The Cross Word: Pain at seeing field of dreams in sorry state

The Fratton Park playing surface has been a big disappointment this season. Picture: Joe Pepler
The Fratton Park playing surface has been a big disappointment this season. Picture: Joe Pepler
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It’s been one of the biggest disappointments of the campaign.

We’ve seen Pompey’s reigning player of the season put his old club to the sword and stall resurgent play-off hopes.

There’s been one of the squad’s most potent talents in the treatment room for the campaign.

And 2014-15 has marked the embarrassment of the Blues going out of the FA Cup to non-league opposition for the first time.

But the sight of the Fratton Park pitch in such a state of disrepair will hurt any Blues fan to the core.

After all, it’s their very own field of dreams – the hallowed turf where they’ve always wanted to tread.

Seeing it for the first time as an eight-year-old had a seismic impact on this Pompey follower.

Even today, stepping from the bowels of Fratton Park and seeing the pitch open up before my eyes will induce an emotional reaction. I bet I’m not the only one.

At the moment, though, it’s sadness at seeing a surface long renowned as one of the best in the business barely fit for purpose.

For nearly 30 years, groundsman Bob Jones went through a labour of love with the pitch to continue its long-held reputation.

The likes of legendary striker Duggie Reid built that standing at the end of a famous career.

Not that the man currently in the role, Steve Baker, should be in the firing line when it comes to the blame game over this sad saga.

Baker is working long hours tirelessly with a limited budget when it comes to gaining support.

But it’s the role of contractors which has been the real problem.

Drainage has long been an issue – as seen in the cases of games being rained off regularly at Fratton down the years.

Work carried out last summer was supposed to sort that out but the sub-drainage put in has not been up to scratch.

That has paved the way for the rutted mess which has greeted fans, players and staff at every home game.

For Pompey followers that is one thing but for Andy Awford and his players it’s quite another.

The problems presented to them are having an impact, as is the way Awford is playing games there.

Dan Butler came in for a degree of criticism from fans against Oxford for his deliveries.

But the left-sided player simply couldn’t go about his marauding game, with his flank a mess in the shadow of the South Stand.

In fact, it was a job for the 20-year-old to take the ball with him without it sticking to the surface, let alone put in a telling cross.

No-one is suggesting Awford would have Pompey playing tippy-tappy football if the pitch was better. He wouldn’t.

The Blues boss has debated the benefit of a more direct game when the time requires. By the same token, though, it was definitely a factor in how both manager’s approached the fixture last weekend.

‘You have to deal with the conditions,’ said Oxford boss Michael Appleton, who likes an expansive game.

‘That’s why both teams looked to get the ball forward quicker.’

You could say Pompey have a better chance to adapt to the mess, which is presented to them every other game, than rivals.

Or you could say they have to deal with it 23 times a season in the league, while others have to endure it once.

Awford, publicly, won’t say a word on the matter. Privately, however, his thoughts will echo what everyone’s eyes tell them.

The summer and the introduction of a secondary drainage system will hopefully put the problem to bed.

But the days when Bobby Moore said of the famous surface ‘if you can’t play at Fratton Park, you can’t play anywhere’ remain in the past for now.