Peter Storrie, Al Fahim and Pompey’s Unbelievable Level
This article first appeared on Pompeyonline in March 2011 and is part of a series aimed at chronicling the history of the club’s fall into administration.
“One point two million pound a year, Peter? You’re havin’ a laugh, mush!”
Immortal words, captured by Sky on 26 February 2010. A lone fan persuses Peter Storrie as he arrives at PFC offices on the morning the club was put into administration by Balram Chainrai. One fan speaking for Pompey fans everywhere that morning. As Chief Executive Officer of PFC, Peter Storrie was one of the highest earners in the Premier League. In August 2009 he drew down a bonus of £500,000 despite the club being in financial meltdown. His justification – ‘In January 2009, we were in a mess financially and I brought in an awful lot of money so Sacha gave me a £500,000 bonus.’(1) Helpful, when within a month, he was saying that the club had been, ‘very close to administration for nine of the last ten months.’ (2) Yet Mr Storrie maintained he was ‘just an employee’ doing as he was told. So you have to ask, is a CEO really ‘just an employee’?
In most businesses, the Chief Executive Officer is employed to be responsible to the Board of Directors for the carrying out of the strategic plans and policies established by that board. As a member of the board he also has a role to advise in the formulation of those plans and on the make up of the board itself. He is also responsible for the image the business projects into the community, to assure that this is consistently presented in a strong, positive manner to relevant stakeholders. (3)
In effect then, the CEO has a pretty big influence on the direction of any business. They are the fulcrum of the business, the point on which its success or failure can turn. Given that definition, how far can the blame for what has happened to PFC over the last two years be laid at the door of the CEO? Peter Storrie must have had a difficult job during his first four years at the club, starting in 2002. The struggle to balance the money and football aspects of the business on controlled funds will have been tricky, particularly with Harry Redknapp as manager. The advent of Sacha Gaydamak in 2006 must have come as a blessed relief. For a couple of years he had a job that was enviable. His joy in the 2008 cup win has been illustrated far and wide.
So when Sacha Gaydamak instructed Storrie to find a buyer for PFC in November 2008 it can only have brought a sinking feeling at first. But by February 2009 he had hooked the interest of a potential buyer. Following closely on the club’s premier league survival, he emerged from a Rome hotel hailed as the conquering hero. On May 31 2009, Suliaman Al Fahim signed a memorandum of understanding to purchase PFC. Pompey had leapt into the mega-rich stratosphere of the man who had brokered the Manchester City deal. Storrie acknowledged that due diligence had to be carried out, but declared, ‘I’m confident it’ll go through smoothly.’ (4)
Famous last words. Six weeks later the deal looked very wobbly indeed. ‘Sungate’ didn’t help. On 26 June 2009 the Sun made allegations that Al Fahim had no money and had lost his backer – rumoured to be Thaksin Shinawatra, to whom the Premier League had shown the red card. Fahim was on his own then. This didn’t necessarily worry anyone at first – he was from Dubai, wasn’t he? He must be rich – Piers Morgan said he had platinum eyeballs! This idea seemed to be confirmed as Fahim passed the Premier League Fit and Proper Persons Test and became non-executive chairman of the club on July the 21st.
By the beginning of August doubts about Fahim were becoming stronger. Storrie says Sacha asked him to look for another buyer. It would seem here the CEO is a big influence if this is true, as later events suggest that Sacha can have had no say in the other buyer that was found. It was said (5) that Storrie and Pini Zahavi came up with what was later to be known as the Ali Al Faraj consortium. By the middle of August, word was getting round that there is another buyer in the wings. At a Radio Solent fans’ forum, Peter dropped some heavy hints that a better option than Fahim was available. In his role as CEO, interacting with stakeholders, Storrie ensured it was known that his consortium was made up of Arabs with serious money, so all was not as bad as it seemed, there was a safety net in place.
Storrie’s role in protecting the club’s interests at this time was enhanced on the 21st August when BBC’s Matt Slater detailed the financial tangle that existed at PFC. He exposed the problem with the repayments required by South Africa Standard Bank and Barclays of loans which have been secured against future income. It is clear there had been no confidence in the Club’s ability to repay since Sacha had ceased his funding of the club. The article confirmed that player sales were being used to clear the £44m required. Slater also wrote of the loss of faith in Fahim’s take over and suggested that Storrie’s consortium could bring ‘a ray of hope for the club.’ (6) By the 24th of August speculation about the rival consortium is everywhere, with one Pompey website going with an article entitled ‘Pick a Prince’ based on Storrie’s hint that his Arabs were Qatari’s and linked to royalty. The article came up with Sheikh Tammim Bin Hamad Al Thani based on information said to have been given by Storrie to the Daily Mirror (7). PFC looked to be still on course to be the envy of other fans. During this period, Storrie seemed confident that his consortium would succeed after Fahim failed to meet a seven-day ultimatum set by Sacha to bring the deal to a conclusion. On the 26th of August a deal was finally struck. With Al Fahim.
The deal, it emerged later (8), was this: Fahim paid £1 for the club but put in £5m to cover immediate costs. Gaydamak’s Trust took the remaining Standard Bank debt of about £25m. This is the bulk of the money now owed to Sacha under the CVA. At the same time Sacha wrote off another £13.5m loan and gave Al Fahim the option of buying 51% of the development land around Fratton Park for £1 once Fahim had refinanced an initial £12m repayment due in November 2009 The rest of the loan was to be repaid in staged payments by 2012. The remaining land would then be passed over for £4.5m. Storrie, who had been the ‘de facto’ boss at the club since being asked to find a buyer, battling the creditors throughout, was said to be ‘incandescent’. On 29 August he exploded in the press (5), calling Sacha’s act ‘the ultimate betrayal.’ He hinted that it was Arkady rather than Sacha calling the shots and says that his consortium would have taken the club to ‘a level you would not quite believe.’
Fans, denied their ‘Qatari Prince’ by Fahim’s purchase, began to side with Storrie. Storrie claimed Sacha would not sell to his consortium because members of it were suing Arkady. He claimed to have removed these people (now thought to have been Kushnir and Chainrai – the owners proposed to the PL in August, according to NOTW 16/5/10) but that Sacha had gone back on what Storrie had thought was a done deal. Fans began to see Sacha as the man who had got thei club into a mess and then denied it its saviours. It wasn’t until a Guardian article on 17 October, 2009 (8) that financier Glenn Cooper substantiated Sacha’s counter-claim that the Al Faraj consortium had ‘never proved they had sufficient money and not enough was known about them.’
Following on from Al Fahim’s takeover Storrie embarked on some frantic transfer activity. He bought Smith from Watford on the 27th of August, followed by Boeteng from Tottenham, Brown from Wigan on 28, Williamson from Watford and Ben Haim from Manchester City on 01 September. In addition he added Piquionne, Dindane, O’Hara and Yebda on loan during these few days. At the same time Distin was sold to Everton and Kranjcar to Spurs whilst Nugent was sent on loan to Burnley. Crouch had already departed for Spurs earlier. Mike Hall (9) later called this ‘a mad spending spree … committing the club to millions of pounds in payments to players, other clubs and agents. Money the club just did not have.’ It is possible that revenue from the sale of Crouch, Kranjcar and Distin, during this period would have been enough to carry the club over until the middle of September when Al Fahim was expected to have refinanced. But you have to ask how much assurance Storrie had had in order to act this way, in the light of later events. Also, this is at odds with the stories that state that these fees were used to settle up with the banks. How much was actually received at this time for these players is open to dispute in any case, given the staged payments that seemed to be the norm for such transactions.
These deals added to the club’s burden of debt. They now look wholly inadvisable, which started to become clear when Williamson never even played for Pompey due to the way his contract was drawn up. Other players’ contracts stored up problems for the future, as the situation with Brown, Hughes and Ben Haim now (Apr 2011) illustrates. The CEO was certainly taking a risk with the business at this point. As early as the 5th of September, fans’ groups became concerned about the continued lack of finance. The formation of the Pompey Virtual Alliance (PVA), was announced in the news. The organization – ‘a united ear for fans’ – was set up in a attempt to put a stop to the idea of an elite corps of fans being fed scraps of information. The group was a response to the distrust fans felt at the various stories coming out of the club. The PVA started to call for answers from Fahim. Fahim though, was absent, searching the globe for finance, whilst Storrie and Hart ran the club.
On the 6th of September The Independent ran a story suggesting that Al Faraj was ‘believed to be considering a bid for West Ham United.’ It was mooted that Peter Storrie might be involved. Al Fahim, though, was positive about not having any plans to replace Storrie with a new management team. However, this had the effect of shaking the confidence of the fans in the set up at Fratton Park. (11) Peter Storrie was happy to talk to the PVA. On the 12th of September a meeting was held at the club between the PVA and Peter Storrie, Lucius Peart and Johnny Moore. Representatives of thirteen websites were present. Minutes of this meeting are clear about the message coming from Peter Storrie. (12) The minutes state that he explained that no owner had ever put any equity into the club since he had been there. That he said the club had broken even that year but there was no money for new players, player sales having paid the bank debt.
Storrie’s biggest bombshell is recorded as the fact that Al Fahim had not refinanced the club as matters stood and he was unsure when funds would be available. Storrie is minuted as telling the meeting that Al Fahim had no liquid assets. He continued to paint Al Fahim as not knowing enough to run the club and as having no real plan for the future. There was no way of improving the club’s infrastructure. Asked about the Al Faraj ‘brothers’ he said they were still interested in the club, despite the West Ham story, and Peter Storrie had every intention of staying with the club, having just bought a new house and turned down a big job offer. It has to be said that there was much support for Peter at this meeting and he asked websites to ‘quell expectations of Al Fahim and promote ticket sales.’
The minutes were published on the 14th of September. The following day, Storrie denied (13) saying that Al Fahim had not refinanced the club – that this was all ‘the fans’ interpretation’ of the meeting. Meanwhile Fahim was telling the Arab press and anyone else who would listen about transforming the club into a ‘profit-making concern.’ He seemed to be more positive than Storrie and even said that ‘keeping Storrie is better for the club.’(13) Storrie still seemed to hold a powerful position as the football man in the equation. Al Fahim was also quoted in the Telegraph of 15 September as saying ‘new money will be coming in from my personal finances … By January we will have more money coming in for players.’
But no finance appeared and Fahim was hurtling towards a planned meeting with the fans on the 24th of September. Suggestions were made on the lines that Fahim could save the club by joining forces with the Al Faraj brothers – who the fans still believed could make PFC the new Manchester City. No further news of their interest in West Ham emerged, so hope was still there of rescue from this quarter. It was thought that the meeting with Fahim would herald the announcement of another takeover. It is speculative to think now that Al Fahim’s attempt to cancel the meeting was due to the fact that he had no such announcement to make and that he feared the fans would be out to ‘get him’ at the meeting. Certainly the mood among fans was militant and message boards were hopping with questions designed to probe his deepest intentions for the club. The publicity and controversy that was whipped up prior to this meeting demonstrates a media maestro working to manipulate the most useful weapon in a football club’s arsenal – the fans’ passion for their club. On Thursday 24th September, the night before the meeting was supposed to happen, a message appeared on pompeyonline.com:
“i have been in contact with peter tonight and he is at breaking point and could walk away from the club !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
he has told me that he cannot carry on this way, we the fans need to do something to stop this from happening whether you like the man or not without him we are truly fooked !!!!!!!
lets stand together and show the world we wont allow our club to be laughed at again !!!!!!
ONE CITY, ONE CLUB, ONE SET OF FANS. WE ARE POMPEY!!!!!!!!!!.” (14)
In the responses to this, it seemed that pitchforks were being sharpened. The following morning, The Times ran a story suggesting that Peter Storrie was considering his position. The story quoted message board calls for ‘demonstrations and on-pitch protests’ at the game against Everton at Fratton the following Saturday. There was much activity during that Friday which resulted in the meeting being back on again and Al Fahim, flanked by his advisors, faced the fans in a forensic questioning session. Mike Hall described the meeting thus:
“The body language between the clubs existing management team, Storrie and the board was awful, with the two sides, (the only possible way to refer to them), arrayed at opposite ends of the room and a fridge-like atmosphere coming from the non-Al Fahim end. One sensed that there is no working together between these groups in the long term. I hope to be proved wrong. Storrie, intentionally or unintentionally, rebuffed any efforts at chumminess and looked a very unhappy man.” (15)
It speaks volumes for the charm of Al Fahim, or the kindness of a section of the fans’ representatives at the meeting, that Fahim was let off the hook in the questioning session. His promises of £50m coming in were listened to and fans were willing to wait and see what transpired, albeit against the better judgement of some of those present. Mr. Fahim also suggested that, ‘The continued rumours about the club going into administration are so deeply misleading and damaginto the club’s interest to the point where they are threatening to undermine the viability of the club and are damaging my efforts to secure financial stability.’ (Samuels, Mail Sept 30) Observers felt that Mr. Storrie was not pleased about this outcome.
On Saturday 26th September, at the game against Everton at Fratton Park, the crowd sang ‘There’s only one Peter Storrie,’ to an impassive-looking Mr. Storrie seated next to Al Fahim in the directors’ box. His tearful avowal that he would stay with the club on the Quay radio Football Hour the following week only enhanced his ‘hero’ status. The questioning of Fahim’s financial status continued in the Mail on the 30th of September, with Martin Samuel saying, ‘if this takeover has money, why these cheap signings?’ Further suggesting that whispers of administration pale into insignificance compared to the likelihood that ‘the man in charge lacks the sufficient funds to manage a Premier League Football Club.’ (16)
The media campaign was gathering pace. Fans started to ask why Fahim’s money is taking so long to appear? Fahim had said at the meeting he needed a few weeks, but he never got it. Following the Samuels article came a story from Storrie in the Guardian the next day. ‘There is no money left’ he admitted as the club failed to pay the wage bill. (2) Storrie also denied that he knew anything about the conditions of Al Fahim’s promised £50m. Meanwhile the embattled CEO was, of course, ‘working tirelessly to keep the club afloat’ despite it being ‘very close to administration for nine of the last ten months.’ He still talked of ‘other people ready to step in.’ Fahim too was beginning to talk of bringing new investors on board. (2)
You have to ask at this point, how much power did the CEO really have to influence the outcome that occurred? Because it was as if a Tsunami of events had been unleashed from here on. The non-payment of the September wages led to calls from fans for Fahim to go. It was felt that if his letter of credit proving his £50m was not good enough to get an overdraft to pay the players, then it probably wasn’t much use at all Patience had gone. As a measure of the weakness of Fahim’s position, Colin Farmery (17) questioned why Storrie was still at Fratton Park at all as he continued to brief against the owner. Farmery called for Fahim to step aside. The following day, The Sun (18) reported that the Premier League had called Al Fahim to a meeting. Fahim then disappeared into a Dubai hospital for a kidney stone operation, with the paper revealing that Ali Al Faraj had loaned PFC £5m to cover the September wages. If Fahim didn’t pay him back Faraj would take over the club. Feelings were riding high, poor results on the field exacerbating the situation and fans are beginning to wonder who they can trust. The prescient Mike Hall wrote ‘The Club Needs an Enema’ on the 3rd of October (19), ending:
“And to the next owners I say this; we have had 50 years of vainglorious people running this club into the ground, arriving with bright promises and leaving with their tails between their legs, after selling all our players to avoid bankruptcy. Five decades of commercial failure and showing contempt for the supporters is enough. I told Fahim when he agreed to buy the club he should beware holding a tiger by the tail – and to anyone who thinks they ca manipulate Pompey fans into blindly supporting their agenda I say: if we can drive him out, and he wouldn’t be the first, you better make damn sure you hold yourselves to the same higher standard of transparency, honesty delivery and partnership you preach because placards are very easy to make.”
The result of the well orchestrated pressure was inevitable. On the 5th of October is was announced that Ali Al Faraj’s Falcondrone had taken over the club. The Club website ran an item quoting Peter Storrie’s delight. ‘I have been very impressed with Mr. Al Faraj, his people and their commitment. They are very professional in their approach to the business and I believe that we will have some exciting plans ahead once again for this football club.’ The CEO appeared to have ‘saved’ Pompey once more. He no doubt looked forward to profitable times ahead again. Mike Hall wrote, ‘The smell of real money is in the air.’ (20) That smell faded rapidly. On the 6th of October 2009 Balram Chainrai took out a charge on Fratton Park in return for a loan to Falcondrone (21). The agreement was drawn up by his lawyer, Mark Jacob.
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