Thank you all for attending this afternoon’s first home Sky Bet League One fixture of the 2021/22 campaign and a warm welcome to everyone from Crewe Alexandra who has made the long journey to the south coast.
It is marvellous that we have been given the opportunity to have supporters, in such big numbers, back at Fratton Park for the first time since March 2020. Many of us involved in the game were living in hope rather than expectation that such a scenario might happen so quickly for the new season.
We are extremely grateful to all of those who lobbied so hard on our sport’s behalf to achieve this position. Football over the past 18 months has been very much a soulless, and almost pointless, experience without supporters present. Professional footballers are, by definition, paid entertainers and thrive in front of a crowd and I appreciate what a massive difference a vibrant and atmospheric Fratton Park makes to all of those who perform in a Pompey shirt.
The decision to allow stadiums to operate at full capacity, while a welcome one, has placed considerable strain on resources of many EFL clubs up and down the country. The green light was only relayed to clubs in the latter part of July, leaving less than three weeks to the start of the season to implement those ticketing processes that would normally be spread over at least 10 weeks.
I do fully understand the frustrations of those supporters who experienced long delays, whether online or in queues last week at the ticket office and want to reiterate my sincere apologies to all those who were affected.
The particular set of circumstances that confronted the club were unique and unprecedented – the short notice to return to full crowds; the need for some supporters to relocate seats due to the necessary stadium development works; the impact of Covid on our staff, with more than 50 per cent in July either personally affected by the virus or having to self-isolate at home; and a previous telephone back-up solution which had been used by the club for big ticketing events closed down by our ticketing partner during the pandemic.
We also delayed going on sale by 48 hours, but for what I felt was for the right reasons. In June, our safety certificate saw capacity cut back to 16,482, but in collaboration with the authorities, we were able, on August 4, to secure an additional 1,214 seats, increasing capacity to 17,696. I know how important it is for supporters to be able to sit with family and friends. This is a key component of attending football matches and the additional seating has provided an improved outcome from that which was originally envisaged. It seemed only right to wait another couple of days to achieve a better solution for another 1,000-plus supporters.
Nevertheless, there are several things we must improve on when we next have a big demand for tickets, particularly in terms of making things far simpler and improving the process for both our disabled and elderly supporters. We are committed to ensuring that next time will be a better experience for everyone.
The £11 million commitment from Michael Eisner and his family to the exciting redevelopment of Fratton Park means instead of seeing capacity gradually reduced each year, potentially to below 12,000, that we can over the next two seasons, look forward to a restoration of full capacity with improved seating, sightlines and safety.
Regrettably, there will be some seats, especially in the South Stand and North Lower, that cannot be used for all or part of this season. These may appear to be in good condition, but other safety considerations have impacted on their availability. We are working in partnership with the authorities to quickly bring more of these seats back into play, some possibly by the end of September. Much will depend on spectator access and habits over the first few games. If we are successful, then we will be back in touch with those affected supporters to enable them to quickly return to their seats and the areas they have enjoyed for many years.
Finally, I have been overwhelmed by the welcome and kindness afforded to me by everyone in Portsmouth, both individually and via the many supporter group meetings that I have attended over my first few weeks. It has really underlined what a special club Pompey is, with proud and passionate supporters from a fantastic city who deserve the very best. I am really grateful and in return, I can only promise to work as hard as I possibly can to achieve success for Portsmouth Football Club and all our incredible fans.
Thank you for your support today and enjoy the game!