By Mac Byrne
The date; Saturday December 17th 2011.
The venue; Championship side Portsmouth’s Fratton Park.
The day… when the picturesque South Coast county of Hampshire will grind to a halt and those city dwellers who know what’s good for them will take a well advised day trip to the country. In their place, the city will welcome Hampshire’s finest – the Hampshire Constabulary – to keep order before, during and after the South Coast’s fiercest rivalry kicks in and kicks off!
In the blue corner we have Portsmouth FC – the home of the Royal Navy. ‘Pompey’ as they are more widely known, are referred to by their noisy neighbours as the ‘Skates’; a derisory alternative to the term “matelot”; a long standing reference to naval personnel. This term – which ironically originated in Portsmouth – is a dismissive one for sailors, which most Southampton fans have adopted. It was made popular as an abusive term towards Portsmouth fans after a Southampton fanzine asked readers to help search for the term most likely to cause offence to them!
In the red corner we have Southampton FC; more affectionately known as the ‘Saints’; less so as the “Scummers” or “Scum”, an acronym for Southampton City (or Corporation) Union Men. The term allegedly originating from when Southampton dockyard workers crossed the picket lines of the 1930s when Portsmouth dockyard workers were on strike.
This will be the first time that the county’s ‘big two’ clubs have met in a league match for six years. With Pompey having been relegated – and subsequently almost bankrupted – from the top flight of English football in 2010, meeting a Saints team freshly promoted from the country’s third tier – following their own financial woes – for the first time in over half a century.
Whilst the rivalry between the two cities can be traced back much further, the on-field rivalry began with a first meeting in 1899 – which incidentally Pompey won 2-0.
Pompey has the most distinguished history, with two post World War 2 league titles and two FA Cups – famously winning the last pre-WW2 FA Cup in 1939 and holding the illustrious trophy for the seven year duration of the war. Pompey’s fortunes then began to decline in contrast to that of their local rivals and until very recently it was Saints who held the upper hand with their own historic FA Cup Final win over mighty Manchester United in 1976 and challenging for the league title in the 1980’s. This was a time when a host of big name stars such as former European Footballer of the year Kevin Keegan; World Cup winner Alan Ball; Arsenal legend Charlie George and England regular Mick Channon graced the Dell. Saints also hold sway in the battles between the two with 34 wins to Pompey’s 21.
The last few years have seen yet another shift in fortunes with the blues being promoted once again to the top flight, recapturing the FA Cup (2008) and playing, amongst others, AC Milan during their first foray into Europe. Pompey also hold bragging rights having spanked the reds 4-1 at their own St. Marys’ Stadium in their last meeting, en route to the 2010 FA Cup Final.
The fiery relations have been further stoked by the comings and goings of none other than current Spurs boss Harry Redknapp who, having begun his managerial along the coast in league minnows Bournemouth made his way to manage Pompey – a move always sure to remove you from any Saints supporters Christmas card list. That is of course unless he then becomes your own manager which he did when moving back along the coast in December 2004. Following an unsuccessful year in charge, during which he suffered the ignominy of relegation out of the top flight for the first time in 30 years, Harry, never one to worry about popularity or it would seem his own safety, returned to a Fratton Park hero’s welcome a year later!
So if you’re looking for a nice quiet spot to do some pre-Christmas shopping that weekend might I suggest you give Portsmouth a miss as what is likely to be a chilly winter’s day turns into a red hot rivalry.