It’s been a long seven years since the two fiercest rivals on England’s South Coast met, yet tonight, the battle will resume once again at Fratton Park.
Since that last meeting in the Championship, the two clubs have drifted apart with Portsmouth dropping as low as League Two whereas the Saints have established themselves as a Premier League club.
However, the saying that ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ certainly isn’t the case for these two enemies, with the seven-year separation only deepening the hatred between the two sets of supporters.
Former Saints player Jamie Redknapp summed up the passion in his column in the Daily Mail: “The most intimidating fixture I ever played in? It was not Liverpool versus Manchester United, nor was it the Merseyside derby against Everton.
“Tottenham against Arsenal was not my most hostile match, either. It was Southampton versus Portsmouth. In April 2005, I went to Fratton Park there were just over 20,000 fans there, but it felt more like 200,000. The hatred towards us was like nothing I have ever experienced. What added to the vitriol was my dad was Southampton boss, having previously managed Portsmouth.”
Former Portsmouth players Ricardo Rocha and Lomana LuaLua both backed up these claims in The Guardian.
Rocha claimed: “When I was at Benfica, we had Sporting and Porto as big rivals but the Portsmouth v Southampton rivalry is totally different because it runs deeper – it’s not all to do with football. It’s about the history in the cities, the ports and the passion. You have to put everything on the line.”
LuaLua added: “I played in Olympiakos v Panathinaikos and I experienced Newcastle v Sunderland but this was on another level.”
Another sell-out crowd will create another spine-tingling atmosphere tonight on the South Coast and the home fans will be hoping to continue the record that has seen them remain unbeaten against their fiercest rivals at home since 1984.
Steve Moran scored the stoppage-time winner in the FA Cup that day and caught up with The Athletic to reminisce about that moment:
“I got a good side foot. I kept it low but it was a good height for the goalkeeper Alan Knight, but if you watch it, he gets a very good hand on it but that just pushes it into the side-netting (after the goal had crossed the line).
“And then, it just went mental in the away end. The rest of the crowd were stunned and were in silence.
“I still think if we scored any earlier, we’d have caused a pitch invasion it was so volatile but having scored so late, it stunned Pompey. I remember scoring and thinking, ‘Oh my God, what have I done?'”
A lot has changed since that moment three decades ago and Southampton head into this game as hot favourites, despite the fact that history is against them.
If you take the passion out of the game and look at it from an analytical point of view, this is a mid-table Premier League side who have won their last three away games without conceding a goal, up against a League One side who are hovering just above the relegation zone with manager Kenny Jackett coming under serious pressure.
On paper, it is a mismatch, yet derby games aren’t played on paper. There is a real danger of the Southampton players freezing under the floodlights of Fratton Park, something that former player Jason Dodd is all too aware of. Speaking to The Guardian, he said: “When we got beat 4-1, some of our international players struggled to deal with the atmosphere. It was the intensity, supporters throwing the ball at you when it went out, all those kinds of things. I don’t think there are any Southampton players now that will have had that atmosphere before.”
The people of Portsmouth and Southampton have waited seven years for tonight. Seven years of hatred has been allowed to fester as Pompey attempt to battle their way up through the lower league. Football is about rivalries like this one. Expect fireworks.