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 £600million 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.
“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.