Sunday, 8 November 2015

07/11/15 Review: Portsmouth vs Macclesfield Town

Portsmouth 2-1 Macclesfield Town (FA Cup First Round)
Fratton Park

An FA Cup away day in Portsmouth, the unquestionable mark of any fan's commitment to their club. Added to the fact that I have recently taken up the crazy man's task of visiting as many grounds as possible, meant that this mouth-watering tie was a must on my weekend off. Living in Stoke, the way in which I would get there would prove to be the biggest challenge, with all means of transport either being highly-expensive or lengthy in travel time. I decided to take up the wonderful offer that Macc had given the fans- which was a coach trip, with match ticket and a free scarf, for just £30. Baring in mind the ticket to a game at Moss Rose is usually £19, I though that was a very good deal. The downside to this would, of course, be the mammoth journey and the early start.
Sat on the coach, wishing we'd got a home game
So, with my alarm set for 5:45am I awoke and got ready to leave for Macc at 7, in time for the 8 o'clock departure from Moss Rose. When I arrived at the ground I took my place in a queue outside of a man's car boot ready to sign-in and collect my ticket. A few fans in the line were already enjoying a 7:35am bottle of Stella Artois, whilst others clenched on to a McDonald's breakfast bag. With the smell of anticipation, beer and McMuffins, I received my bag containing my ticket and a Macclesfield Town booklet. At this point, the chap explained that the advertised free scarves hadn't made it and therefore I had the choice of a free sun cap or a voucher to redeem a scarf later in the season. I looked up at the widely-scattered grey clouds and the drizzling rain and noted the lack of sun cap wearing faithful's surrounding me, before deciding to take the voucher. With this, I jumped on the number 3 supporter's bus and awaited everybody's least favourite part of any coach trip, the lottery of who I would be sitting next to. I firstly took a seat mid-way up the coach, but when I popped down to see the on-board toilet, which was unlit and therefore of no use, I went back to find my seat occupied by two other gents. With this, I grabbed my bag and moved to an area nearer the back- and unfortunately near the toilet. Up until roughly 2 minutes before the coach left I was unaccompanied in my seat and even thought I knew that all seats were due to be filled, in my mind I was hoping to remain on my lonesome for the 5-hour cross-country ride. The organiser came aboard and read out three names to ask if they were on-board, to which no body responded. After doing a headcount, two lads jumped on the coach and took their seats just in time for the start of the drive. One of the lads took his seat next to me, and off we went to the docking City of Portsmouth.
Bus 3, certainly not full of the rowdiest fans 
Everybody knows that a coach journey isn't going to be comfortable, it is always going to be smelly, and it will most certainly be filled with some strange decisions from the driver. The first of the latter, came from the "mid way break" coming just 20 minutes into the journey, at the first service station in Sandbach! Everybody looked around in bemusement as the coaches pulled in on the border of Cheshire and the break was announced.

"Second McMuffin of the day", blurted out one fan
Following the break the driver took this opportunity to lay down a few ground rules and therefore let everybody know who was in charge. He told us all that there would be no permission to drink alcohol on the coach, which raised many smiles amongst the fans, before explaining that there would be police waiting at the ground upon arrival to walk us into the ground, which there weren't, and then finally told us to have a good time. Cheers mate. For the next few hours I managed to get some sleep, before waking up to some classic coach ride experiences. The first was the toilet-smell, which had been activated at some point by the probable overdose of McMuffins and non-permitted beer, which many of the lads were now cracking on with. The second was the smell of Worcester Sauce crisps, which I hate, resonating from someone in-front of me. Besides the stenches, I also spotted many of the folks around me setting Fantasy Football line-ups before the early kick-off between Bournemouth and Newcastle. I followed suit, swapping out Diafra Sakho for Wilfried Bony. The guy next to me was having the best of times though, sat doing a crossword with the constant assistance from Google.

The answers are right in front of you
By 1pm we had made it to Portsmouth, which had seen many strange 2-minute stops from the driver, a leaking ceiling from the coach, a few missed turnings and finally a double full-circle around the roundabout before we made it to Fratton. The continuous traffic from people driving to the docks and ferry ports meant that we weren't alone on the roads, with one local Silkman seeming to believe that this was "early match day traffic". The thing that I loved about the people on this bus was that, like me, they live for football and wouldn't see anything odd about travelling 10 hours in total to watch 90 minutes of football. Non-football fans simply do not understand, but the 3 coaches of 56 fans in, added to the 300 other folk who had made the away trip, were all excited to watch the Silkmen in action. Some fans I spoke to had made a similar trip on the train last weekend to watch the 1-0 defeat at Braintree, whilst others had received many calls on the coach from family and loved one's who they had sacked off for a day with the lads in the "wonderful" day out in Pompey.
I don't remember seeing these views in the brochures
With the ground eventually insight, people started to get excited. We appeared to get just outside the ground and just as people started to grab their bags in preparation to get off the coach, the driver took a turn away. We followed small roads deeper and deeper into the industrial jungle of Fratton's Retail Park, passing all of the possible food outlets and even a new Tesco Extra, before coming to a side street with two blue-jacketed stewards waving us to stop. Having already seen the ground from all four sides as we waded through the mazy complex, it appeared that we were finally here.
Portsmouth FC club shop, or players' apartments?
We piled out of the coach and headed straight towards the ground, without anyone seeming to ask where to meet after the match, or at what time! I was met with a nice walkway towards the ground, filled with the traditional vibes I had expected. The 100+ Silkmen army arrived at the main entrance, at which point I bought my £2 programme and asked where the away end was located. The very polite staff pointed me around the ground, in the opposite direction we had just gone around, and to the legendary Milton End. With over an hour and a half until I kick-off I approached the graffiti-ridden away end and asked the stewards awaiting us if I could enter the ground for a pre-match pint. Unfortunately, the ground's away end did not serve alcohol, probably for the best, but the steward did direct me towards the nearest pub- stating that he wished he could join me.
"How on earth did that ground make it on to FIFA?"- My friend Mikey was not impressed
Portsmouth were a Premier League team just 6 seasons ago, with an FA Cup win, a UEFA Cup run, a team of vast international talent and even Nwankwo Kanu to boast, in an impressive run between 2003 and 2010. Under 'Arry Redknapp, Pompey joined the Premiership and spent a very successful, albeit short-lived, time up there. A financial downturn in 2009-2010 eventually led to their demise, and eventually in 2013 they are currently in League Two. Despite a depressing recent history, Pompey still had a lot to be proud of. With high-attendances, a solid squad and a tough manager to boot, the 2015-2016 season looked promising and so far the Blues are sitting in the 3rd Place Automatic Promotion spot. Macc meanwhile are 13th in the league below, but with a potential shock on the cards, the game was bound to be good value. My pre-match prediction would be 3-0 to the home side, but hopefully 3-1 or even 3-2 to give us something to cheer about.

English football at it's finest
A brisk walk led me to the Shepherd's Crook, which, upon stepping inside, was delightfully packed out with home and away fans all enjoying a pint together and, most pleasingly, not causing any trouble. So much fuss is made of fans fighting and forming unnecessary rivalries, so to experience first-hand what it is really like was nice. I made my way to the bar and grabbed a pint, before sitting with some fans and reading my programme. A friend of mine and current Pantomime actor, Greg, at the theatre I work at is a Pompey fan and he had already told me that he would be at the game today. Following numerous taunting texts and a banter-filled voice-mail, I was at this point starting to realise what this fixture actually meant to the home team. With no FA Cup wins in 5 years, the 2008 winners were itching to beat their non-league opponents, having lost to non-leaguers in last year's competition for the first time ever.

A friendly bunch, for certain
Three pints later and there was half an hour until kick-off. As most people bought-in their final pre-match pint, I escaped and headed back to the Milton End and made my way into the ground. I was so excited to see the pitch where the Pompey greats such as Peter Crouch and Sol Campbell had stepped out, to see the goal that Ronaldinho scored in for AC Milan, to see the dugout which once hosted Avram Grant as Pompey boss. So excited, in fact, that I rushed straight up to my seat without grabbing a pie, which was Greg-proclaimed as being one of the best in League Two. After watching Partizan Bristle's Tom eat the most delicious footy pie at Aggborough, I was looking forward to sampling some top nosh of my own.

Fratton Park, a true home of football
Following the warm-up the fans started to pile in from both sides, and I was amazed by how many away fans were appearing into the ground- a great effort from the Silkmen who travelled the 230+ miles from Moss Rose. Up on the big screens in the corner I took a minute to watch some FA Cup flashbacks from here at Fratton Park, which mainly consisted of goals from Kanu and a Sulley Muntari penalty. Being here offered many reminders to me about what this club was, a club which I used to enjoy watching on Match of the Day. Seeing the exciting Niko Kranjcar do his thing, watching the tough tackling Hermann Hreidarsson take out his opponent and even getting to see the mighty John Utaka hit home the odd goal.

Silkmen Army
Before the match there was a 1-minute silence in honour of the death of a former-Portsmouth manager and, of course, the upcoming Remembrance Sunday on the horizon. It was nice to see almost 10,000 fans showing a mutual respect and following the ref's whistle was a raucous applause. Shortly after, the match kicked-off and it was game on. Pompey started the better on the pitch, gaining some good early-momentum and spraying the ball about well. Off the pitch though, the Macc fans were screaming out all of the chants they could muster. "Premier League, and you fucked it up" was closely followed by "Portsmouth's a shithole, I wanna go home" and other generic chants which stirred the gestures of the home section nearest the Milton End. The high-spirits of the away fans was soon dashed by a Pompey opener. Adam McGurk had the ball slid through to him and before Iraq international Shwan Jalal could get to him, the ball was dinked off of the post and into the net. Pompey 1-0 Macc. An opening goal so early seemed to split the emotions of the away support, with some instantly shouting for the Silkmen to get back on their feet, whilst others put their heads down and obviously started to wonder if the long journey would be worth it. The next few minutes was 50-50 in terms of chances, as both sides opened out their tactics a bit. As the 15-minute mark approached, the Silkmen, playing in Red, were spurred on by the most peculiar of chants to shout in such circumstances. "Who are we? Blue Army!" is perhaps a chant that the Silkmen should save for home games. Alas, it seemed to work for the lads who started to press higher up the pitch in an attempt to equalise. A throw-in from Pompey left-back, Enda Stevens, approached keeper Brian Murphy and he took a touch with the aim of punting it up the field. Unfortunately for him though, Kristian Dennis was charging him down and when the kick did eventually come, it struck the sliding boot of the Macc striker and nestled into the goal- what a howler for the home-side. Pompey 1-1 Macc.

A great moment for the travelling support
Unlike most games I go to, the highlights for the match are here on the BBC, and that goal is certainly worth a watch (the comical nature of the goal cannot be expressed through words). As you can also see from this picture, above, some of the Macc fans were getting aggravated by the Stewards genuine attempts earlier on to prevent people standing up in the crowd. Granted, these lads did go a bit crazy with the equaliser and were spoken to by the police, but there was no harm meant by the celebrating fans and ultimately the Stewards had to give up on their expectancies of everybody remaining seated. One away fan kept referring the Stewards attention over to the hundreds of fans over in the other areas of the ground who were stood shouting, to which they replied with, "we aren't over there, not much we can do".

Whilst the other Stewards enforced the "no standing" rule, this chap just stared people out
Back on to the pitch, the Silkmen really started to get to grips with the match. Considering how much better the home-side were on paper, Askey's lads were really giving it their all and the belief was back for Macc. However, with the likes of Bennett and Evans on the wings, Pompey were always likely to be a danger on the counter, and on the stroke of half-time a goal was on the horizon. After some shaky defensive work from Macc, the ball again fell to McGurk and he doubled his tally with a clinical finish. Macc 1-2 Pompey. So despite a solid half from the Silkmen, they would go into the break behind. Half-time gave me a chance to rush out to try a half-time Steak and Ale, and I must admit that it lived up to expectation. Truly delicious and much appreciated after the disappointment of the second Pompey goal.

A Fratton Park pie, spot on!
Desperate for the second-half, I got back to my seat and prepared to see if we would indeed get back into it. We didn't. Following a decent opening 10 from the second-half, we ultimately were let down by our fitness levels and if anything Pompey should've scored another. A brilliant goal-line clearance stopped a third, before substitute d├ębutante Marc McNulty headed over the bar. Danny Whittaker had a chance for Macc, but it seemed likely at this point that if anything the match would end in 3 or 4 for Pompey, rather than the hopeful 2-2. Another sub for the home team meant another fresh foe for the tiring defence and yet again a counter attack from Pompey was skied into the away end. After the injury-time board went up with the added time, a fair few Portsmouth fans began to leave, presumably to avoid traffic. This led to many of the away fans piping up for one more Silkmen attack. Alas, the ref called full-time and the match was over- meaning the Silkmen were going home empty-handed. Not knowing where the coach was or when it would be leaving, I followed the other Macc fans towards a local Copper, who directed us around to a big yellow storage unit. Upon arrival here, he quickly realised this was not the right place. 20 minutes of "you don't know what you're doing!" chants later, we had walked around the vicinity of the ground a couple of times and at the exact same place we were dropped off at, surprise surprise, we made it to the coaches. The policeman I was walking alongside gave a light-hearted apology to me, before lifting up his sleeve to show a thin black watch. He said to me, "You should get one of these, it counts how many steps you've made each day." and I just looked and smiled at him. I imagined at this point that as part of a health kick, the Portsmouth Police hold some sort of competition to see how many steps their officers walk. Good fun.

Good-bye Fratton Park, it's been a pleasure
With another 5-hour journey home to follow, I was lucky enough that this time I ended up sitting with nobody. The driver got straight on to the road and another sleep meant that before I knew it we were in Northamptonshire for the half-way break. I went into the Service station and whilst I was in the toilet I was reminded of my "Pint of Football Moment" from my time at Fratton Park. There wasn't many shock scores to be seen at the game today, but one scoreline which was brought to my attention made for an everlasting memory of the stadium.

The favourites got a deserved victory in this particular fixture 
I got back on to the coach and we were again met with another coach-driver's power speech. He reminded everyone that we were all desperate to get home, and therefore felt the need to emphasise that there would be no alternate drop-off's other than at Moss Rose. When we eventually got back to Macclesfield, this rule soon was forgotten though, as at least three people got off the coach at random, out of the way, points of the town. Despite this annoying end to the trip, I must conclude by saying that I had a great day out with the Silkmen faithful and it was a good experience to take in the experiences, the highs and the lows, of an FA Cup away day. After seeing the Silkmen beat Hull City 2-0 in the League Cup four years ago, I guess it would've been too much to ask to see another cup upset, but seeing one of my old favourite clubs in the shape of Portsmouth was something that I probably would never have otherwise done. 

Would I do it again? Ask me this time next year!