Having entered my 49th season I am straight away struck by the way football can eat away at your life without realisation.
For instance my first home game on the opening day of the season came on August 18th 1967 against Q.P.R at the tender age of 8. The next three seasons were on visiting soil and saw Huddersfield, Blackpool and Norwich open against Pompey. So by the time Fratton Park next staged an opener against Middlesbrough I was 12 and in secondary school.
Middlesbrough visited again in 73 aged 14. Incredibly another four seasons passed before another opening home game against Bradford City by which time Pompey were in the 4th division and I was on the cusp of leaving my teenage years behind. Four opening matches from wearing short trousers to frequenting the bar of the Star Pub outside Havant Station hardly seems to do those years proper justice but that is how quickly football seasons come and go.
In the blink of an eye.
I remember little from that Q.P.R game apart from the emerald green pitch with diagonal darker stripes across it and an orange cinder track. I only know Ray Pointer scored by virtue of history books and have no idea who scored first in the 1-1 draw or the scorer for Q.P.R. Doubtless if I dug deep enough in the vaults of the internet or asked one of the numerous Pompey anoraks I could enlighten myself but the point is I don’t freely remember any detail.
This is not the symptom of a befuddled memory of someone growing old because the next match my dad took me to that very season was against Fulham in the FA Cup where I can remember every minute detail from manager George Smith being absent with flu for the 1-0 victory and keeping in touch by phone, to missing out playing Southampton in the next round by virtue they lost at home to West Brom on the same night.
Also deeply etched is the train ride up to Fratton and my pointing to Kingston Graveyard out the right hand window declaring loudly and innocently that a lot of people were dead which raised no end of laughs from people who by this time will have mostly met similar fates. I think in respect of the Q.P.R match it was all just a tad too early and though the occasion was memorable the match and all detail of it somehow passed me by which will always remain a deep shame.
As the seasons continued to progress there are favourites when you just knew something special was about to occur because it was in the air and stared you in the face. For instance when Bobby Campbell’s side started the season thumping Sheffield United 4-1 on the 82-83 season with three debutants Biley, Howe and Webb all on the scoresheet. Then there was the 2002 home victory over Nottingham Forest which similarly filled you with undying optimism from the word go. Both years ended with emphatic championship titles. Then there was the 3-0 Premier League win over Blackburn to signal the beginning of the 2007-08 season with Kanu denied a hat-trick on his debut by a missed penalty and which ended at Wembley with the FA Cup.
Equally there are some forgettable ones which again like my Q.P.R inflicted amnesia are no victim of befuddled memory of the aged. In these cases moreover that the insipidity of the match at the start of that particular season were mainly mirrored by events over the following nine months. For instance how many can quote chapter and verse of the 1-1 home draw with Lincoln City that opened the 1981-82 season. A season where Pompey finished 13th amidst 21 more draws which saw the final game against Millwall enticed just 4,902 and rather predictably finished level.
Who remembers much about the opening game of the 1990-91 campaign when West Brom began at Fratton Park in a 1-1 draw? A season when Pompey failed to win any of the opening six games and then went another ten winless matches later in the same season. Needless to say wins were at a minimum.
Last season’s opener and score-line against Dagenham was another valuable first day barometer of the long term forecast to which way the wind was blowing. The dial was fixedly pointed towards sunnier metaphorical weather descending on Fratton Park which proved very much the case if not with the desired ending.
The seasons continue to come and go my personal 49th began with the visit of Carlisle United to Fratton Park. And as another started Q.P.R 67, where incidentally half the team who played that day have sadly deceased, becomes ever more remote and unmemorable now as it was then. Yet I can forever say that was the fork in the road where it all began ravenously eating away at my life towards Carlisle which was one more milestone in the blink of an eye.