I’m currently in London for a week of work with our audioBoom UK office but with a Sunday and Saturday free either side, I’m making sure I can get to a couple of stadiums to check out some more football fan experiences across England.
Today I’m in the south western English seaside town of Portsmouth, home to current football league two team Portsmouth FC or ‘Pompey’ as they are known more affectionately. Today is my 28th football ground visit in England since I first moved here in 2006 so I’m slowly ticking all 92 of them off as Pompey take on AFC Wimbledon today.
I head off for this away day to Portsmouth at 830am by grabbing a tube (£2.20) from London Bridge to Victoria Coach Station where I catch a two hour (£9 return) coach ride to The Hard Exchange in Portsmouth.
When I arrive just after 11am it’s wet, extremely windy, cold and grey and the seagulls are out in force trying to eat my chips (£1.20) and Cornish pastie (£1.90) that I’ve just purchased from a proper chip shop, the delicious pastie of which comes second only to the one I had at Glastonbury 2008.
I find a local home team pub in the Ship and Castle in town and settle down to a few pre-game beers (Hobgoblin pint £5.90 and something called a Fosters for £2.80- sorry Australia!) and read up on some research I’ve collected on what Portsmouth do for fans on match days to improve the fan experience. Some good reading here on that:
It looks like I’ve arrived at just the right time for stadium transport as Uber was only legalized here on Friday and at 1pm I grab one from the Ship & Castle to Portsmouth’s Fratton Park stadium and talk to my Romanian driver about Portsmouth, Uber and football in general. Ben is a Manchester United fan and thinks the fan experience at Fratton Park is quite good but he hates the team so is only judging this from having sat in the away end.
Ben drops me just outside the south stand gates where I chat to a teenage program seller about the Pompey experience. The young chap talks up the things the club does to engage young fans and shows me the excellent specially produced £1 kids only 100 page match day program. I believe from what sellers were saying to fans that this is the only kids specific match day program in the football league.
As I walk around this classic old school 1898 stadium through tiny alleyways surrounded by residential housing I’m thinking about how for some fans, fan engagement is just about making sure things like transport, ticketing and concessions are road block free on match day. The Fratton Park and Portsmouth FC experience is not a glossy polished technologically driven day out with cup holders, free WiFi (or any WiFi for that matter) or big screen digital activations but of bovril and curry chips to singing songs and sitting under historic stadium tin roofs while taking in the game.
After purchasing a £3 program I make my way to my general seat (£20) in the North stand but I’m surprised to see it is a restricted view seat yet there was no mention of this in the booking process nor did the club reply to my email asking for help with purchasing a ticket when the address function drop down bar on the ticketing site only allowed for five countries with Australia not being one of them. I figured it out by using a fake address but it shows the importance of clubs having to make sure they listen to their fans. Now while I also know that these old stands weren’t designed with all fans sight angles in mind and that thats part of the charm, I can imagine another fan getting frustrated at paying (AU$50) for a ticket with a restricted view but not being told about that in the first instance. And what of £20 for the fourth division of a competition? Is football too expensive in England? It was a sell out here today so it’s obviously not a problem amongst Pompey fans? Time will tell….
It was a nice idea to see that Pompey fans occupy the number 12 spot in the team listing on the back of the match day program.
I entered through turnstile 5 in the North Stand by scanning my paper ticket that I printed back in Melbourne. Sigh. Look at this. What has become of the great physical ticket design. I’ve collected 95% of the tickets from gigs and games since 1996 and always try to buy a physical ticket whenever I can. Any club who produces these paper tickets should find a way to at least make these customizable with fans faces or profiles on them or with team livery designs to bring a bit of personalization and memorable collectability to ticketing. Its the fans ink and paper after all.
Food options at Fratton Park are pretty basic but the pies sounded nice. Beer prices are affordable at £3.50 considering I paid double for a pint at pretty much every stadium in the US recently and at this price are on par with Aussie beer prices, albeit we don’t have pints at out stadiums.
I do find it intriguing that in English football even though clubs and stadiums make every effort to stamp out abusive language with text lines and stewards on hand that fans get away with the level of swearing that they do. Cries of ‘Fook off you daft muppet’ and ‘eww durty basterd carnt’ here from one fan barely raises an eye from fans but in Australia I think while its expected at sporting matches the world over, that fans don’t tolerate it as much with kids present as they do here as in a way its all part of that quintessential English football experience. Its also a bit of the bystander effect in practice as no fan wants to dob in another fan just for swearing.
There was some creative street art adorning the mens and women’s toilets that was a good use of space as seen here.
With Remembrance Day only a few days prior to this game and Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris, the club plays the last post before a minutes silence. Listen here:
There was also a young navy man carrying around an old Pompey rally sign in the form of a 30’s/40’s design to ramp fans up in the pre game which was a simple and creative yet respectful idea.
While the youth program was a cool idea it was also interesting to hear how the club’s older fans participate in walking football as well.
The Pompey fans are out in fine voice in the Fratton End as they belt out chants with drums, bells and whistles. Listen here to the Portsmouth FC fans.
The game is an exciting free flowing and attacking spectacle with both teams firing shots off while the goalkeepers struggle to kick the ball straight as its held up in the wind like a balloon.
I know I harp on and on about the exciting advancements and best practice fan engagement examples that I come across on my travels but sometimes all you really need is a good chat with fellow fans, a cold beer, a decent seat and a sing song to have a great stadium experience as a fan. Nothing compares to the English football experience from the pre game pints in either the home and away pubs and the walk to the ground to the singing and all the good vibes that go with this however I do wonder what older purist fans will think when better advancements in seat ordering, drones, beacon and virtual reality technologies eventually start proliferating into the English game as they have done in the US and as they are now in Australia. Will English football fans of all ages embrace these new technologies? I for one hope that the football fan experience here retains its simple and pure charms as I experienced here at Portsmouth today.