Why all fans should side with ‘Mr Portsmouth’
John Westwood, Portsmouth’s No.1 fan, is seen as a sinner in today’s sit-down and shut-up footballing culture.
Sunday afternoon. The FA Cup semi-final. Portsmouth are upsetting the odds and beating Spurs. The Pompey hordes are in full voice. Invariably the TV director cuts to the clichéd close-up shot of Portsmouth’s most famous fan. You know the one I mean. Mr Portsmouth. The geezer with the tattoos, blue and white stove pipe hat, and long, curly blue locks. He looks like a slightly more demented version of the late Screaming Lord Sutch, leader of the Monster Raving Loony Party.
Mr Portsmouth ticks all the right football-obsessive boxes. He changed his name by deed poll in 1989 to John Anthony Portsmouth Football Club Westwood. His body is a shrine to Pompey with 60 Pompey tattoos and the letters ‘PFC’ engraved on his teeth. And he’s been to every game, home and away, since 1980. As Portsmouth’s off-field problems mount, Westwood has come to symbolise the fanatical devotion of the Fratton Park faithful, the embodiment of ‘Portsmouth Till I Die’.
However, while his lugubrious face is always on our TV screens, far less media attention has been paid to the ongoing battle between Westwood and the football authorities. Last month, Westwood received a letter from the club warning that he could be banned from Fratton Park for persistent standing. Yes, you read that right. His crime is persistent standing. Not throwing missiles or fighting or spitting. Persistent standing. It’s what most of us do every day at bus stops and railway stations. No one usually gets hurt. But in a football stadium it is supposedly a health and safety hazard. Go figure.
The local council’s Safety Advisory Group believes that Westwood is the main reason that hundreds of Portsmouth fans also stand during matches. Apparently, they all take their cue from a bloke in the silly hat. And this isn’t the first time Westwood has fallen foul of the authorities. In October, during the home game against Spurs, he and his friends were ejected from Fratton Park for waving Judas posters at Harry Redknapp. In the 2008/9 season he was moved out of the Fratton End because he was making too much noise with his bugle, bell and drum. As Barry Dewing from the Portsmouth Independent Supporters Association quite rightly said: ‘It sums up what football has become if they are moving people for making too much noise.’ After being moved to different parts of the stadium, Westwood and his mates were eventually allowed to return to their original seats minus the drum, which was banned. When Portsmouth reached the FA Cup Final 2008, Westwood was barred from bringing any musical instruments into Wembley Stadium.
Westwood is a man who divides opinions. Judging by some message board threads, many rival fans think he’s an alcoholic clown who lives with his mother and has never had a girlfiend (it happens to be a myth – he’s actually divorced and has two children). Not all Pompey fans are enamoured by his musical cacophony. Others feel he sullies the club’s reputation. ‘This is a man who turns up completely drunk to football matches and clashes with stewards and police’, wrote one supporter on the Fratton Faithful website after Westwood was ejected from Gillingham’s Priestfield stadium in 2002. By his own admission, Westwood has been ejected from stadiums up and down the land. He was banned from Southampton’s St Mary’s stadium for urinating on seats in the away end.
Fancy dress isn’t really my cup of tea but, after watching Man of the Match, an endearing documentary about Westwood made by students from the University of Chichester, I warmed to the bloke (1). As the film shows, he is just an ordinary, passionate fan who likes to get drunk, let off some steam, and cheer on his football team on a Saturday afternoon. As he said in an interview last year: ‘Football is a release. You work hard all week. Yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir, so you go to football to enjoy yourself.’ In other words, hat and wig apart, he’s not much different to the rest of us. ‘During the week I have got to be sensible and then on Saturdays you enter the madness of football. It’s like having two different lives.’ When he’s not wearing his hat and ringing his bell, Westwood runs an antiquarian bookshop in the village of Petersfield. ‘People look at me and think I must be some madman off a building site, but books are my life’, he said.
The killjoys who run football seem to have lost sight of the fact that a football stadium is a carnivalesque social arena where the normal social conventions are temporarily inverted. The way we behave on the terraces – singing, swearing, hurling dog’s abuse – is the opposite of how we behave when we’re at work. If, as is increasingly the case at football, you criminalise the drunken, irreverent, unruly conduct of fans, then you inevitably damage the matchday experience.
And that’s why a harmless eccentric like Westwood faces being banned from Fratton Park. Like many football fans, Westwood finds himself at odds with petty rules and regulations that are squeezing the life and atmosphere out of football. ‘Nowadays football’s becoming a bit PC’, Westwood says in the documentary. ‘They don’t like people who stick out and make too much noise, show a bit of passion.’ Too right. He might be a bit of a clown but, when it comes to a showdown with the football authorities, I’ll side with the clowns every time.
Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist.
(1) Man of the Match, YouTube
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