It is hardly an uncommon sight to witness thousands of fans cheer along for popular clubs like Manchester United or Barcelona on the back of trophy-laden seasons and surplus financial backing. Social media is abuzz with excitement at the sight of some of the best footballers in the world making their presence felt through excellent performances.
However, it is certainly worth asking whether many of us are well acquainted with the lives of those football fans who back their local clubs with all their heart and soul without asking anything in return. Such fans don’t even feel a tinge of temptation at the sight of those who support trophy-laden clubs and switch loyalties in a second, instead opting to maintain optimism for the upcoming season.
One such fan is Ben Jaycock, a Portsmouth fan who has been backing the club since the age of 7 with unconditional support and unquestionable loyalty. One fine example of this is the manner in which he underwent a round-trip of eight hours in April 2017 to watch Portsmouth battle it out against Hartlepool. The 20-year-old lad decided to forego all requirements for rest and refreshment despite being advised otherwise by his family, covering a journey of 236 miles to Hartlepool.
Ben’s baptism into football which commands a fervour akin to any religion started when he was just five years old after witnessing the immense love for football in his family. However, the lad not content with simply watching the game decided to devote his ultimate support to a club capable of commanding his respect, all at the tender age of 7.
“One day while interacting with my grandmother, I casually enquired about the football club she supported. She said that she was a Portsmouth fan and owed her allegiance to the club because of the beautiful footballing culture. During further conversations, she further shared many beautiful experiences in her life as a Portsmouth fan, giving me wonderful insights about the club. That was enough to convince me to become a Portsmouth fan rather than supporting Tottenham whom the rest of the family supported,” he said.
When quizzed about his journey as a fan, Ben had a wistful smile on his face taking us back to the 2005/06 season marking his first year as a supporter. Portsmouth battled relegation till the final day which proved to be an absolute thriller.
Manager Alain Perrin was sacked in November with the club knee-deep in a relegation fight. Harry Redknapp was named as the replacement after walking out of arch-rivals Southampton who firmly rejected any advances early on. Portsmouth were eight points adrift of safety by the end of February which reduced to three by the end of March. The final game of the season saw Portsmouth defeat Wigan Athletic 2-1 to secure survival.
A couple of seasons where the club finished mid-table was followed by an occasion which Ben described as his proudest moment as a fan.
“Portsmouth defeated Cardiff by a margin of 1-0 in a breathtaking final which filled me with immense joy and delight as I was lucky enough to witness it live. Watching my club win a major trophy is a feeling that cannot be compared to anything else. I still remember the date 17th May 2008, with the memories fresh in my mind even at this moment. This was followed by qualification for the Europa League and a 2-2 draw against AC Milan which felt just like a dream.”
However, these beautiful moments on the field were soon replaced by despair as a cloud of hopelessness and despair took over. Redknapp decided to leave Portsmouth in search of greener pastures in the form of Tottenham Hotspur. The club received a nine-point deduction in the Premier League, going into administration due to financial turmoil which saw them getting relegated to the Championship. However, despite all these tumultuous circumstances, the club managed to reach the FA Cup final in 2010.
“I was extremely excited after Portsmouth reached the final of the FA Cup yet again especially after the numerous problems which we had encountered during this glorious journey to the final. The run-in to the final was all the more exciting for me because we had managed to defeat Tottenham Hotspur in the semi-final at Wembley. That was revenge in my opinion for how horribly Redknapp had mistreated us when times got tough, going on to sign all our best players and leaving us shorn of talent. A win in the final would have certainly made up for the struggle and pain which we as supporters had encountered till then.”
Sadly, there was no respite in store for Ben and other Portsmouth fans. Kevin Prince Boateng missed a spot-kick with the game evenly poised at 0-0, resulting in Chelsea scoring a few moments later on the counter.
“It still bothers me to this day that a lot of pain and frustration could have been avoided on the part of the supporters if Boateng had managed to convert from the spot, as that goal would have virtually ensured a win,” reminisces Ben.
Portsmouth continued to struggle on and off the field with financial turmoil and rampant mismanagement by the owners who “were happy to withdraw money from the club’s accounts but never bothered to help the club progress”. This left Ben and other loyal fans fuming as there was no solution or relief in store from the “bandits” who were ruining the glorious club.
The players were constantly on the lookout for bigger clubs and better opportunities, which resulted in the club getting relegated soon after qualifying for the Championship two years after the FA Cup defeat in 2010.
“Pompey went as far as down to League Two ie the fourth tier of English football after three relegation’s in four years and narrowly avoided being a non-league team in 2014 and 2015,” says Ben with a gloomy look on his face.
However, there is certainly a shining light at the end of the tunnel as they say. The same was the case with Portsmouth who emerged victorious in the League Two on the final day, which the youngster remembers as an amazing feeling considering all the criticism and negativity thrown their way over the years.
“We could finally celebrate something positive for a change and lift a trophy after ages,” says Ben with a glee on his face.
Pompey were defeated by Sunderland in the semi-finals of the ‘League One’ playoffs last season but a safe campaign, far from relegation means that the future certainly looks promising under manager Kenny Jackett.
Ben has had an incredible journey so far. However, in an era where youngsters are known to switch loyalties with the snap of a finger based on a club’s success in a season, one is indeed curious to understand the secret behind his longevity as a fan.
The 20-year-old credits the incredible atmosphere and breathtaking fan support for his immense support over the years.
“Last season, I went to an away game at Colchester where Portsmouth emerged victorious by a 4-0 margin. There were 3,000 club fans who would not stop signing with flares being lit and thrown on the pitch. The atmosphere was an incredible one and I personally believe that Portsmouth fans are the most passionate and loyal in the country as time and distance is no factor which bothers us. We travel all over and sing our hearts out in every scenario irrespective of the scoreline. Things do wrong and nothing is ever easy. Being a Portsmouth fan fills you with heartbreak, anger, nervousness and joy, but I wouldn’t change it for the world,” he says with a laugh.
“I prefer to support a small team rather than being a glory hunter because you understand what it’s like to be a fan by going to games, with experiencing the lows making the highs all the more amazing. The wins mean so much more because they hardly happen. Supporting a club is much more than the trophies and success, it’s about experiencing the highs and lows along with pride at the team which you and others adore,” the 20-year-old added.
Ben is optimistic about the ongoing season and believes that the club is good enough to challenge for promotion.
“I believe that the club is on the way up and capable of challenging for promotion as evident from our victory in the Checkatrade Trophy at Wembley this season. Promising talents such as winger Jamal Lowe have a lot of potential and should be backed through thick and thin.”
The 20-year-old has one final message for all those fans slowly experiencing the beautiful world of football and maturing as fans of a particular club.
“My message is to stick to your team, you will experience highs and lows. However, just keep going and supporting the club in home or away fixtures at the stadium rather than on television as you’ll get a true feel of what being a fan means,” concludes Ben.