*** A PFCSWSC photographic chronicle of ALL Portsmouth FC competitive fixtures played from Seasons 2006/07 until 2015/16 ***

Thursday, November 27, 2008

UEFA Cup 2nd Rd : A.C. MILAN (H) 2-2

(Image by kind permission of www.portsmouthfc.co.uk)

The songs of praise erupted late in the evening; ecstatic anthems crashing through the wind and the rain. The clamour lasted for 11 minutes before Fratton Park fell suddenly silent. And yet, in those brief, shining moments, we had heard some of the happiest sounds of the sporting year.

Sure, they were the same daft ditties they used to sing when, say, Burnley or Bristol Rovers were being put to the sword. 'Can we play you every week? . . . Are you watching, Southampton?' But this time, they were singing them to AC Milan, the most decorated football club in history. Portsmouth were taunting, mocking, patronising AC Milan. Because it was the UEFA Cup and they were two goals up with minutes to play.

'Are you Bournemouth in disguise?' they bawled, as if it were the most cuttingly sophisticated insult that the Rossoneri had ever endured. Local scores were being settled. Given time, they would surely have cited AFC Portchester, Farnborough North End or any number of uppitty irritants from the Wessex League.

But, deep down, they sensed they might never be given that time. There had been suspicious cheers when they took the lead. One goal is no basis for rampant celebration when you are Portsmouth, and they are AC Milan. Yet when the second arrived, after 73 minutes, the miracle seemed at hand. And that was when we envied them.

You see, the people who follow England's major football clubs are crassly convinced that the rich must inherit the earth. Give them a season without a trophy - or, as the cliché has it, 'silverware' - and they behave like tetchy shareholders at a stormy AGM. 'Time to go, Fergie! . . . Get your chequebook out, Roman! . . . What did Wenger ever do for us?'

But at places like Portsmouth, the fans are quite different. For them, success is something which arrives once in every couple of generations.

Of course they complain. They curse the boards, players and managers who come and go. And irrationally they insist that fate owes them a favour, rather like the venerable hack I knew who, in the week before payday, would cry: 'When, oh when, will Lord Rothschild recognise his parental responsibilities?'

But when they look around Fratton Park, they realise how much they love it. They love the rickety stands and the wooden seats and the way the whole place reverberates when a home goal is scored. They love their closeness to the action, as if they were part of the story rather than an impotent audience. They are proud that their team has played at the same ground for 110 years and they suspect that the founding fathers would find their way around that ground today.

They love the un-corporateness of it all, the way it prizes pasties above prawn sandwiches, the fact that it represents a living, wheezing, paintpeeling link with the past. And they know that, while he may have watched his football at the other end of the country, LS Lowry would have recognised a Pompey crowd Going to the Match.

Of course, they had a moment in the sun when the FA Cup was won last spring, but that was at Wembley, and the opposition was Cardiff. This was at home, at Fratton, against AC Milan. And they were two up, and playing like a dream. And so they bellowed their songs, like people who have dreamed all their lives of being able to indulge in such foolishness.

It was all over in those 11 minutes. The music died when Ronaldinho came on to strike that lacerating free-kick and plunge the place into apprehensive silence. Then, at the end of added time, Filippo Inzaghi scored the equaliser off the end of his toe. And there was cursing and fury, even a few tears. But the feeling was fleeting. For they had watched their team command the centre of the stage. They had seen the finest players in the world sweat and scuffle in their attempts to tilt the balance. They had rattled the mighty Rossoneri and gathered memories to endure down the decades. It was a triumph for the old virtues of fidelity and persistence.

It was a reward for all the unrewarding years. It was a day when those of us who follow football clubs of modest resources became honorary Portsmouth fans. And Pompey did us proud.

Patrick Collins (Daily Mail)

Papa Bouba Diop in a tackle with AC Milan midfielder Mathieu Flamini.
(Image by kind permission of www.portsmouthfc.co.uk)

Younes Kaboul converts a pin-point Johnson cross and Pompey lead AC Milan 1-0.
(Image by kind permission of www.portsmouthfc.co.uk)

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