Signore Pantalone and the Pompey Comedy of Errors
It is often the last resort of the villain in a pantomime to curse his conquerors with his dying breath. Which thought leads me directly to the vainglorious attacks of Pompey’s chief creditor, Balram Chainrai, on the Pompey Supporters’ Trust. Indeed, not only the Pompey Trust but the entire Trust movement. For the edification of Sky Chainrai declares, ‘Supporters Trusts’ have a poor record of passing successful rescue packages and unfortunately the PST shows no reason why they would do any better.’ Swansea fans might like to contemplate their lack of success at this point. Despite this, the Pompey Supporters Trust edge ever closer to the biggest coup of the Trust movement to date. Their only obstacle is the villain of the piece himself.
Meantime, Chainrai appears to be bidding for the role as Pantalone, a rich and miserly old merchant, driven to protect his money, whilst enjoying keeping those that belong together apart; one who is the perennially bitter butt of many jokes in the Commedia Del’Arte. His character lies at the root of many a pantomime villain. The more he doth protest the more risible his actions become. Surely a stranger to reality, the Football League cannot seriously be contemplating passing such a character as ‘fit and proper’ without facing accusations of bringing the game into disrepute. For it would seem that Chainrai is now becoming the very caricature of himself.
Since reports of Chainrai’s hissy fit withdrawing his bid for Pompey two weeks ago the ownership ‘battle’ at the club has taken on all the classy aura of a farce. The advent of a near 18,000 crowd for the first home game of the season plus an injection of £3.4m in parachute payments and the suspension of the 10 points deduction by the Football League seem to have caused Portpin to have second thoughts and led them to re-enter the ownership race. Chainrai roundly declared, to Sky as his favoured mouth-piece, that his return was due to the unviable nature of the Trust bid. He told the Portsmouth Evening News that he and partner Levi Kushnir had been approached directly to resubmit the bid. He claimed that, ‘when we walked away, everyone was unhappy and they asked us to come [back],’ listing the administrator, the Football League, the Professional Footballers’ Association, and officials from Portsmouth City Council as bodies which had asked Portpin to step back in.’ Strangely though, no one from any of the organisations could confirm such a request. Mike Hancock of Portsmouth City Council categorically denied any contact, “There is no way that the council have approached Portpin and asked them to come back, not councillors, not officers. Absolutely no way, and I want that made clear.”
Mr Chainrai, it seems, got that one wrong. The butt of someone’s joke perhaps? Or victim of his own over-confidence? Or is there some deep division developing within Portpin itself? We often neglect to consider there are two partners in this alliance – both of whom were involved in the alleged loan made in October 2009. And although Mr Chainrai has a relatively unscathed business record (apart from his involvement with the Gaydamaks), his partner Levi Kushnir has been involved in many cases of insolvency. Evidence suggests that left and right hand may be on different planets in this instance. As the Comedy of Errors is premised on the idea of two different identities stirring the same pot, so it seems are the negotiations of Portpin.
Mr Chainrai’s departure from reality as we know it signalled an avalanche of support for Pompey Supporters’ Trust, leaving administrator Trevor Birch in no doubt as to where the majority of local support lies. Already bolstered by the promise of a £1.45m loanfrom the local council to boost their bid for the ground,on the day following Portpin’s ‘return to the rescue’ Paul Kelso in the Telegraph waded in with the conclusion that, “if Birch is interested in the club’s soul as well as the bottom line there is only one choice: let the supporters rescue their club.” Portpin stands in the way of this occurring and the crux of the matter lies in the disparity between the various valuations of Fratton Park over which Portpin hold a charge.
The Trust published an open letter to Chainrai asking him to provide an independent valuation for this asset, which will then allow the Trust to respond with an acceptable offer. This has as yet elicited no response. Instead further support for the Trust from ex-players, including Steve Claridge, and local MPs followed. MPs Hancock and Mordaunt pointed out the obvious to Chanrai and Kushnir, “In your recent statement withdrawing your bid you accepted that there was little or no support for it. The decision to withdraw, followed by another change of mind has further diminished that support.” The letter concludes, “We ask you to recognise and grasp this opportunity to demonstrate once and for all that you care for the club, and to walk away with a fair sum and your heads held high. You will always be able to say that when it came to the crunch you kept your promise, to sell the club to the right people who would take the best possible care of it.”
The door was open for a gracious withdrawal, an acknowledgement of their reluctant status as bidders, and a business-like negotiation over a get-out for Portpin. But pantomimes do not end like that. In true Pantalone style Chainrai responded with an attack on his ‘opponents’ in the negotiations to own the club, including the swipe at the entire Supporters Trust movement in the text of his complaint. Supporters Direct plan a response to this which will debunk a few myths for him. However, ‘Ill deeds is doubled with an evil word,’ as Shakespeare says, and Chainrai’s swipe has raised some interesting questions about his own bid for the club.
Setting aside the idea that the Trust owning the club is less in the interests of the club than Portpin taking over as so risible it doesn’t bear dissecting, Portpin state that the Trust have to prove to the Football League that they have a viable plan, implying the League will not give the ‘Golden Ticket’ to the Trust. You have to ask, have Portpin been able to do likewise? Have they submitted a plan for the club ‘going forward’ and are they prepared to be as transparent as the Trust regarding its content. Has that plan been accepted by the Football League?
In addition, Portpin state that the Trust do not have the funds to pay the Football Creditors in full. The amount of this bill is very much open to negotiation and that depends on who the owners are. Given the popular support for the Trust and the greater likelihood of them being around long-term, you have to ask why Portpin’s plan was to delay payment of the Football Creditors to year 4 (as per their original CVA offer since withdrawn) when they do not plan to be involved beyond year 3 – according to Mr Kushnir? There is every chance the Trust bid matches Portpin on this, with the promise of earlier repayment. Mr Chainrai’s record on paying PFC’s bills since 2009 is poor – ask HMRC.
It makes you wonder if Portpin are in fact ready and able to complete the acquisition of the club if they cavil so much on these issues.
There is no doubt that the crux of Portpin’s problem with the Trust taking over lies not in the interests of the club, its fans and the City of Portsmouth but in one telling sentence uttered by Chainrai himself, “Portpin have invested a substantial amount of money in the club and should receive a fair value for that investment.” Fair value can be reached at by acceding to the Trust’s request and getting an independent valuation of the asset in which Portpin claim to have invested so much – to whit, one dilapidated and barely maintained football ground on a minimal footprint with highly restricted planning potential. Why not just reply, openly and publicly, to such a request in the best interests of all? Perhaps though, Chainrai prefers to content himself with the bitter recriminations of a pantomime villain. Serious businessman? Not by any measure that makes sense in this scenario.
The biggest joke in all this? That Chainrai, Kushnir, Portpin and the Ali al Faraj crew in its entirety had so little vision that they could not realise the potential of an asset they neither valued nor understood. News has emerged today of an approach to the Trust that could unlock the potential hidden in the fraught battles between Chainrai et al and the Gaydamaks. Property developer interest in Pompey has been piqued by the Trust involvement. Preliminary ideas are being explored at the moment but the news has the value of showing Portpin what might have been had they really acted honourably and in the best interests of the club. A partnership solution to the club’s development could trump all Chainrai’s posturing and leave him very much ruing the day he came to the City. Ill deeds and evil words have no place in our club. It is to be hoped that this scenario will play out to the inevitable pantomime ending and that the joke will be on the villain himself.
Be part of one of the most adventurous Supporters’ Trust takeovers to date. Pompey Trust are still accepting pledges towards their community share scheme as well as other partnership plans for bigger investors. Details here.
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