Light relief for Fratton Park as summer upgrade targeted

Plenty of work needs to be carried out at Fratton Park
Plenty of work needs to be carried out at Fratton Park

The floodlight stationed in the corner where the North stand links arms with the Milton end ominously flickered.

Not that chief executive Mark Catlin required reminding of its precarious existence.

That Tuesday night draw with Cheltenham earlier this month provided another blinding example of Fratton Park’s failings.

The grand old lady is 117 years old now, yet has long given up applying the rouge and lipstick.

There is guttering falling off the roof on the Frogmore Road side of the ground, while some parts of the North stand don’t have hot running water.

Then there is the leak in the ceiling of the chairman’s lounge, in addition to rain regularly dripping down walls of the corridor heading to the Chimes bar.

As for the four floodlights towering over the questionable pitch, they were refugees from the 2002 Commonwealth Games held in Manchester – initially earmarked as a short-term measure.

Some 13 years later they remain, a blinking and faltering presence with clearly a weak constitution these days.

As a result of the Stuart Robinson deal which saw him claim the club’s former car park, a seven-figure sum lies in a lead-lined box in a bank vault to be opened only in an infrastructure emergency.

The potential to serve as a contribution towards the construction of a new North stand or Milton end has often been mooted.

In Catlin’s opinion, however, there are more pressing matters to focus on presently at Fratton Park.

The important decision rests with Pompey’s current six-man board rather than the club’s chief executive.

Nonetheless, he is recommending other aspects of the aching stadium are installed as a priority to be addressed from this summer onwards.

Catlin said: ‘As an executive I have been asked to go to the board with a list of absolute priorities of what is required within the stadium and a programme of works.

‘The money has not been touched yet, it is still ring-fenced.

‘It is there specifically to improve the facilities and infrastructure at Fratton Park – I can find plenty which qualify.

‘In my opinion, there is no point having a nice shiny new stand and then three other stands where there are toilet facilities going back to the 1950s which are dangerous and are leaking.

‘I believe we are better off trying to make the match-day experience for all who come into Fratton Park as enjoyable as possible – and that means everyone in each of the four stands.

‘It is a discussion for the board to have. They must consider where lies the priority in the work that’s needed at Fratton Park.

‘It’s an old stadium and there is so much which needs to be done which might not be visible to all fans.

‘We are in the 21st century and a lot of facilities go back to the 19th century, so it’s about time there was investment.

‘Fratton Park is doing a job but not of the standard we should expect. Successive owners have put band aids over areas requiring major surgery.

‘We have to get the essentials done first of all, starting with heavy investment throughout the summer if approved. Then we can look at new stands.’

Work this summer is also to be undertaken to boost Fratton Park’s capacity.

The requirement of improving stairwells in the North stand to meet regulations will affect an estimated 100-200 season-ticket holders.

Pompey have opted to make these improvements once the season has ended to avoid disruption – with the aim of raising the capacity towards nearer 20,000.

However, the Milton end continues to be problematic, with its uneven steps too cost prohibitive to be addressed.

Elsewhere at Fratton, Catlin is shocked at the level of work urgently required to be carried out.

He added: ‘It is staggering that in the Premier League years the money which went into the club was not used for significant investment into a stadium which we have inherited.

‘There is a leak and brown stains in the ceiling in the chairman’s lounge, by where the television is situated.

‘Some pieces of Fratton Park are consistently falling into Frogmore Road, like guttering from roofs.

‘If you go down the corridor in Chimes, when it rains there is water coming in, it is that bad. This is one of our corporate areas as well.

‘Another example is the floodlights, which are so old they cost tens of thousands of pounds to keep running every year.

‘I believe they were borrowed from the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester and were only ever meant to be a temporary solution.

‘Bulbs and replacing them is expensive. To even climb up there is very, very cost prohibitive and not something a member of staff can do.

‘There is deteriorating and rusting, it is an antiquated system and so many times during the season it has been a real worry for me and again needs significant investment.

‘There are areas of the North stand still not getting hot water, there are areas of our corporate lounges not getting hot water, so much is to be done so we can function.

‘Every year we are throwing more and more money at it. It is a bit like an old car – sometimes it is better to get a new one because in the long run it works out cheaper.

‘We have done well, there has been a lot of work already carried out, but there is major infrastructure work required at Fratton Park to make sure we are compliant with health and safety.

‘And I don’t want to get one Tuesday night when we flick the switch for the floodlights and they just don’t come on.’