Catlin spoke in complimentary terms of what he’d seen from the New York side and explained why he’d spent time with the Cosmos.
“Like most teams, we do preseason tours. We, as a club, contacted the Cosmos and said, ‘Look, what’re you’re training facilities like?’ If we was to get possibly promotion, it might be a place we would consider coming for preseason training next year. We tend to go to Portugal, or last season we went to Ireland. Why not give the lads a treat and come to New York if we could get it funded by sponsorship back in the UK? So, I got in touch with Erik [Stover, Cosmos Chief Operating Officer]. Erik’s been very accommodating, absolutely fantastic.”
It appears the visit sat well with the Pompey chief, an assessment he would share with the board back home.
“I’ll go back to the board, of which the supporters’ trust are on the board and they’ll feed it back to let everyone know. I think a lot of our fans would love to come out here to New York as part of the preseason program. It’d be great for everyone.”
Portsmouth FC is a club that has experienced its fair share of troubles. The high of winning an FA Cup in 2008 eventually gave way to a number of lows, including being placed in administration twice in two years, and a tumble down the English pyramid from the Premier League to League Two.
While the club continues to play in League Two, a number of factors have helped them repair their image with their fans and their community, including the transparency between the club and its fans.
“It’s absolutely key to everything that we do,” emphasized Catlin. “Obviously in regards to contracts and what goes on with other clubs, has to remain confidential at times. We always push to get as much of it in the open domain as we can, but we’re always very honest in where we see the club going, any problems that we have, and any issues.”
The transparency has been valuable to them and the lessons learned from the experiences of Portsmouth might also serve other local clubs, as well.
The conversation also drifted into one of the most polarizing subjects in American soccer: promotion/relegation.
Portsmouth’s attendance is atypical of a League Two club. Their 16.5K average stands head and shoulders above the rest of the league, double that of the second-highest average. It’s also worth noting that the club’s majority owner is the Pompey Supporters Trust.
How does a fourth-division club not only get such a large draw on a weekly basis, but also get such a high degree of involvement from its community?
Catlin credits pro/rel.
“Most English fans, or most European fans really, struggle with the idea of no promotion or relegation. It’s not always great, especially if you’re in the relegation zone, but at least it gives you something to play for right the way through the end of the season.”
Despite the possibility of being in the firing line (something a club with the history of Portsmouth understands very well), it’s the possibilities afforded by the system that keeps the fans coming back to their club. Catlin also believes it prevents them from being lost to other clubs. Southampton, a Premier League club, is relatively close with St. Mary’s Stadium just a half hour’s drive down the M27.
“To take away the aspiration that any club can progress through a structure and arrive at the very top…if you told Portsmouth fans that you’re only going to be able to progress to the third-tier or the second-tier, I think we’d lose a lot of support and people would go off to support a lot of the bigger teams. And that’s not just Portsmouth, that’s throughout the other clubs.”
“If you took away promotion-relegation, you’d stop that aspiration which would be terrible, we think.”
Catlin had more to say in the interview. You can listen to it here on this week’s episode of TICCPod.