Alec Laverty wrote this creative non-fiction short story after participating in a local writing project called Portsmouth, City of Stories, part of a wider 2 year festival of festival of stories, creative writing, storytelling and narratives run by Portsmouth Library Service and funded by the Arts Council with a £140,000 grant.
The Little Pitch Invader
It was a critical match for Pompey in March 2000, against fellow relegation zone strugglers West Bromwich Albion. The game was on a Monday evening under the floodlights at Fratton Park. A big crowd had turned up and optimism was high, as the Blues had picked up 3 points the previous Friday, after scoring 2 late goals to beat Nottingham Forest. Tony Pulis had recently been appointed manager and he had assembled a team of dependable battlers who were not going to surrender results easily. Now the Fratton crowd were going to respond in kind and create a cauldron of noise on one of those special nights at the famous old stadium.
There was an unusual occurrence that evening though. The crowd’s attention was diverted to the corner of the pitch between the South Stand and the Fratton End. A little creature had wandered on to the grass and had stopped dead in its tracks. It was a rat. It seemed to be transfixed by the lights and the noise and looked paralysed with fear. Everyone was greatly amused; they were witnessing something that had never been seen at a game before. We all kind of expected a steward to take the initiative and usher it off the pitch but nobody seemed to know quite what to do.
Then suddenly a youth jumped out of the crowd, ran on to the pitch and delivered a fatal stamp on the hapless little rodent. There were gasps of horror from the crowd, followed by loud booing. The youth had obviously thought he was doing us all a big favour, but he now found himself villain of the piece.
Such was the importance of the match though; the incident was soon forgotten. A feisty encounter ensued, as Pompey went toe to toe with a very aggressive West Brom team and the home side managed to take the lead after they were awarded a controversial first half penalty. The West Brom manager protested so vehemently that the referee sent him to the stands for the rest of the game.
In the second half, West Brom attacked the Fratton End and pressed hard for an equaliser. Every time they won a corner, the crowd behind the goal created a tremendous barrage of noise; they were determined Pompey would not concede a goal. Chairman Milan Mandarić was so impressed that he went and sat amongst the Fratton Enders in the following home game, just to experience the atmosphere at close range.
Towards the end of the game, Pompey counter-attacked, and Shaun Derry ran through to score a second goal and seal victory. As the Fratton roar exploded into the night air, many of the West Brom fans made a beeline for the exit. It had all been too much. They had experienced Fratton Park at its most hostile and intimidating; seen their team vanquished and now they faced the long late-night journey back to the Midlands.
The little pitch invader suffered a far worse fate, of course, and I couldn’t help but wonder if there had ever been an occasion when so many were so upset at the demise of a creature so normally despised.
The Portsmouth City of Stories workshops were run by Amanda Garrie as part of the wider festival. Amanda now runs a fortnightly writing session in Central Library. The next session is Tuesday 11th December, 11am – 1pm, cost £3, beginners welcome!