There but for the grace of God…
Tonight there appears to be a very real possibility that Portsmouth Football Club will not be able to make it to the end of the season. They will go into liquidation and disappear off the face of the footballing earth.
The club’s latest administrator – Trevor Birch – today spelled out the club’s dire position in a statement to Pompey’s long-suffering supporters who – as ever – have done nothing to bring this fate upon themselves.
‘This could be the first big club which fails to fulfil its fixtures and has to be wound up,’ wrote Birch.
‘There is not enough money, and the Premier League and Football League have confirmed no parachute payment money will come to the club. I do not have people interested in buying the club currently knocking my door down to do the deal.’
Instead that £2.2 million parachute lifeline will go to one of the club’s previous owners – an Alexandre Gaydamak.
I’m not even going to try to wade through the sorry history of the club over the last few years; suffice to say that they appear to have attracted some rum ol boys – the holding company, Convers Sports Initiative (CSI) was owned by a Russian banker, a Vladimir Antonov.
According to The Guardian, it would appear that it was his arrest in Lithuania for alleged bank fraud that has put Pompey in such a perilous position.
The biggest losers, of course, are the supporters – who have every right to feel wholly betrayed by those nominally in charge of their beloved club.
And, for me, that sense of betrayal ought to include the footballing authorities who – in theory – apply a ‘fit and proper person’ test to any incoming club owner.
Why the ‘There but for the grace of God…’ line at the top? Because in my 20 years covering Norwich City, I can think of at least two occasions when the footballing gods might have delivered something similar to what has befallen Portsmouth.
Way, way back in the mists of time as the old regime of Robert Chase was a-crumbling, I remember a very peculiar meeting in a room of the Hotel Nelson in which a gentlemen involved in a then on-going Serious Fraud Office case at Manchester Crown Court made serious noises about wishing to purchase the Canaries.
The other one that immediately springs to mind – and I missed out on the ‘meet’ – was with the so-called ‘Devil’s Advocate’, Giovanni di Stefano, who again eyed up his chance with Norwich. He would, finally, find a footballing home with Dundee. It didn’t go well.
Which is why, tonight, City fans ought to say a silent prayer of thanks for where they are right now ownership-wise, let alone league-wise.
Clearly, there have been some very, very dark times in the 16 years since Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones arrived in the wake of Chase’s fall from grace; it hasn’t always been the land of milk and honey that it now is.
But given the characters and the clear chancers that the footballing authorities appear to deem fit and proper people to run a club, then Norwich have been hugely blessed that the ‘Stowmarket Two’ didn’t sell out to the first passing waif and stray.
Where Portsmouth fans go now is as anyone’s guess – if the worst was to befall them, then the rise and rise of AFC Wimbledon ought to serve as an inspiration as they climb their way back up the league ladder.
Sat 17th in nPower League Two, they remain some 36 places shy of their nemesis, MK Dons, but I strongly suspect the Dons faithful – as in the AFC Dons and not the up-rooted MK variety – will have had the times of their lives en route back to the big time.
But the point remains that supporters should not be at the mercy of the kind of characters that have left Portsmouth in this position.
In the corridors of footballing power, it may well be a case of ‘None are so blind as don’t want to see it…’ though, in fairness, everyone is innocent until proven guilty. It is a tough ask expecting either the Premier or the Football League to act in a near-judicial capacity on every potential owner.
The potential for a defamation claim should you be found an ‘improper’ person must be huge; everyone runs to the law these days.
So there are two sides to the argument.
But right now, that argument is skewed too far in favour of the owners; the long-suffering supporters have every right to expect a greater level of protection from those who run the national game.
It is they that have let the Pompey faithful down and left a decent, provincial football club staring deep into the abyss.