Bob Beech shares his thoughts on whether Fratton Park should be redeveloped or whether the club should explore alternative options.
OK, before we begin let’s address the mammoth sized elephant in the room, whichever side of the debate you sit Fratton Park as she looks today should have been bulldozed decades ago. For a 21st century club with ambition the old girl just isn’t fit for purpose.
While fingers have been pointed at the current board and accusations that they have no clear plan, it is previous regimes that should have brickbats slung at them, not a penny was been spent on ‘the Park’ for years other than a few extra seats shoe horned in here and there to squeeze more money out of fans during the Premier League days.
Things were left to literally rust and crumble to the point where when the club was finally rescued it was immediately faced with the capacity reduced due to the rotten infrastructure of the place, questions should perhaps be asked how the ground was allowed to get to that stage with the safety of supporters possibly compromised.
Since the takeover, resurrecting the fortunes of Fratton Park has been an ongoing process, much of the work carried out will have gone unnoticed by the majority of fans clicking through the turnstiles but they have been necessary to do when previous owners didn’t even bother with the pretence of papering over the cracks.
So where does this bring us?
The ever ongoing ‘stick or twist’ debate on whether we should refurbish Fratton Park or move to a brand new site has been long and hotly disputed in the pubs after matches. What should be looked at is the possibility of a suitable site for a new stadium within the city,
Portsmouth is cramped with most land eagerly snapped up by the University for the ever growing student population it’s hard to think where the land required for a football ground and the required roads and the like is in the city there is certainly nowhere on the island, well apart from Southsea common perhaps and lets not go there, not even in jest.
This leaves us with possible sites elsewhere perhaps on Farlington, been there done that, and King George V playing fields in Cosham. Both are, I think, non-starters the planning opposition for both would be long and costly, with little chance of succeeding while ‘Parkway’ was initially granted planning permission before being overturned by central government due to visiting geese. I can’t see that being revisited, whilst KGV would be an almost impossible sell. This would bring us to the possibility of leaving the city altogether, a thought that is anathema to me and I would guess most Pompey fans.
That then would leave us, with looking through Twitter earlier today, the first choice of the majority of fans – upgrading Fratton Park. The idea of turning the pitch was first mooted under Milan Mandaric, under Sacha Gaydamak the land all around Fratton Park was purchased to make that possible, I wonder whatever happened to that? Sorry I digress.
I know that there are those who are reading this who will disagree with me, but the deal over the land that has led to the Tesco development was a job well done by all concerned. It must be remembered that for reasons that we should revisit another time, Portsmouth Football Club did not own any of that land, we could have easily ended up with nothing. As it is some breathing space was secured, obviously in an ideal and fair world we would have retained control of all of it, but as we have all witnessed over the last few years where our club is concerned, it is far from fair or ideal.
Of course even with the land behind the North Stand we are limited with what can be achieved. The South Stand and Milton End are of course hemmed in by houses so limited planning permission could be sought to develop them beyond cosmetic improvements, perhaps more can be done with the Milton End, but from what I remember the current roof is the maximum height it can go due to light being blocked from the houses behind. I could be wrong here, but I can remember Peter Storrie talking about it on The Quay radio station so it must be true.
This then realistically leaves the Fratton End and North Stand, we all know that Mike Saunders from the Pompey Supporters’ Trust has devoted many hours to this, having had a couple of conversations with Mike on this I know how passionate he is about football stadium architecture and getting Fratton Park ‘right’.
So those of you who are shouting for Iain McInnes to ‘sort out Fratton Park’ are possibly correct, but what would you rather he, Mark Catlin and the board do? Buy up land using the clubs money but end up losing it all? Have a regular photo call with a JCB and yellow hard hat, yet never go any further than that? Or do you, like me, want them to thoroughly investigate how to best transform Fratton Park to a stadium that will see us into the future, with properly researched and funded proposal that will never risk the very being of our club?
The expansion of Fratton Park is not an easy fix – if it were those with big mouths in the past would have done it. The reality is, it will cost time and money. Currently we have time, and with all of us pitching when the time is right, the true legacy of ‘OURS’ will be a better Fratton Park, that future generations of Pompey fans can be proud of.
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