Down but not out (of the big match, at least)
"Blue pride worldwide" was the headline on the FA Cup special supplement being sold yesterday by Portsmouth's local newspaper The News, which had photographed a group of Afghanistan-based Royal Marines holding aloft a "Play Up Pompey" banner in reference to their favourite football team.
Portsmouth has a strong military heritage but it is stretching things to suggest that its football club enjoys a global fan base, unlike their opponents at today's final, Chelsea, the newly crowned Premier League champions. The vast bulk of Pompey's support will be heading up the A3 to Wembley directly from this small island city on the south coast, and they will be travelling with mixed emotions.
Although this is Portsmouth's second FA Cup final in three years, following their unexpected triumph in 2008, it will be their last fixture for some time as a Premier League side, following their relegation this season. Indeed, there is no guarantee that the club, with debts of £138m and no obvious signs of a new buyer, will even exist when the new campaign begins in August.
So Wembley offers Pompey's famously passionate supporters the perfect platform to demonstrate to potential investors that this is one of England's special clubs and one worth saving. Portsmouth's blue pride will be tempered by the fact that they will play in white – the London side will be wearing their famous home strip.
Yesterday at Pompey's dilapidated Fratton Park stadium, fans queued to buy a batch of 1,000 tickets unexpectedly released by Wembley, a possible sign that the result is widely regarded as a foregone conclusion.
They won't think that in the narrow streets of Portsmouth, which will be deserted tomorrow as the club that represents the city and carries its heraldic emblem of star and crescent bids farewell on the big stage. Whatever the result – and Chelsea have finished the season as a goal machine of ruthless efficiency – those Pompey fans lucky enough to be there will ensure that this year's FA Cup final will be a remarkable one.
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