Why it could be farewell to an old Pompey friend

It adorns the wall of my office at home.

Saturday, 16th April 2016, 10:30 am
Updated Thursday, 7th June 2018, 6:42 pm
Neil Allen hands over a cheque to former Pompey director Mick Williams for monies raised through the sales of Sports Mails

‘Don but not forgotten’ mourns the headline of that final edition of the Sports Mail.

To mark its passing, scorers Izale McLeod and Gabor Gyepes kindly signed that prized October 6, 2012, copy.

When told of the significance, Hungarian central defender Gyepes asked for his own.

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To complete the autographed set, manager Michael Appleton, whose team had been held to a 2-2 draw at MK Dons for that fateful fixture, also obliged during the sombre occasion.

When the Sports Mail was subsequently resurrected the following season after a persuasive public response, the framed copy remained.

Its relevance a little dulled, but no less an affectionate nod towards Pompey past.

Yet it could now be set to receive a stablemate. Time to move over, you might have company.

When the paper was initially scrapped three-and-a-half years ago on the basis of low sales figures, it was averaging 3,700.

Currently, the resurrected Sports Mail – with added new features – is tallying 1,000 readers a week fewer.

The writing – like the picture frame – appears to be on the wall.

That is, of course, unless supporters can once again rally to preserve its treasured existence. Again.

And that’s what your trusted friend, the Sports Mail sailor, is calling on today.

Developments in technology and the ability to receive instant information, rather than wait until 5pm to painstakingly study that day’s results have transformed the landscape.

Why queue for copies outside the local newsagent on a Saturday evening when an iPhone and internet access is largely as thorough?

But, unless more fans can commit themselves to heading out to pick up a copy every week, then come Saturday, May 7, when Northampton visit Fratton Park, it could be the final whistle for a sports paper which first saw light in 1903.

It’s not what we want. And it’s not what Pompey wants.

Life began as the Football News and Southern Sport on September 5, 1903, an eight-page edition priced at one halfpenny.

Bearing no photographs, words were instead accompanied by sketches and cartoons.

That maiden copy featured a report on a 2-1 defeat at Reading in division one of the Southern League, with Thomas Brown the Pompey scorer.

The paper would twice change its name through its existence, as well as its complexion, firstly to the Football Mail and then the Sports Mail.

Such was its essential standing among Pompey fans, in September 1960 an average of 40,984 copies were being sold every Saturday.

Come September 2012 that had sunk to 3,700 – and so the printing presses were brought to a halt following 109 years.

Sadly, so many long-standing friends and colleagues of the Sports Mail have fallen during the modern era.

Nostalgia is no long-term solution to successfully fighting present-day problems.

And so – unless the Sports Mail can pull in more regular readers – the clock is ticking down on one of the remaining two Saturday sports papers in this country.

Soon the Daily Echo’s Sports Pink will stand as the lone survivor, like the 21st century thawing of an ice-enclosed woolly mammoth.

The Sheffield Star’s Green ‘Un title was published in print for the final time in July 2013 following 106 years.

The final ‘Pink’ of the Sunderland Echo was produced in December 2013, also ending 106 years of existence.

They lasted considerably longer than the Birmingham-based Sports Argus, once the largest-selling sports paper in Britain.

That ceased to exist in May 2006 with final ABC sales figures of 8,216.

The decision to close the Newcastle Chronicles The Pink was taken in December 2005, with only 10 of their 21 fixtures before Christmas having 3pm kick-off slots.

Other honourable exits include the Coventry Telegraph’s The Pink (2004), the Hull Daily Mail’s Green ‘Un (2005), Teesside Gazette’s Sporting Pink (2008), Leicester Mercury’s Sports Mercury (2007) and Norwich Evening NewsPink ‘Un (2009).

Of course, after proclaiming the Sports Mail was ‘Don but not forgotten’, there was a renaissance.

Following the arrival of community ownership, the paper returned to our shelves on August 3, 2013.

For nine months and 29 days it had laid dormant, except there remained a strong appetite among the Fratton faithful for its resumption.

The opening match of the 2013-14 campaign against Oxford United also kicked off the revamped paper, which soon averaged sales of 5,000.

In addition, it was agreed 10p of the 60p cover price would be donated to the football club.

The first two seasons saw a total of £26,582.70 handed over to Pompey’s Academy. That tally will approach £40,000 come this campaign’s end.

It’s a contribution from supporters appreciated by the Blues’ chief executive, Mark Catlin.

‘The investment we make in the Academy season is significant,’ he said.

‘To sustain that level of investment, it is absolutely vital we have varying revenue streams going into it, of which the Sports Mail is of crucial importance.

‘The city wants to see local lads coming into the first-team and the Sports Mail income has been essential for the smooth-running of the Academy moving forwards.

‘Hopefully it’s a partnership which can continue.’

The Sports Mail this season averages 2,792. The sailor’s thumbs are twitching, a wall is calling.

Unless you the fans dictate otherwise.