheduled against Salford in the now-named Papa John’s Trophy.

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic means will no off-the-cuff chants of blue army, no spontaneous renditions of the Pompey Chimes that put paid to ongoing conversations as we build towards kick-off.

The ambiance around Wembley is starkly contrasting. It’s eerie. In fact, it’s depressingly eerie.

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This stadium wasn’t built to lay dormant for a year, welcoming only a select few people luckily enough to be involved or attend.

It was built to welcome supporters in vast proportions who love their team, follow it through thick and thin, for bad and for worse.

These sort of days should be the apogee of a life of the football fan. All the pain and heartbreak is forgotten on the day of a trip to Wembley. Even, dare I say, the Blues’ recent abject form of one win in seven would have been briefly parked.

When this final was originally due to take place, it could well have even topped the defeat of Sunderland. There’d have been 10,000 more Blues followers present and you could scarcely have ruled out significantly more tickets than the 51,000-plus that had already been sold being snapped up approaching the game.

It really would have been a Pompey takeover.

Instead, supporters have to watch another match confined to their homes. Bar two fixtures at a reduced capacity of 2,000 in December, that's the way it has been 12 months.

The sentiment that today's Wembley showpiece is pointless is rife. The Blues and opponents Salford have far more important priorities to focus, both pushing for promotion in League One and League Two respectively.

What’s more, both squads have changed significantly while Salford’s manager Richie Wellens didn’t even engineer his side’s pathway to the national stadium.

To make this game feel even less important, the kick-off time remains the traditional 3pm on a Saturday. Rival supporters in the third and fourth tiers who'd usually tune are much less likely to as their team will be on at the same time.

Still, there's silverware up for grabs. A chance to adorn the Fratton Park trophy cabinet with another trophy.

Should Pompey triumph and Tom Naylor lifts the silverware aloft, it'll be a proud moment. However, the elation will be nowhere near like two years ago.