John Westwood Interview October 15, 2009 by John Elvin
A profile of the man behind the Pompey Chimes. Westwood discusses his bookstore, his crazy matchday outfit and being forced out of the Fratton End in the 2008/09 season.
He would be the first to agree that those who have only had the pleasure of meeting him at Fratton Park on a matchday would take one look at the ridiculous hat, custom-made waistcoat and body covered from head to toe in Portsmouth FC tattoos and wonder why John Westwood isn’t in a loony bin.
“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,” he explains.
“The clothes all came in a mish-mash. The hat came at a cup game. An ex bought me the wig for a birthday. We found the chef’s trousers and thought they went well with the waistcoat. The long trousers have turned into short shorts because of the tattoos all over my legs.”
“It’s my way of supporting the team. The kids love it. I let them ring the bell and kids are the future of the club. It is them that will stop us going into administration again,” he explains just after pausing to serve an elderly woman at his antiquarian bookstore.
His glum expression and hushed tone as he does so is a personification of the dullness of a 9-to-5 job. The man looks a corpse of himself. John has been working at the store in his home town of Petersfield since he was 16.
“I love books. I love the history of it. It’s such a nice trade in the way people trade and conduct themselves. It’s a far cry from the football way of doing things. It’s far less cut-throat,” he says.
Whilst he may get a huge kick out of trading antique books, it is obvious that John’s main love is watching the football at the weekend. The loft of his bookstore is covered in newspaper cuttings of his beloved Portsmouth whilst his house is a shrine of memorabilia. Even whilst dressed as a librarian, a glimpse of the real John Westwood is shown through the famous star and crescent logo on his tie.
John has travelled to every single Pompey game during the last 30 years ranging from trips to Wrexham and Chesterfield in the old Third Division to pre-season tours of China and Nigeria in recent seasons. He has between 50-60 tattoos dedicated to the club and of course he famously changed his name to John Portsmouth Football Club Westwood by deed poll in 1991.
Jordan Cross, sports journalist at local newspaper The News, said, ‘He’s well known as Portsmouth’s No.1 fan. He’s the most recognisable, the most eccentric. There’s mixed opinions of him. Some people appreciate his commitment and some people take a different stance because of his image but if you get to know John, you will know he’s a real, unassuming, perfect gentleman and a very intelligent person.’
Portsmouth FC Deal with Complaints About Excessive Noise at Fratton Park
However, the 45-year-old has been getting in confrontations with his own supporters over the amount of noise that he and his group of friends make with their drums, bell and bugle.
Complaints over excessive noise led to Westwood and his bandmates being moved all around the stadium last season in an attempt to keep home supporters happy.
John said, “I don’t have a problem with them. I understand we need the families and I understand we need the corporates because the club needs the money but they have a problem with us real fans. This is the Fratton End! It’s like moving into a street with a church and then complaining when they ring the bells!"
It goes to show how much the club value John as a fan that they went to all the trouble of building a wooden ‘Pompey Bandstand’ stage in the corner of the stadium just to try and accommodate his musical instruments.
Portsmouth FC’s Director of Communications Gary Double said, “An atmosphere is fantastic but if you are that near to drums and bells I can see how that can be frustrating. John understood that he needed a good atmosphere with his own fans.
“We value what he brings to the atmosphere. He is a big part of the support not just at Fratton Park but on our travels. We do encourage the atmosphere but we have to respect the needs and concerns of all our other fans not just one or two.”
Barry Dewing of the Pompey Independent Supporters Association was appalled at the way his friend had been treated. He said, “It sums up what football has become if they are moving people for making too much noise.
“When they made all-seater stadiums that is killing the culture of football. A lot of people like a bit of banter and to let off steam but they can’t do that any more.”
John and his pals were removed from their bandstand after a couple of months because they were too close to away supporters and placed back in their original seats without their drums or Westwood’s famous bell. Thankfully, Westwood and the club reached a compromise where the drums would stay at home but the trumpet could return and the famous Pompey chimes could ring from the Fratton End once more.
Football may be changing but John Westwood won’t change with it if he can help it. His transformation from gentle unassuming bookstore owner to thunderous colourful leader of the Blue Army is no greater proof that for some there’s no stronger drug than football.
“The best day of my life was winning the FA Cup, never thought I would see it in my lifetime, and before that it was beating the Scummers 4-1. 21-4-05,” he says.
They’ve taken his drums but it would be impossible to take this man’s passion.