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.
Martin Lee says
Thanks for some sort of support
I admit to having a few jolly ups at Wembley,at home to AC Milan in the Europa so,as fans,we cannot gripe too much as we were,effectively,cheating
Did we know that at the time ???????????
I CAN SWEAR ON MY LIFE THAT I DID NOT!!!!
So,love us or hate us just remember.we may be the first of a long line of clubs that get screwed over
Enjoy the good times and hope you are not on the list (am sure you won’t be at the moment)
Dave B says
Excellent piece. As a Pompey fan and season ticket holder of some 47 seasons I have experienced several deja vu moments borne out of varying financial crisis’ at our club. My first, back in the late 70’s when the SOS Pompey campaign reared its head for the first time, I was Treasurer of an associated Pompey Action Group, painting the ground, doing sponsored walks, walking the streets of Portsmouth collecting newspaper to sell to a local recycler; all in the aid of raising cash for the club. 35 years later and things don’t feel too much different, not even the league position. Many people should feel responsible including past owners, the general management, the local authorities and councils, and even the fans. Yes, the fans should accept at least a little responsibility for the times during the past three decades when they have applied pressure to, for example, “Get Defoe in Harry, whatever it takes!!”. The almost rabid demands for constant improvement, ignorant and blind to the actual cost of the actions and consequences, have also contributed. As for the local Councils input (or lack of) over the years, don’t get me started. But they too will eventually feel it via the impact on the local economy and they should have realised decades ago that the city’s football club was something that they too should have invested in in some way.
Thanks for your support and those of football fans around the world. Sadly though that will probably not be enough as the football authorities and our trail of greedy owners have done the damage already. The plans for a phoenix club have been in place for many years and will be brought into place if the almost inevitable happens. We will never die but may have to reappear in another form. Play Up Pompey!!
Paul Hillman says
Thank you for this reasonable,sympathetic and realistic piece.Many fans from other clubs will dance on the grave of Pfc and the dancing has already begun but we are the tip of an iceberg.We have been raped and pillaged but it is still, apparently, the supporters and staff who have “cheated” and will get all they deserve.
Even when our bitterest enemies down the road faced a similar fate real supporters never, at any stage, wanted to see them go to the wall.
We need to take back our game which these parasites have stolen from us. Pompey are now definitely doomed and it’s too late for us but we will not be the last.The Club, in a different form, will survive to start again via the Supporters Trust in a non league setting and the support will be, hopefully, amazing.
I will miss Championship football but have not missed the Premiership, where we never really belonged.
Norwich would do well to take Jason Pearce, Joel Ward and Stephen Henderson when they are up for grabs. Jewell of the Blue team down the road from you will grab them otherwise and no-one in Portsmouth wants to see that!
All Best Wishes to Norwich now and in the future. Play Up Pompey…
And should Portsmouth’s results be deleted from the Championship then Ipswich lose 6 points….