Welcome back to Fratton Park and the start of a new season! We hope everyone who has travelled from Bristol has a safe journey home and enjoys the new facilities in the refurbished Milton End.
We are also pleased to have Michael and Jane Eisner with us today, along with board directors, Eric and Anders Eisner, and Andy Redman. They have all spent the past few days seeing the improvements both here and at the training ground, as well as reviewing the ongoing work of different departments throughout the club and the many future projects that are planned.
The first thing we all want to acknowledge is our collective gratitude for your incredible show of support over the summer. Despite the increase in season ticket prices needed to counter the significant impact from increasing costs throughout the club, more than 14,300 of you have purchased your seat for the new campaign. We are all humbled by your investment in another campaign, especially when so many of you are facing significant challenges managing your own household expenditure. With Bristol Rovers selling out their allocation, we should see a near capacity crowd today.
The summer has been characterised by a swift influx of signing – a culmination of the diligent and hard work undertaken by the recruitment team since last January, with Phil Boardman, Rich Hughes, John Mousinho, the coaches and Tony Brown all playing a big part in the capture, at the time of writing, of 12 new players.
We continue to take a long-term strategic approach to player recruitment, led by a sporting director. Our core focus continues to be identifying and developing a pipeline of owned, young emerging first team-ready talent, supported by a core of players with experience. We want to reduce the reliance on loans, which over recent seasons have taken up a large part of our playing budget. Furthermore, we want to build for more than one season and look to shape a squad that cannot only achieve success this year, but beyond.
The work to date is best evidenced by transfer fees paid over the last six months for Ryley Towler, Paddy Lane, Anthony Scully, Terry Devlin, Christian Saydee and Kusini Yengi. I think it is also fair to add that the swift process this summer was assisted by quick decisions regarding those players who were out of contract at the end of last season. This meant not waiting for decisions, enabling us to move swiftly on with targeted replacements. We welcome every one of our new signings to Fratton Park and, of course, send our best wishes and gratitude to those who have departed for their contribution over the past few years.
Work has continued apace on the stadium works this summer and this afternoon you will see the progress that has been made, both inside and outside the Milton End. Everything has been completed to schedule, with the south-east corner entrance finished; the rail seating in the centre and north side all installed on newly laid reprofiled concrete surfaces; a wider concourse added at the top of the stand; four new concession units and a cellar introduced, which means we can serve alcohol to away supporters for the first time; and at long last, away supporters in wheelchairs will, from today, be able to sit with their own fans.
The next stage will be to complete the north-east corner to house a new entrance, with an elevator to take wheelchair and less mobile supporters to both the upper sections of the North Stand and the Milton End. A new safety control room is also being constructed there. In the meantime, our safety operations will be temporarily housed in the new building at the south side of the Milton End. This work is expected to be completed in November and we will then be able to segregate the Milton End into three sections of roughly 1,000 seats each, meaning home season tickets can potentially be sold in the south section, with the added attraction of rail seating.
Work also began this week on installing rail seating in the Fratton End. The top three rows have been installed and another 12 rows will be installed from September 3, in the three-week gap we have between home fixtures. Elsewhere, we are planning to introduce a new merchandising stand at the east corner entrance to the South Stand, as well as opening another food and drink kiosk in that location. We have also considered supporters’ thoughts on improvements to the beer range and this season will see the introduction of Madri Lager, Belhaven Saltire Pilsner and East Coast IPA in all kiosks.
With the first set of programme notes for a new season there are so many areas to talk about, but space prevents full coverage! Over the next couple of games, I will include some background to the new Sky broadcast deal, which comes into play from the 2024/25 season, as well as the EFL and FA’s new initiatives to prevent time-wasting, with changes to rules on added-time, the treatment of on-field injuries and multi-ball, all of which come into operation from today.
As we all celebrate our 125th year with the anticipation and expectation a new season brings, it is perhaps important to reflect upon the special Pompey spirit of togetherness, which has served both our football club and our city through good and difficult times. It is something we will celebrate today with invitations extended to various organisations that we work with, including representatives from Her Game Too, Portsmouth City of Sanctuary, the LGBTQ+ community, MIND and the Gambian community, among others. The aim is to continue our efforts to build inclusivity across our city.
Finally, I would like to congratulate our former touchline announcer Tony Male, who was made an MBE in the King’s birthday honours list for his excellent charity work in the city. It’s recognition that is thoroughly deserved.
Thank you all for your incredible support, both today and throughout the summer. Enjoy the game and the new season. PUP!