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Johnny's Stay At Home Diary: Part 10

A love for empty football grounds that wasn't shared by Alan Ball

3 June 2020

Former Pompey manager Alan Ball

Back in August 1980, those of us in The Star pub thought it was a great result to secure a stay in three adjacent boarding houses in Bloomfield Road for an away match at Blackpool.

To be located opposite the stadium was a novel experience for me back then and for someone who has always held a fascination with visiting emptying football grounds, it was special thrill to pop over the road on the Saturday morning and find an open gate. I entered and was able to sit in solitude while recovering from the previous night’s excesses.

I did not know it back then, but nearly 40 years later, I would be looking across the same pitch while devouring a full English.

Having moved on from Mrs Kelly’s family guest house, my new abode was a few hundred yards down the road in a luxury hotel that was attached to the club itself.

I had gone from six people sharing a front door key – that could be used no later than midnight – and toilet to a 24-hour bar and king-size bed.

"Nearly 40 years later, I would be looking across the same pitch while devouring a full English."

Johnny Moore

And for someone who still loves taking in an empty football grounds, it was manna from heaven.

On a warm and sunny day, you have the option of taking your breakfast on the patio located behind one of the goals.

You could peruse the Saturday papers in peace, watch the early football action and then turn right into the Blackpool guest lounge without once having to leave the building.

Then, following the final whistle and once post-match interviews were in the can, I was able to enjoy a couple of pints gazing over the same spot, winding down from having watched Pompey earn a respectable point.

The following morning, of course, a deathly silence had once again fallen over the arena – perfect to reflect on the previous day’s events and read the reports on what had occurred.

I remember the days when the Chimes Bar at Fratton Park was open all-year round. I was sipping a lager inside a mostly empty ground and remarked to Alan Ball about my fascination, only to be left feeling hurt when he stared at me as though I was a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic. I thought that he, of all people, would understand and was distinctly put out!

"I remarked to Alan Ball about my fascination, only to be left feeling hurt when he stared at me as though I was a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic."

Johnny Moore

Funnily enough, the World Cup winner had been in charge of Blackpool on the weekend when a guest house opposite the stadium had seemed like such a revolutionary experience.

I have stayed in other hotels attached to grounds this season and Bolton is a favourite of mine.

Although I don’t agree with their formation, MK Dons also takes a lot of beating and you can move around the place – from room, to lounge, to seat – by lift.

Though not physically joined to the Stadium of Light, Sunderland’s recently-build hotel is smack bang outside and residing there was another pleasurable experience.

These places are not exactly cheap to stay in, but that luxury and convenience is worth it, especially when I look back to Mrs Kelly’s guest house in Bloomfield Road.

The majority of Portsmouth FC staff have been furloughed as part of the government’s Job Retention Scheme. This column was written before those measures were implemented.


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