Peter Storrie can remember visiting the London studio of Herzog & de Meuron, the renowned Swiss architects, and being shown a striking vision of Portsmouth’s future.
“It was something else,” he tells The Athletic. “They put it up on the screen for us and it certainly had the wow factor.”
This was 2007 and the ambitious plans were for a new 36,000-capacity stadium on the city’s docks. Storrie, then chief executive, had accepted that Portsmouth would need to leave Fratton Park, the club’s home since 1899, and a proposed relocation could hardly have been more impressive.
Located in between the Spinnaker Tower and the historic naval base, a £600 million waterfront project that would include apartments and restaurants promised a transformational impact. “This will be the most spectacular stadium, set against the backdrop of the harbour and the English Channel befitting the club’s history,” said Storrie back in 2007, when Portsmouth were a top-half Premier League club.
They would win the FA Cup a year later when beating Cardiff City, too, but by that time plans for a new stadium had been all but scrapped. Opposition had come from local councillors and the British Royal Navy, who had “operational and security concerns” after choosing to base two super aircraft carriers nearby.
Portsmouth pivoted from the dockyards to another waterfront site nearby at Horsea Island, again designed by Herzog & de Meuron with little expense spared. Again it collapsed, this time against the backdrop of the global financial crisis of 2008. As such, Fratton Park, boisterous but limited, remains the club’s home. Portsmouth’s plans at Horsea Island (Herzog & de Meuron)
“The stadium on the docks was a fantastic design, really stunning,” Storrie says. “It would’ve been perfect. It was there on the waterfront. It would’ve been an iconic venue. One of the great stadiums if it had been built. Would it ever have got through planning? Probably not – but who knows? It was one of the great designs that never happened.”
And it is a crowded field. For every impressive stadium built by English clubs in the last 30 years, there has been another that failed to get beyond the architects’ drawings or the fantasies of an owner.
Like Chelsea’s vision for Battersea Power Station and the Gothic re-imagining of Stamford Bridge. Or Liverpool’s proposed move to a futuristic new home in Stanley Park. Everton lived out three different projects at Kings Dock, Kirkby and Walton Hall Park before finally planting a spade in the ground at Bramley-Moore Dock, site of their long-awaited new home from the 2025-26 season.
Tottenham Hotspur had their own plans to knock down and rebuild the Olympic Stadium before West Ham United became tenants in 2016, while once upon a time Birmingham City had plans for a 55,000-seater stadium that would form part of the Birmingham Sports Village. Karren Brady, Birmingham’s managing director back in 2006, called it “a once-in-a-lifetime regeneration project.” Or, as it turned out, not-in-this-lifetime.
That is typical of the well-versed big sell, especially when supporters are being asked to leave a historic home. Project what the future might look like in all its animated glory and hope it marks the first step on the journey. Actions do not always accompany the words. Whether through funding problems or supporter opposition, sometimes both, English football has a long list…