Portsmouth 1 Oxford United 4 match report: Portsmouth's big day ends on a flat note
The Calvin Report: Reborn club come out to stirring soundtrack in front of a capacity crowd but after taking the lead Pompey let in a stream of goals and have their captain sent off
Sunday 04 August 2013
The sub-Sinatra drawl of Jamie Cullum boomed out from ancient loudspeakers: "It's a new dawn, a new day, a new life." Other songs at Fratton Park were more earthy, and heartfelt. Unfortunately for Portsmouth, football specialises in doomed romanticism, however stirring the soundtrack.
The rebirth of the club which refused to fold was passionate, fractious, and a reminder of the game's capricious nature. Portsmouth had their captain Johnny Ertl sent off for appearing to elbow Danny Rose, and lost 4-1 after taking the lead through Patrick Agyemang.
Their newly-enfranchised fans began to arrive five hours before kick off. They came from Jarrow and Japan to renew their vows. They began to leave a quarter of an hour from the end, to a mocking chorus of "is there a fire drill?" from 2,500 Oxford supporters. So much for solidarity, and the common cause of the common man.
Those in the capacity crowd who could not stomach the spectacle, and the massacre of hope represented by the result, should be forgiven their dismay and temporary disaffection. These are people who were traduced as traitors, and mocked as "a bunch of aliens."
That squalid little insult was delivered by Balram Chanrai, a Hong Kong businessman who knew little about football, and cared even less about the traditions represented by a blue collar club in a Southern town with a Northern soul.
He was one of the absentee owners whose pernicious strategy drove a 115-year-old institution to the brink. There have been far worse days than this for Pompey, however stark the warning that promotion from League Two will not be the formality the bookmakers had signalled.
It was a day for broader questions. Greg Clarke, chairman of the Football League, should have been there. His witless questioning of the viability of fan-owned clubs, while he sanctions the regime imposed on Coventry City by a Mayfair-based hedge fund, signals his lack of insight and credibility.
Karma can be a harsh mistress. When Portsmouth played at the Ricoh Arena two seasons ago, Coventry fans waved £20 notes at travelling supporters, and sang "you're going bust in the morning."
Pompey have been renewed, rescued. They will do things the right way. Fans have clubbed together, in conjunction with the club, to buy 24 season tickets, which are used on a weekly basis by fans who cannot afford to attend.
Its example, as a club run by the fans, for the fans, is peerless. Chairman Iain McInnes gleefully defies the starched-collar conventions of the directors box, and orchestrates the chanting. One need only visit his boardroom to appreciate the extent of the corporate vandalism inflicted on the 2008 FA Cup winners.
Malign regimes stripped out mahogany panelling and replaced it with frosted glass more suited to a public convenience. Shrines to legends like Jimmy Dickinson were dismantled. In the words of Mick Williams, one of three fans on the board, "they tried to take our history and our heritage away from us"
All football grounds have their ghosts. At Fratton Park, where wooden stands reverberate and still carry advertisements for seats at five shillings and sixpence, they've finally been laid to rest. More than 10,500 season tickets have been sold, and nearly 4,000 replica shirts bought.
They've reclaimed the game, but the theory that the football was incidental did not survive the first five minutes of the new season. Oxford's Dave Kitson, who cancelled his Portsmouth contract when liquidation loomed in August of last year, became the focus of discontent.
When the expletives were deleted, the bellowed consensus was that he was "useless." In truth, he is the sort of player whose experience will be invaluable in such an unremitting environment as League Two.
Here, under a fierce sun which cast dark shadows, the locals dared to dream when Pompey took a 25th minute lead. Agyemang headed in an excellent left wing cross by Andy Barcham, but two goals within three minutes in response hinted at recurring defensive problems. Deane Smalley was allowed to turn on the right hand edge of the penalty area to equalise. Goalkeeper John Sullivan was similarly unprotected when Alfie Potter completed a move begun by a selfless Kitson header in his own half. The dismissal of Ertl, 17 minutes into the second half soured the mood still further.
Smalley and Potter each scored a second goal before Kitson's substitution led to him exchanging insults with supporters in the main stand. He left the ground accompanied by two security guards, amid reports of scuffles in the street. Welcome to the real world.
Portsmouth (4-4-2): Sullivan; Moutaouakil, Devera, Bradley, Butler (Holmes, 65) ; Wallace (Padovani, 71), Ertl, Ferry, Barcham, Connolly, Agyemang (Craddock, 71).
Oxford United (4-4-2): Clarke; Hunt, Mullins, Wright, Newey; Potter, Whing, Rose, Rigg (Da vies, 89); Smalley (Constable, 75), Kitson (Hall 85).
Referee Gavin Ward.
Man of the match Kitson (Oxford).
Match rating 7/10.
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