Roko feel-good story is base for optimism

Andy Awford, right. Picture: Allan Hutchings (141489-497)
Andy Awford, right. Picture: Allan Hutchings (141489-497)

It’s the biggest Pompey feel-good story since 2008.

For a man who steers clear of the hyperbole, that was quite a statement from Andy Awford.

But, for the Blues boss, the long-awaited announcement of the club’s new training base at Roko is the best thing to happen since Sol went up to lift the FA Cup.

It’s a process Awford has been at the heart of in recent years and something he has long championed.

The news also, importantly, represents an important landmark in Pompey’s journey back to health, a signal the club is clambering back to its feet.

It will certainly make the manager’s job in attracting players an easier one over the summer.

A snazzy complex at Roko is definitely a better selling point than the prospect of working on a school playing field in Farlington the players faced 12 months ago.

When Pompey worked at what were, for a long time, primitive surroundings in Eastleigh, it was a constant source of consternation for former boss Harry Redknapp.

While other clubs used to show their players around state-of-the-art facilities when courting them, Redknapp used to go out of his way to keep them away from King Edward VI School in Eastleigh.

Their faces when they turned up on the first day of pre-season training were a picture.

Dodging the children playing hockey at Eastleigh was undoubtedly a step up from HMS Collingwood at Fareham. That was a hut on a bobbly field.

Going down the years it’s been a succession of similar stories as Pompey led a nomadic existence when it came to their day-to-day place of work.

The IBM field in Havant, Warren Avenue in Milton, Eastney Barracks, Purbrook Park playing field and, most recently, the University of Portsmouth’s Langstone Campus have all homed various Blues squads.

As Alan Knight said in The News yesterday, the club has never had their own permanent base. How that has come to be after the number of years spent in the Premier League is one of the great Pompey scandals.

There were the false dawns, of course – the 11-pitch, 55-acre site at Titchfield which was rejected six years ago because of concerns on its impact on nearby historic buildings, for example,

Then there was the £10m proposal at Cherque Farm in Lee-on-the-Solent, which disappeared as quickly as the Gaydamak family’s cash.

It’s taken the new Pompey time to make it happen, however.

And delivering that is one of the greatest triumphs of the Blues’ new era as the United Kingdom’s biggest fan-owned club.

The financial input of the club’s 12 presidents has much to do with the project, which will cost upwards of £500,000, coming to fruition.

But the everyday supporters who continue to dig deep now have further tangible evidence of what their money is buying.

The plans will take a central role in this Saturday’s open day at Fratton Park, as Pompey Supporters’ Trust continue their share push.

Plenty of people will be working hard on that front and deserve credit for doing so. The same goes for the efforts of Mark Catlin, with the chief executive kept busy in recent months by the project.

The 30-year lease at Roko will deliver facilities more than adequate for where Pompey stand today, with the potential for expansion as and when the club spreads it wings.

Crucially, though, it sees the club and the players return to the heart of the community for the long haul.

Pompey’s training ground will have a PO postcode once again – and the club another piece of their identity.