Pompey and lockdown - it's not the football I miss, it's much more
Sunday, 15th Nov 2020 19:07 by Steve Bone
It took some very sad news the other week to make me realise what I've missed about not being able to go to football, and in particular Fratton Park, during the pandemic.
You will have read recently that the lovely and legendary Pompey fan Basher Benfield has died. He was just 56 and had faced many health issues over a long period, not letting any of them stop him following the Blues home and away.
I first got to know Basher in the second half of the 1990s when he was a regular I could call upon when collecting fans' views for The News after games. In those days (not to mention before then and since, I imagine) he always had plenty to say, but his opinions were considered and very fair.
I can't claim to have been a close friend of Basher's but he was someone I'd always say hello to, and sometimes stop for a quick chat with, if I saw him at a game. In the past couple of years I'm sure I'd been bumping into him more frequently while leaving the ground – perhaps our respective routes out of Fratton made our paths cross.
And when I thought about the last time I saw him, it struck me that what I miss about not going to watch football is... not the football itself, but the people and the surroundings.
That is not meant as a swipe at the team – I think I'd feel the same if lockdown had come when we were in League Two, the Premier or anywhere in between.
But although it's the football that draws you to Fratton Park, it's the sights, sounds (maybe the smells too?) and conversations you experience that make it what it is – that make it something very well worth doing whatever the result.
What I really miss is seeing familiar faces – faces like Basher's; faces I have known or even just recognised for years... in some cases, for me, for four decades.
For the first two or three months of lockdown I can't say I missed going to football much, possibly because it wasn't actually being played. Then the messy end of last season was played out in front of empty stands and now the opening acts of the 2020-21 campaign have taken place in the same soulless arenas, at least at Football League level if not at some non-league levels, who were able (quite safely) to allow a few hundred people in before this new lockdown.
I am now missing the matchday experience but the more I think about it, it's the rituals I'm yearning for rather than sitting there watching 90 minutes of football in the flesh.
It's the drive to Fratton listening to the lunchtime Premier League game, it's the walk from Fifth Street, past the park, over the bridge, along the alley, around Tesco and into the back of the Fratton End. It's the chat with the Frogmore Road gang, the walk around the ground to get to my North Stand turnstile (yes, my one), the visit to the tea bar, the walk down to my seat (the same one I've sat in since it was installed 24 years ago), the nods, hellos and small talk with the people who sit near me who I know yet don't know, the checking of other scores when the game in front of me goes quiet (first check: normally about eight minutes in), the joy at a goal scored or exasperation of a poor decision or one conceded, the chance to see and say hello to people like Basher and many others like him, the trudge back to the car.
All of that's what I miss, and you can be sure that next time I experience it, I'll savour every moment. And you'll have to forgive me if I find myself looking out for Basher on the way out of the ground.
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This artcle first appeared in Steve Bone's View From The North Stand in the Pompey programme. The programme is still being produced and you can have it sent to you for matchday. See more at https://www.portsmouthfc.co.uk/news/2020/november/pompey-programme-bundles-still