‘We’ve got something special here’ – AFC Portchester chairman Paul Kelly ‘gobsmacked’ by record Wessex League crowd for derby win against Fareham

Portchester striker Harrison Brook takes a shot in front of the new Wessex League crowd record of 1,598 against Fareham yesterday. Picture by Daniel HaswellPortchester striker Harrison Brook takes a shot in front of the new Wessex League crowd record of 1,598 against Fareham yesterday. Picture by Daniel Haswell
Portchester striker Harrison Brook takes a shot in front of the new Wessex League crowd record of 1,598 against Fareham yesterday. Picture by Daniel Haswell
Paul Kelly admitted he was left ‘gobsmacked’ by the ‘phenomenal’ crowd for the ‘El Creekio’ derby that set a new Wessex League record.

The AFC Portchester chairman watched on with a sense of pride as 1,598 packed into the On-Site Group Stadium for yesterday’s 4-1 Bank Holiday victory over neighbouring Fareham Town.

On the field, Portchester are now 12 points clear at the top of the Wessex Premier after their 18th win of a 20-game unbeaten run.

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Off it, the Royals have rewritten the league record books - yesterday’s crowd surpassing the 1,485 Salisbury attracted for their derby with Bemerton Heath in December 2015.

AFC Portchester chairman Paul KellyAFC Portchester chairman Paul Kelly
AFC Portchester chairman Paul Kelly

‘It was a fantastic day,’ Kelly told The News. ‘I thought we might get 800 or 900 tops, but to break the Wessex League record was phenomenal.

‘It was great support from Portchester, and Fareham as well – Fareham played a massive part in it.’

The ground is no stranger to big crowds, having hosted Lee Rigby Memorial Cup friendlies between teams of former Pompey and Glasgow Rangers players.

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But the previous best attendance Portchy had attracted was the 552 who saw them beat Bemerton last October – a crowd the chairman said was an ‘eye opener’ for a midweek fixture.

‘I kept looking around (before kick off against Fareham) and thinking ‘blimey, this is nearly as many as the Rangers game’,’ remarked Kelly.

‘We’ve handled big crowds in the past and we knew we could cope.

‘I asked the ref if he could delay the kick off to get everyone in, but he said he couldn’t. But everyone was in by 3.15 - I was absolutely gobsmacked.

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‘We’ve got a great facility here, without bigging it up too much - a lot of work has been done in the last few years.

‘I said to Graham Latham, ‘this is what Kev started it all for’.’

The late Kevin Latham, alongside his brother Graham, were Portchester’s joint-managers when they stepped up to the Wessex League from the Hampshire League in 2004.

In their first Wessex season, in 2004/05, the Royals finished 14th out of 20 in the newly-formed third tier - below the likes of Hayling, Fleetlands, Paulsgrove, Otterbourne, Overton United, Micheldever, Netley Central Sports and Ordnance Survey.

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Eighteen years on, Portchester are in a great position to finally realise Kelly’s Holy Grail of promotion to the Southern League.

He is now in his 27th season at the club, having started out as a youth secretary before becoming chairman in 2011 - the Royals winning promotion to the Wessex Premier in his first season, 2011/12.

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Since then, the highest the club has finished in the top flight is third - under current Fareham boss Graham Rix - in 2014/15.

‘I know we have been under-achievers in the past,’ declared Kelly. ‘Probably the biggest under-achievers in the Wessex League.

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‘We’ve got something special here now and I’m really proud to be part of it.

‘There’s a great atmosphere, a great feel around the place at the moment.

‘We’ve been taking over 100 supporters to away games recently, so other clubs are benefiting as well - you saw the size of the crowd at Moneyfields the other day.’

That was a reference to the 1,012 attendance that watched Moneys draw 3-3 with Portchy two days after Christmas at Westleigh Park.

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‘You can see the players appreciate it (the bigger crowds),’ Kelly continued. ‘They appreciate what they’ve got here, that they are part of something special.

‘I don’t think we’ll get 1,500 again, but I said to Dave (Carter, manager) if we could get just a third of that crowd for every game between now and the end of the season, that would be something special.’

Portchester’s last four home games of the league season are all PO postcode derbies - against Moneyfields, US Portsmouth, Baffins and Horndean.

That latter game could well turn out to be something of a title decider - Horndean are currently second, with three games in hand - and Kelly said: ‘I’m ever the optimist - that could be a very big game for us.

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‘Horndean are having a fantastic season too, but hopefully if we carry on as we have been that should get us to where we want to be.’

Paradoxically, Kelly knows promotion to the Southern League would be unlikely to bring crowds anywhere near the one they attracted against Fareham.

Moneyfields, for example, are getting bigger attendances since returning to step 5 football than they ever did at Southern League level - helped by a swathe of PO postcode derbies.

And there have only been nine crowds in Southern League Division 1 South this season over 866 - and AFC Totton have attracted eight of them, with a highest of 1,309 v Tavistock on Boxing Day.

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Only Totton (921) and Wimborne Town (518) are averaging over 500 in the league Portchester would step up into if they won promotion.

Kelly said: ‘If we could retain 400 or 500 supporters if we did go up, and possibly add a few, that would be really good.’