Pompey’s ever-expanding family which defies league positions

There were few places left, if any, in the North Stand lower tier against Torquay on Saturday Picture: Joe Pepler
There were few places left, if any, in the North Stand lower tier against Torquay on Saturday Picture: Joe Pepler

My six-year-old daughter supped on a banana milkshake from McDonald’s – apparently she didn’t realise you could get them.

There was also the hamburger with relish and onions scraped off. Only a quarter eaten, yet delicious all the same.

No fries. Abi had never heard of them before. Aren’t they just chips, came the reply.

Then granddad took her to Fratton Park to watch a Pompey match for the first-ever time.

In terms of preference, that is how she painted last Saturday – strictly in that order.

The Blues contingent in that 15,474 crowd against Torquay will no doubt sympathise, for it was a wretched performance amid a deathly dull game and a lacklustre atmosphere.

Certainly not love at first sight for a child at such an impressionable age.

Although her smile stayed on and only once did she ask granddad what the time was.

Little did she realise she was participating in the fifth-biggest attendance outside the Premier League on February 1, 2014.

The team positioned 86th in the Football League locked horns with the side situated 91st – and there were 15,474 supporters there to witness it.

A pair of clubs sadly used to relegation battles over the years, where losing has become an unpalatable habit and a commonplace feeling.

Since August 15, 2009, Pompey alone have chalked up a staggering 99 losses in 205 league matches.

And with every defeat there is anger, vows never to return, the boiling point has been reached, enough is enough. Game over!

Yet still those Pompey fans congregate in their tens of thousands – the solidarity unflinching in the fierce storms cruelly persistently beating their faces.

Last Saturday, Fratton Park attracted a greater gate than Ipswich against Bolton, a bigger crowd than Birmingham versus Derby, and a larger attendance than Blackburn against Blackpool.

Even last season’s Premier League residents, current FA Cup holders and Europa League competitors in the form of Wigan attracted only 14,341 for their Championship home fixture with Charlton.

Contrast that to a club which has endured three relegations in four seasons and are once again in familiar territory during the current campaign as they fight to avoid non-league football.

Still they flock to Fratton Park.

Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday and Wolves all boasted larger crowds on the same day, hardly a surprise considering their traditional sizeable fanbase.

Meanwhile, in the Championship’s top-of-the-table clash at Loftus Road between QPR and Burnley – a thrilling fixture, which would end 3-3 – the attendance was 16,393.

That is a mere 919 people more than witnessed Pompey against Torquay at the foot of League Two.

Among them on Saturday was my daughter, who, I am told, sang along to chants of ‘Blue Army’ and renditions of the Pompey Chimes from her seat in the South Stand family section to the right of the visiting dug out.

To think in the build-up to her debut, while discussing the date at school, only Anabelle raised her hand when Abi asked who supported Pompey.

She later reflected, perhaps her friend misunderstood the question for ‘puppy’ when she canvassed those present!

Of course, she was blissfully unaware the class next door contained the son of Shaun Gale, who made three appearances for the Blues during the 1990-91 campaign.

The grandson of Hawks chairman Derek Pope does reside in her class. She can’t recall him mentioning the FA Trophy semi-finalists, however.

At the weekend, though, she was no longer in the minority – she was at Fratton Park and part of 15,474 passionate supporters, including 741 noisy followers from Torquay.

And what unfolded was a forgettable 1-0 loss for the hosts and another defeat to chalk up.

Yet, impressively, that demoralising fixture took the club’s season’s average to 15,355 for home league games – more than double the 7,042 of Plymouth, who have the second highest in League Two.

In terms of League One, only Wolves (19,754) and Sheffield United (17,063) can better those figures.

Moving up to the Championship and there are 13 clubs who possess a better average, although Middlesbrough, Bolton and Watford are still in the 15,000s.

Blackburn (14,869), Birmingham (15,024) and Wigan (15,217) are among those who have lower crowds on average than Pompey this season.

In fact, the Blues are averaging 3,122 more fans at Fratton Park during the current campaign than in League One (12,233) last term.

They are also 490 up on the 14,865 they attracted in their second Championship season, which ended in relegation.

Whether you embrace the current ownership or not, there is irrefutable proof attendances have blossomed for the 2013-14 campaign.

Although unquestionably the figures have gone hand-in-hand with initial optimism for success in new surroundings of the bottom division.

Clearly, among them are many previously stayaway supporters who had tired of former owner Balram Chainrai and his ilk and have now returned to Fratton.

Of course, Pompey’s outstanding crowd numbers are not just restricted to home fixtures.

In terms of away crowds in League Two, during the current campaign the club averages 1,215 from the 14 matches before today’s Exeter game.

According to the Football League’s official attendance report for last year, the Blues averaged visiting crowds of 894 in League One.

In addition, the document shows the average for a club outside of the Premier League was 762 over the same period, with 420 for League Two.

Interestingly, last term in League Two, of the four clubs with the largest away followings, three won promotion – Port Vale, Bradford and Rotherham.

Plymouth were the other with 751.

This season in the bottom division, Pompey have amassed 10 lots of four-figure attendances away from Fratton Park, falling two short of another at Southend.

They sold out their full allocation of 802 at AFC Wimbledon and 571 made the arduous trek to Hartlepool.

Still, dragging the topic back to Fratton Park, Abi told me there was one thing which stood out most from her maiden visit.

Namely, the sighting of a fox sprinting along the front of the North Stand during the second half.

Don’t expect that every week – but you can always rely on Pompey fans defying league positions to turn out in numbers to support their side.