Sight for sore eyes as TV takes a new Pompey view

he top TV gantry on the South Stand at Fratton Park will be operational again for the live Sky-televised game against AFC Wimbledon on Sunday, November 15
he top TV gantry on the South Stand at Fratton Park will be operational again for the live Sky-televised game against AFC Wimbledon on Sunday, November 15

The lofty position occupied in League Two is currently not shared by visiting camera crews to Fratton Park.

Television coverage of Pompey’s matches has long been a bugbear of a Fratton faithful forced to endure highlight packages captured from improbably-low angles.

In an era when broadcasters are eager to break new boundaries in their football coverage, there is a reason why dug-out views remain permanently persona non grata.

Certainly it delivers an unfortunate reflection of the Blues among football fans in general, despite the club itself having no issues filming from the South stand’s upper gantry.

Fratton Park’s footballing output has been miserable enough on the eye for many a season, without television crews also rendering it unwatchable.

Rub your eyes no longer, however, relief is on hand following the successful conclusion of talks with Sky in the past week.

So much for the final whistle blown on BBC One’s Football League Show in May to raise hopes the incoming Channel 5 would resolve the situation for the season’s start.

Sky stepped in with their perception of health and safety at Fratton Park to dictate the upper gantry a no-go zone.

In fairness, Football League Tonight did try to come to the rescue – for one game.

Yes, a 3-0 victory over Dagenham & Redbridge heralded a bright new era under Paul Cook and a first opening-day victory at Fratton Park since 2006. All captured on a proper television angle.

The cameraman had elected to join the club’s multimedia journalist Dan Smith in the upper gantry to exploit a bird’s-eye view of the famous old ground, no doubt much to the local audience’s delight that night.

Then little more than 96 hours later, Pompey followers’ faces fell just as much as the camera’s vantage point.

All upon the intervention of Sky ahead of the televised Capital One Cup fixture against Derby County.

Pompey chief executive Mark Catlin said: ‘The truth is a full-structural survey was carried out on the stadium during pre-season, including the TV gantry. There were no objections raised.

‘Sky did three pre-season checks before the TV game and no issues were raised.

‘Then on the day of the Derby game the cameraman said he wasn’t happy going up there and instead they used the lower gantry.

‘I am not hanging other clubs out to dry but you see other TV gantries and at least ours is a custom-built unit. Others have gantries made out of planks of wood and scaffolding which have been latched onto their roof.

‘It only became an issue with the Sky guy. It was a real shock to us on the day to hear they had not gone up there.

‘Structurally, it is sound. There were no issues raised, from a health and safety point of view it is sound. Our guys go up there with no issues with it.’

Sky have this week failed to return calls from The News over the reasons behind their refusal to use the upper gantry.

However, during the Derby match, and in response to much social media criticism from Pompey supporters at the time, they issued a Twitter statement.

‘APOLOGY: We’d like to apologise for our main camera angle at Portsmouth. Due to Health & Safety reasons we couldn’t use the usual gantry.’

The Tweet was favourited 232 times and retweeted 365 times, demonstrating the level of interest in the reasoning for such an distracting camera view.

Among those who commented on Twitter that night was former Arsenal and England striker Ian Wright: ‘Pompey v Derby. Worst camera angle ever.’

In light of Sky’s decision, Channel 5 stopped using the upper gantry in the South stand, instead reverting to the position used by their predecessors and so loathed by Blues followers.

However, according to Channel 5’s senior publicity manager, Claire Wigington, the broadcaster actually obtains its footage from Sky.

She told The News: ‘We watch all the Football League matches we cover from our facility before a quick turnaround in editing the show for broadcast that evening.

‘However, we take whatever footage Sky gives us. They are responsible for filming matches.’

In the meantime, despite Sky’s suspicious glances towards the upper gantry, Smith has continued to film matches for the Pompey Player regardless.

Now in his second season at Fratton Park, he has filmed every home match from the upper vantage point during that period and insists has never felt concerned for his safety.

On match-days, Smith sports a regulation safety harness which fastens to a running beam. In addition, his climb involves scaling a ladder with an enclosed cage.

He is usually joined up there by two members of Pompey’s analyst team, collecting video footage for the management to use.

All continue to willingly use the facilities, despite Sky’s ‘health & safety’ fears.

Yet there is now good news for Blues supporters, after Sky announced it will televise the visit of AFC Wimbledon, in the process moving it 24 hours later to November 15 (2.30pm kick off).

According to Catlin, the decision was reached on the proviso improvements be made to the upper gantry for ‘no significant amount of money’.

He added: ‘We’ve had another survey done at the request of Sky to deal with their particular issues. These lie with the mount for the cameras, which are specific to each TV company and that is what we are addressing.

‘That was a condition of getting the Wimbledon game on Sky – and work started last week.

‘Everyone is happy, the work is in hand and, from the Wimbledon game, we are hopeful Sky and Channel 5 will be at the top of the TV gantry as normal.’

Now wouldn’t that be a sight for sore eyes.