Thank you all for attending today’s Sky Bet League One fixture at Fratton Park. We welcome everyone who has made the journey from Cheltenham and hope you all have a safe trip home.
Our commiserations to Cheltenham, who will be frustrated to have missed out on a trip to Wembley for the Papa Johns Trophy final following a penalty shoot-out defeat at Plymouth on Tuesday. Their efforts will now be fully focused on climbing up the table, so we should be in for another competitive and entertaining game this afternoon.
Thank you to all who made the long trip up to Lincoln last Saturday. We were disappointed not to come away with all three points, but proud that so many of our supporters contributed to yet another full stadium this season. With our ticket allocations at Cambridge and Bristol Rovers already sold out, we all remain resolute in our belief there is everything to play for with 16 games still remaining. A busy period, with eight fixtures before the end of March, gives us much to look forward to.
Our last match saw us officially welcome new assistant head coach Jon Harley into the dug-out for the first time since his appointment earlier that week. As was the case with John Mousinho, we undertook a thorough and diligent search and this time we benefitted from John being a full part of the selection process. Jon arrives with more than 10 years of coaching experience at Chelsea, as well as a playing career spanning more than 400 appearances, including a spell at Pompey. We are delighted to have him on board and wish him every success in working with John, our coaching and first team staff, and all our players.
Supporters arriving at Fratton Park today and passing the north-west entrance to the stadium may have noticed signage marking out the site where the Jimmy Dickinson statue will be unveiled later this year. I was privileged to be invited by the Pompey Supporters’ Trust to visit the North London studio of sculptor Douglas Jennings last week to see first-hand the progress already made. Even in its present, unfinished state, the statue looks amazing and I know those of you who have already contributed to the fundraising campaign will be thrilled by the detailed and professional portrayal of a true Pompey great.
The PST still need to raise the final £25,000 of their £125,000 target to complete the project. The last mile is often the hardest, but the finishing line is in sight and banners where the statue will be located include a QR code, which will take you straight to the Crowdfunder page where you can choose to make any donation of your choice. We hope the statue can be unveiled in the early stages of next season and will be one of the centrepieces of the club’s 125th anniversary celebrations.
Today sees us mark two important occasions. Firstly, we are taking part in the national 'Unite for Access' campaign. With 22 percent of the UK population estimated to have some form of disability, it means disabled people are the largest minority group in the UK. With many disabled fans feeling that attending live sports is not possible, due to environmental and societal barriers, we need to all up our game to improve accessibility. At Fratton Park, we have made much needed progress with new viewing wheelchair spaces in the North and South Stands, while this season we have provided a new Changing Places facility in the west corner of the South Stand.
Next season we will open 15 new wheelchair spaces in the new Milton End, with lift access to higher levels, importantly meaning that disabled away fans can sit with their own supporters for the first time in many years. Of course, many disabled people do not just want better facilities to watch the game, but the chance to play too.
Pompey in the Community offer a variety of fantastic opportunities for people to participate in playing football. The Pompey Amputees team are at the match today and will parade around the pitch at half-time. There will also be a bucket collection held for 'Pompey Pedals', a free initiative run by PitC that uses specially adapted bikes and equipment to allow families to cycle together, regardless of any disabilities.
This weekend also sees football marking one year since the invasion of Ukraine started. ‘Football Stands Together’ has seen us proudly fly the Ukrainian national flag at Fratton Park, reminding us all of of our solidarity with Ukraine. The flag will continue to fly here until the war ends.
We are back here on Tuesday night for our rearranged game with Bolton – which was postponed last September. A reminder that half-season tickets are not valid for this one fixture and those holding a half-season ticket will need to purchase a match ticket.
Thank you all for your attendance this afternoon. Enjoy the game and PUP!