Why Fratton Park cannot provide a lifeline to answer stranded Portsmouth Women's SOS
The indomitable Fortress Fratton – impervious to foes and, crucially, the merciless south-coast winter.
Pompey represent the Football League’s final unbeaten home record, the most recent count detailing 14 League One matches without defeat.
Home form has proven pivotal this season – an advantage their frustrated female counterparts continue to be denied.
Pompey Women have not featured in the National League southern premier division since November 24, with their fixture list devastated by the weather.
For two seasons The PMC Stadium has provided a base, an arrangement brokered after the club was brought under the Pompey umbrella in June 2018, thereby preserving its existence.
However, the Baffins Milton Rovers pitch has endured drainage problems, particularly this term, prompting a spate of cancellations and six games in hand on some rivals.
Following the latest postponement, midfielder Jade Bradley fired off a tweet, now deleted, calling for assistance from those in ‘senior positions’.
Her criticism was taken up by a number of Blues followers, who feel the League One club should intervene, allowing the ladies side which bears their name to turn out a Fratton Park.
It’s a request chief executive Mark Catlin continues to decline.
And while he possesses sympathy for Jay Sadler’s team, he feels increasing the Fratton pitch’s workload could, ultimately, have a detrimental effect on their own ambitions.
Catlin said: ‘Pompey Women are a separate independent organisation, although we do what we can to assist.
‘As the years have progressed, we have become more aligned. In fact, one of the first things we did was to find them a permanent base, which was achieved via the generosity of The PMC Stadium.
‘Unfortunately, as the season has gone on, games have not been able to go ahead for reasons mainly to do with the weather.
‘It comes down to a general lack of stadium able to meet certain requirements. To get a pitch that can cope with two teams playing regularly on it – and to the standards required – costs high hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of pounds.
‘Our home form has been spectacular and people must realise potentially playing extra games on it, especially during what I am being told is one of the wettest winters on record, will do damage and could potentially affect the first-team performance.
‘One match on a sodden pitch at Fratton Park can do a lot of damage which is very hard to come back from. So we are protective of the first-team pitch – and that will remain the case.’
In terms of Kenny Jackett’s side, Saturday's visit of Sunderland marked the beginning of a chaotic period of nine home matches inside seven weeks.
During that time frame, the Blues face crucial fixtures in their bid to return to the Championship, along with a Leasing.com Trophy semi-final against Exeter and the FA Cup fifth-round visit of Arsenal.
The Fratton Park pitch, which was relaid last summer, also hosted six games within a month approaching the Christmas period, including Boxing Day.
And Catlin’s tables Saturday opposition Tranmere as an example of how overuse can adversely impact upon pitch quality.
He added: ‘You only have to look at Tranmere’s pitch to see what effect having another team playing on it does, in this case Liverpool Women.
‘With all the cup games we’ve had this year, we just can’t afford to take that risk.
‘For example, we have a period coming up of six home games out of seven. The playing surface looks great on top, but a pitch is a very fragile environment, one bad game can cause a lot of damage – and we can’t allow that to happen.
‘We have been consistent with our approach towards the use of Fratton Park, it has to remain the pitch of the first-team, that is our priority.
‘In addition, opening Fratton Park on a regular basis for the Pompey Women is not financially viable. For one-off games it is different, but there are certain break-even points we need to generate revenue-wise – and that is over and above any damage caused to the pitch.
‘People are entitled to an opinion, but our first-team and progress through the leagues is the absolute priority.
‘We will continue to support and help underpin the viability of the women's team moving forward, but, in terms of playing on Fratton Park, the pitches just can't take it.
‘We have to protect that for the first team.’
Home Pompey reserve and under-23 matches continue to be held at the Hawks and the Rocks, while the academy only see Fratton Park action for FA Youth Cup fixtures.
A Pompey Women match at Fratton Park is on the calendar, however, scheduled for Sunday, April 26, with the visit of Crawley Wasps.
The opportunity emerged following Bury’s demise, with a League One encounter against Jackett’s men originally meant to take place on the Saturday.
The Blues are presently in talks with the navy over potentially using HMS Temeraire for ladies games in the future.
In addition, the club-backed Moneyfields redevelopment project would offer two artificial pitches, raising the prospect of a new home for Pompey Women.
In the meantime, there remain fixtures to fulfil this season, with Gosport chairman Iain McInnes stepping in to stage Wednesday night’s rearranged home League Cup tie with Southampton, which ended in a 2-0 Blues defeat.
And Pompey Women chairman Eric Coleborn insists the club are working hard to find ways of alleviating growing fixture congestion.
He said: ‘As chairman, it is my responsibility. It is no good pushing it onto somebody else, I have to get it sorted – and that’s what I’m trying to do.
‘We’ve had unfortunate circumstances. Everything seems to go wrong when you don’t want it to, that’s life, but we have to make the best of it and everybody is working ever so hard.
‘We’re looking at all sorts of possible alternatives and seeing what we can come up with. It’s not easy, but we’ll get there.
‘There aren’t that many places to play, we are very, very short of facilities in the city. However, the Moneyfields project is going to be absolutely brilliant and an option for us. It’s a bit in the distance, but a possibility.
‘Being honest, I would love to play every game at Fratton Park, but I know that isn’t realistic, you have to be sensible about these things.
‘Imagine cutting the pitch up with the men have an important promotion game coming up. None of us want that.’