Bad pitch conditions in the WSL have hit the headlines this week, after waterlogging at Tottenham and Liverpool caused more match postponements in a season littered with pitch issues. But the problem becomes even worse in the women’s lower leagues. Stuart Barker explains how one team has been affected by bad pitch management and a staggering number of 15 fixture postponements. Here is the story of Portsmouth FC Women…
On Wednesday evening, a brace from former Yeovil Town forward, Ella Pusey, helped Southampton beat local rivals Portsmouth 2-0 in the FA Women’s National League Cup.
On paper, it was a difficult day for Portsmouth. But the result was made even more disappointing given that, despite big promotion efforts from both clubs and their male counterparts, Portsmouth were forced to postpone what should have been a Sunday afternoon derby to a midweek slot.
Pompey also had to move the game from their permanent home at the PMC stadium to Gosport Borough’s Privett Park.
Such events are emblematic of the team’s struggles throughout this season. Portsmouth have suffered 15 postponements so far: 13 down to pitch-related issues, one due to Cardiff City having a high number of international call-ups, and one due to lower-league Warsash Wasps choosing to forfeit a cup tie.
This was only Portsmouth’s second competitive home game since they hosted Oxford United back in September — and it wasn’t even played at their home ground.
For me, the big disappointment is that at no point has the men’s side offered to step in and move any games to Fratton Park. With many clubs making the progressive step to move matches into the men’s stadium, a match against the local rivals would have been a great opportunity to ease fixture congestion and show a real commitment to their women’s side.
Men’s Chief Executive Mark Catlin has stated “We have been consistent with our approach towards the use of Fratton Park. It has to remain the pitch of the first-team, that is our priority.
“In addition, opening Fratton Park on a regular basis for the Pompey Women is not financially viable. For one-off games it is different, but there are certain break-even points we need to generate revenue-wise – and that is over and above any damage caused to the pitch.
“People are entitled to an opinion, but our first-team and progress through the leagues is the absolute priority.
“We will continue to support and help underpin the viability of the women’s team moving forward, but, in terms of playing on Fratton Park, the pitches just can’t take it.”
This is despite Fratton Park being used for FA Youth Cup fixtures.
The women will be at Fratton Park for their game against Crawley Wasps on April 26th. This is cause for celebration — yet it seems a bit of a token gesture, because unless the men’s side goes into the play-offs then their final home game is scheduled for April 18th. As the club have failed to officially confirm this announcement, I fear that if the men reach the play-offs then the Crawley game won’t be held at Fratton Park, in order to “save” the pitch for an ostensibly more important fixture.
Like proverbial buses, we waited an age for one Portsmouth home game, and this week greeted us with two. On Thursday evening, the day after their defeat to Southampton, Portsmouth comfortably defeated Bedhampton in the Portsmouth Divisional Football Association Cup at the University of Portsmouth’s Furze Lane – Pompey’s training ground.
Looking for successful models across the south coast, Saints share their ground staff from the St Mary’s Stadium with AFC Totton, as part of the pair’s partnership. And it shows: the pitch at AFC Totton is the envy of many! Chelsea and AFC Wimbledon have a similar partnership, while Tranmere must wish that Liverpool would show the same support for their Prenton Park pitch.
Moving forward, hopefully we’ll see Portsmouth able to play a run of games so they can build up some good form for the league run-in, and a potential Hampshire Cup final against Saints next month.
Follow Stuart on Twitter @_ChuBarker