How on earth did it come to this again? Two years ago, Portsmouth Football Club became the poster boys for football’s wretched current condition when they became the first Premier League club to be nudged into administration. For all the heartache that this caused, the club was due to be getting a clean start with this move – a move which, it should be remembered, sealed the club’s fate with regard to relegation from the Premier League in the first place – but it has only taken two years to get back to administration again, and this time the feeling in the air around Fratton Park has a distinctly fatalistic mood about it.
Administrator Trevor Birch of the PKF group, the court-appointed administrators for Portsmouth Football Club this time around, put the matter in the starkest possible terms in his statement on the club’s current position yesterday. ”We had previously stated that there was a real danger of the club running out of cash before the end of the season.”, he said, “The more we uncover, the worse the picture appears to get.” He did reappear in the press today to quash a little confusion over the suggestion that parachute payments which are being advanced by the Premier League would be ending up going to former owner Sacha Gaydamak. “The issue is that a mechanism was put in place by the old company,” he said today, “which had the effect of giving an assignment of £2.2 million of parachute payments to a previous owner.”
The irony in the fact that one of the people ultimately responsible for the chain of events that has culminated in where Portsmouth FC finds itself today possibly finding himself being repaid for a mess that he helped to create whilst other creditors – including considerably more blame-free creditors in this sorriest of tales – have continued to hover over the carcass of English football’s hardiest story of financial mismanagement of the last decade or so. More than this, the administrators also confirmed this week that a number of the club’s staff are to be made redundant, whilst others will have their working hours cut from full-time to part-time and more still – including the players – have been requested to defer their wages in order to try and help to keep the club afloat.
Portsmouth entered into administration for the second time on the seventeenth of February, following the collapse of their parent company, Convers Sport International, in November. The club had been issued with a winding up order at the start of January by HMRC over the non-payment of tax, and is understood to have fresh debts of around £4m. Entering into administration removed the immediate threat of going out of business, but the administrators have, in view of recent events at the club, been left with little option but to pursue a hard line with the club this time around. Birch had tough words following his company’s initial look at the club’s books last week, noting that, “Our initial analysis of the club’s financial position has revealed that the situation is more serious than many people had expected”, and that, “To put it bluntly, Portsmouth Football Club has a Premier League cost base but only Championship income.”
Against such a background, it is hardly surprising that the Pompey Supporters Trust (PST) is working so hard to try and secure a future for the club. It supports The 12th Man initiative, which is seeking to galvanise the club’s substantial support to create a voice for a new model of ownership for Portsmouth Football Club which finally rids it of the self-serving speculators that have hovered around it over the last few years. The latest manifestation of this is the Pay4aPal initiative, which is asking Portsmouth supporters worldwide to donate money which will then be spent on match tickets to be distributed for home matches in order to fill Fratton Park. It is hoped that such fund-raising may allow a new, community focused club to emerge from the ashes of the last four years or so. The question of what league that club might be playing in or even where it might be playing its home matches, however, is very much up in the air.
It is with this in mind that the PST recently made public its Plan B to safeguard the future of football in the city. Plan B is is the contingency plan that the Trust has been working on for the dread scenario of it ceasing to exist. It is very clear about the dangers currently facing the club and pulls no punches in its description of the perilous position in which the club finds itself in stating that, “If the worst does happen, one thing for sure is that no Pompey fan will want this to be the end of 114 years of proud footballing history that has woven the football club into the very fabric of the City”, but at the same time it sensibly reminds readers that, “This doesn’t mean that the PST advocate this course of action, far from it, the PST will always seek to save PFC in its current form.” That the PST is so well organised this time around should be no great surprise. After all, they have more experience than most when it comes to the rank mismanagement of their club. It may feel like a mere crumb at present, but Portsmouth supporters should be proud of the work that is being done on their behalf by their supporters trust at the moment.
It is time for Portsmouth FC to step away from this wretched cycle. For a company to be in administration two years after agreeing a CVA is a disgrace, a humiliating indictment of the state of modern football. From Gaydamak through to Antonov, Portsmouth Football Club have systematically circled by individuals that have given no indication of understanding the importance of the custodianship that they took on and all too aware of how to look after their own interests. The only way forward for Portsmouth Football Club is to be run democratically by its supporters and to break this cycle of mismanagement. The cowboy businessmen must be run out of town once and for all. They have had their chance and failed.
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