Lib Dem Election Gimmick Special: “Pompey tickets for the kids?”

I’m all in favour of getting more kids into Fratton Park. Anyone who’s spent long enough watching Pompey will realise how the hikes in ticket prices, moves to all-seater stadia, and increasing competition from football on TV have pushed the average age of the crowd up and up. We need to get more kids at games with their mums and dads.

Normally I’d applaud initiatives in this field. But it is a bit strange when the “self-appointed saviour of Pompey FC”, Cllr Vernon-Jackson, starts turning up outside the Central Mosque waving tickets to Fratton Park in front of people leaving after Friday prayers. I’m told by sources at PFC that they were complimentary tickets which found their way to a Lib Dem activist, and that PFC are privately embarrassed at the attempt to use the club in their election campaign. He denied having paid for them himself when I saw him with the tickets in his hand.

Nobody is suggesting anyone at the club is complicit. But the rest of us who are supporters, regardless of whether we are “politically engaged”, feel embarrassed for the club that it is being linked with the Lib Dems in this way. Their election campaign has consisted mostly of personal attacks on their opponents, with the usual whiff of Portsmouth Lib Dem misogyny. The other element of the Lib Dem campaign has been to claim to have saved things they had little interest in, like PFC, or the Dockyard (“shut the ship hall and put a biomass power station in there”), or St James’ Hospital (which they actually jeopardized by their inaction in February 2014 when they were still running the council).

The issue here isn’t one of “treating”, because of course young kids don’t vote. The Lib Dems pulled another stunt during last year’s elections when the Lib Dems claimed to have been endorsed by the-then Chairman of the Pompey Supporters’ Trust. However, there are enough problems at Fratton Park without being ensnared in Cllr Vernon-Jackson’s hyperbolic claims, which are an insult to the people who really did fight for the club in its dark days. Cllr Vernon-Jackson can’t even tell the difference between a Pompey shirt and a Chelsea one.

The people who saved Pompey were the ones who risked their homes and jobs getting the Chainrai story out there, the people of the PST and SOS Pompey and other groups. Some of these people are engaged in party politics, but they don’t exaggerate their involvement; a PST board member is a Labour Parliamentary election candidate. Another leader of the fight is a UKIP council candidate in Portsmouth. The great Mike Hall was a Lib Dem councillor in a time when they had a less toxic reputation than they have now, and he was reckoned to be a bloody good councillor even by his opponents.

I am not someone who is comfortable dragging Pompey into party politics – as I’ve said above, our fanbase includes people of all parties and none, and we generally get on with the job of supporting the club and fighting to improve it. The City Council approved the loan to the PST on a non-partisan and unanimous basis. It was the PST who approached the Council for a loan on commercial terms; it was not an act of generosity by any one councillor.

I am outraged that people who have little affinity for our club beyond whatever political use they can make of it are carrying on in the way they are. There are real challenges facing the club and the Supporters’ Trust, and I will be watching with interest to see what involvement these Lib Dems who now boast of their role in “saving the club” have in moving both bodies forward over the coming years.

PST at the moment has a membership of about 3,000. If it can engage the other 12,000 who are turning up to every home game, then the potential is limitless.  Because the people who are saving Pompey now are those 15,000 who have been there every game since the PST takeover.  The battle for survival is never going to be over as long as football operates as it does currently.

I have never hidden my disappointment at the failure of the last government to do more for football supporters, specifically in letting Damian Collins’ very modest Private Members’ Bill lapse. My commitment in Tory politics to keep that battle going is as clear as my commitment to Pompey as a supporter.

Whoever wins whatever election tomorrow, we have to keep up that pressure for the freedoms of football supporters, who are put-upon at every turn by officialdom. We have to fight for the welfare of our clubs, who are still constantly let down by the governing bodies and the plethora of “dodgy owners” who still pervade the game.

During the battle to oust Chainrai, we saw a cynical disregard for the intelligence of fans. We now see the same from the Lib Dems. Having detoxified the football club, I’d like the voters to go further now and help detoxify politics in this city and end the enormously damaging Hancock/Vernon-Jackson franchise for once and for all.

Use your vote wisely!

 

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