The collapse of a once great empire

There was a curious atmosphere at the Kassam on Saturday. Failing Portsmouth brought a following fit for the Premier League, while we – holding a play-off spot – spattered around the rest of the stadium as though our visitors were Rochdale or Accrington. The biggest small game or the smallest big game of the season.

Portsmouth was an answer to one of the questions on Fighting Talk on Saturday morning. It was in response to the question ‘Who or what would you not like to be in the shoes of?’

The explanation was that Pompey have found themselves the poster boys for almost all the game’s ills – implicated, indirectly, in match fixing, debt, greed, bankruptcy and relegation. It’s kind of difficult to know whether they are the victims of the system, or one of the villains stupid enough to get caught.

Cut to Saturday afternoon and the great swathes of Portsmouth fans banking along the North Stand; an impressive sight and a great racket. We, on the other hand, arrived in our dwindling number, eroded by form and an acute awareness of the product on offer. We weren’t fooled by the name of the team in town, this was just another League 2 fixture. It was a peculiar sight; not dissimilar to our days in the Conference when we’d swamp ramshackle non-league stadia; and then put in a ramshackle non-league performance.

The Portsmouth following crowd may still look like it’s from the Premier League, they sing heartily, but it is difficult to know what for. Their team is wretched, ponderous, unambitious and glacially slow. As incongruous as it feels; they are genuinely amongst the worst we’ve seen at the Kassam this year.

You wonder how it can possible sustain the facade. Even the most loyal fans realise eventually that a failing club simply isn’t worth the effort. You don’t stop supporting, of course, you just stop going.

What is an away crowd made up of? I’ve no evidence to back this up; but I’d say 15% are made up of those who go to every game and have become almost divorced from functioning society, they haven’t seen anything outside a football stadium on a Saturday afternoon between August and May for years. A majority, say, 55% will be those who consider away games as a normal part of their support – they’ll go regularly, but not always. 10% will be exiles for whom this is their local fixture, a rare opportunity to see their team, the first fixture they look for when they come out in June. Another 10% will have some kind of affiliation with the opponents’ town or surrounds – perhaps they’ve got friends there, or it’s their old university town. What remains is 10% of people who simply come for some random reason – a free weekend, a ground they’ve never been to.

Whether it’s Accrington Stanley or Manchester United, I reckon away followings are broadly made up like this. The volumes are different – dictated by success – but the motivations are the same.

Portsmouth fans will still feel the echo of trips to Wembley, The Emirates and Old Trafford, so they continue to bring large numbers. But, the thing about young people is that they gradually become old people. The 55% of regulars will, over time, acquire responsibilities – family, work, weekly shops at Morrisons – for which they will eventually have to sacrifice long boozy away days with their mates.

What, in normal circumstances, replaces those people are more people like you used to be. Except when you’re like Portsmouth, those young (and they are usually young) men (and they are usually men) need to have a reason to make the financial sacrifice to follow a team up and down the country. Good football and results help, of course, but that’s in woefully short supply for Portsmouth. The new regulars that bulk out an away following won’t have the memories to compel them to travel.

You wonder, if they do survive this year (I think they will, but it’s far from guaranteed) and we stay down (who knows?), whether we’ll see the same numbers turning up in the North Stand next year? I doubt it; and over time, if they can’t arrest this slide they’ll become filed alongside us, Wimbledon, Bradford, Luton and others under ‘weren’t we good once’?

We, on the other hand, are a reliable diesel, slow, unspectacular, but we’ll get there eventually. There were times on Saturday when we were like a snow plough; slowly pushing back Portsmouth to their own penalty box. But we could dig out way through the piles of blue, er, snow that we’d created. Ryan Williams, Alfie Potter, Danny Rose, Dave Kitson and now Nicky Wroe are supposed to give us a creative spark on top of the platform of Mullins, Wright and Whing (when fit). In reality back-four is heart of the team is. We looked more robust with Mullins in midfield, which gave Rose, Wroe and Rigg more time on the ball, but it still feels like a team to draw a lot of games.

People are screaming for something more thrilling, and exciting and it’s difficult to argue against that. But that’s where we are at the moment and the pattern is all but set for the rest of the season. If we do make any more signings before the end of the transfer window, they’re not likely to make a lot of difference to the overall pattern and style. It’s time to knuckle down and endure the ride.

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Oxblogger is a blog about Oxford United.

12 thoughts on “The collapse of a once great empire

  1. What a load of crap since when were we indirectly accused of match fixing and greed? What croc no that was called foreign owners using it like a small boy playing with his train set . And the match fixing was done by a player. Look very closely at your own team. You also failed to put in your report about your players once slightly touched went down in a heap , crowded the ref like a swarm of bees. O only to have a similar outcome. Whilst the first meeting was a red card the second meeting was a yellow twice. What should of happened was the player and players should have been carded and the club warned of their cheating. But thanks for the laughs.


  2. Sorry, but the references to Wembley and The Premier League are irrelevant. We used to bring far more fans than Saturday to Oxford in the 70s and 80s when we were both in the lower divisions and with no sign of any success in sight. We have always had a relatively large away support.


  3. I'd like to echo what Mike just said. I remember the last time we're in Div 4 (79/80) when we had good crowds then (20K+). Those are the days I remember fondly and the reason I still support my team.


  4. As proud as I am of the numbers that follow Portsmouth away, what does it matter how many we bring next season? Yes it would be less… but I'm only really bothered how many are at fratton park. That's where we get the income to pay the players. You sir, are a tool.


  5. Bit thin on the old research there fella. Missed out the significant fact that Portsmouth Football Club is OURS. Owned by its fans since last April with over 50% of it being controlled by the Pompey Supporters Trust. Might have something to to with the fact we average 15000 at home and fill away allocations across this league.You might be bored with your team. But your fate is in the hands of capricious owners. Ours is ours alone. That's worth a lot in the current footballing climate.


  6. When i was a kid i used to go and watch swindon and one of the most vivid memories back in the late seventies was the visit of Pompey, like something out of another footballing universe. That was in the old third division, there was always a touch of class about their support, it is why i took my lads to see them regularly many years later,because they are a proper football club.Oxford on the other hand well less said the better.


  7. OK, take it from the top@darren The implication of match fixing (from Radio 5Live) was related, I assume, to Sam Sodje. Perhaps it is match fixing, perhaps not, but that was the comment that was made.The implication of greed is related to Pompey either being the greatest example, or exponents of, the great Premier League lie, i.e. that it's a source of untold riches and that actually it's a source of untold debt.… I've no idea what you're talking about re: red and yellow cards, Sorry.@Mike and @Simon – From memory, Pompey's support during the 80s to the Manor was certainly larger than average. But, I doubt you'd have brought as many as you did if you'd spent the last 15 years dwelling around the lower leagues. More importantly, will there be the same enthusiasm for the club if you're sitting in the lower leagues in 5-10 years. We've been down here a long time, it's very difficult to get out of and it's just not that much fun. @tuesdaynightfootballclub I'm sure you are bothered about how many go to Fratton Park. Me? Not so much. I was just making an observation about your unusually large away following and what might happen in the future. And thanks for calling me a tool.@SJ Maskell I do know about the ownership thing; it's mentioned pretty regularly. In an ideal world it's exactly how every club should be run. I just hope it begins to work on the pitch before you fall too much further. There wasn't a lot of evidence on Saturday. If your new governance arrangements can sustain your enthusiasm for you club, then great. My guess is that there will be quite a few who will begin to lose interest if the performances don't improve.I don't understand the 'capricious owners' comment. I don't think you're using the word capricious correctly. To all: honestly, I'm not that bothered about Portsmouth. It was just weird to see a large following in League 2 and it got me thinking about how a club generates its away following and whether that's sustainable when the football is as terrible (by both sides) as Saturday.


  8. I actually enjoyed reading that rather than the vitriol spouted by others against us.You have written about our meteoric collapse though pretty much from the media-led viewpoint. Hardly surprising though as that is how most people get their viewpoints these days. Some of us could see it coming but were shouted down as we were too busy living the dream.We are where we are and it's up to us, and more importantly the players, to get us out of it.


  9. This comment 'it was weird seeing a large following in league 2' That's because we are a bigger supported football team than you! Fact!obviously you weren't at Fratton park for the 1st game lol anyway:4 administrations 30 points deducted 3 relegations86 position in leagueYou should be singing our praises as a football person? AND YES! We will bring the same amount of fans next time because history tells you this! It's people like you with Small club syndrome why your team always props up the division most of the time! You like your football team but don't support them! Think about it…


  10. @GOG Thanks, agreed I see it from how the media have filtered it. As I say, I’m not sure whether Portsmouth (the club) are greatest victims of the Premier League lie, or the greatest villains. I know that the fans, ultimately, are the victims.@Mark Hatton Sorry, you misunderstand; I’m not suggesting for a second that Oxford are a ‘bigger club’, whatever that means. As demonstrated in some of these and previous comments, despite the 4 administrations, 30 points deducted etc. etc. People still mix up Portsmouth ‘the brand’ and the team. The ‘brand’ – big club, great history etc. will only carry you so far. As will fan-owned and all that. There’s a point where people realise that the product being served up under that brand is, basically, terrible. Blind loyalty only takes you so far, and if what happened on Saturday was an indication of what you’re watching (league position suggests that it probably is), if that isn’t sorted soon, people will find other things to do on a Saturday.We speak from some experience of this; slightly different scale but same syndrome – played in the top division, won the League Cup at Wembley and then slipped into the Conference through complacency and incompetence – all in my lifetime. Your fall is from a higher place and much faster, but it's basically the same thing. We got to the Conference and it took us a long time to figure out why people weren’t rolling over and letting us beat them. Then we worked out that the big crowds, stadium etc. meant bugger all. Just because we can take 30,000 to Wembley and fill the stadium for a Conference league game, and we've got 'history' it doesn’t mean those people will blindly go to games if those games are rubbish.I think you’ve got my position the wrong way around – I support the Oxford, I don’t always like them.


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