Thursday, 25 March 2010
For whom the chimes toll: Witnessing the demise of proud Pompey
THE noise from the Pompey fans was incessant. The antique shop owner with the drum, the bloke with the bell, the endless chants. Didn't stop for 90 minutes. But it still ended Portsmouth 0, Chelsea 5.
When your club is bottom of the Premier League, you've been docked nine points and the ball bobbles over your goalkeeper's foot, even faithful support counts for nothing.
My son Kriss and I made the journey down the A3 more in hope than in expectation - though the boy did put a fiver on Portsmouth at 33-1 to beat the title-chasing Blues 2-1.
Instead it was a midly depressing high five for Chelsea. Their former boss Avram Grant, who took the club to within a John Terry penalty of success in Europe a couple of years ago, could not rouse his financially-troubled club to the same level as the billionaires from Stamford Bridge.
Afterwards Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti talked about "a good performance" and suggested his side's slump was over.
But of course, last night was no indication of footballing superiority or form. Manchester United remain favourites for the Premier League title, Arsenal and Chelsea are likely to scrap it out for second and third, though it will be tight.
No, last night was about money. About the reckless spending which went on at dear old Fratton Park under a succession of fly-by-night owners and a chief executive who couldn't say no.
Some might suggest it all started to go wrong when David James, England's 39-year-old World Cup hopeful, swung a foot and missed the ball as it bobbled outside his area, allowing Drogba to stroll through and score the first.
Goals two, three, four and five followed in the second half as Drogba doubled his tally, the in-form Florent Malouda added a brace of his own and Frank Lampard headed past a quagmired James.
The fans blamed the referee, Malouda's flying elbow, perhaps even the unfortunate lump of turf just outside the box.
But in truth, their season - apart from the FA Cup semi-final against Spurs (they beat Fulham 3-1 in their quarter-final replay last night) - is over. And performances like last night won't help their cup hopes.
In truth, the Portsmouth fans turned out to just about fill their quaint 20,000-capacity stadium to mark the end of an era. Glittering Premier League stars and exotic international footballers won't be travelling down the A3 for much longer. They may not be down on the south coast for some time judging by the current positions of Portsmouth and arch-rivals Southampton.
And the great injustice is this: a proud heritage dating back to the 1890s has been ruined not by a lack of footballing nouse but by a chronic breakdown in financial accounting.
Ironically, on the day Labour produced the final budget of their topsy-turvy reign, Portsmouth were on hand to show just how a financially mismanaged organisation can collapse into chaos.
And make no mistake, chaos awaits. The fire-sale allowed by the Premier League yesterday will see their best players leave outside the transfer window.
At the end of the season, the foreign journeymen will leave in their droves, Grant won't be taken for Granted and the club will be left bereft.
And Pompey, proud Pompey with their chimes, will struggle to put together a squad capable of surviving in the Championship, let alone surge straight back into the Premier League.
Something has to be wrong somewhere.