Portsmouth’s Golden Opportunity
They left it, as we might have expected, until the very last minute, but yesterday afternoon at the High Court in London agreement was finally reached which sold Fratton Park, the home of Portsmouth Football Club, to the club’s supporters trust and with that comes something even more important. This means that the Trust can now complete its purchase of the club, meaning that Portsmouth will be fifty-one per cent owned by the Trust, the biggest club in English football to be owned under such a structure. This was, we hope, a day that will finally end the nightmare layered upon nightmare which has been the last three or four years of this club’s existence.
Everything had been teed up for a nervy day. Over last few weeks or so, the saga concerning the club’s second spell in administration had continued to twist and turn in a bewildering fashion. The Supporters Trust had been granted preferred bidder status by the administrators, PKF, but the Trust’s bid was dependent upon the club being fully reunited with Fratton Park and the club’s former owner, Balram Chainrai, was putting a valuation upon it that was beyond the means of most, the Trust included. A further spanner was thrown into the works when Keith Harris, a former chairman of the Football League and one of the Red Knights (the high profile group which attempted to buy Manchester United through the interesting medium of offering a fraction of what that club was worth to owners who quite clearly didn’t want to sell, a strategy which had a predictable end result), launched a surprise last minute bid for the club which many on the south coast regarded as little more than a stalking horse to keep the Trust away from the club.
The problem for Harris and his co-conspirators was that the momentum was almost completely behind the Trust by this time. Local MPs and the local press were speaking put in their favour, the administrators had already granted preferred bidder status, the local council were on board and, probably most significantly of all, the Football League, Harris’s former employers, confirmed with a weary tone which indicated that they believed that this had all dragged on for too long, that they would not consider any other bids for the club other than that which had been proposed by the Trust. Still, though, he kept digging hus reputation into a hole, offering a nominally higher amount to creditors (which in reality wouldn’t have left them much better off) and then, in a move that had a hint of desperation about it, offering considerably more than most thought it was worth for Fratton Park itself. Ultimately, though, the gamekeeper turned poacher saw his plot unravelled by a sheer weight of circumstance. The Football League had issued a final deadline for this to be be resolved of the end of this season, otherwise it would face expulsion, and the inference from the wording of their statements on the matter were clear. This was time at the bar at the last chance saloon.
Yesterday afternoon, though, some form of common sense – to the extent that common sense could apply to anything relating to Portsmouth Football Club over the last few years or so – prevailed. The Portsmouth Supporters Trust will own a fifty-one percent shareholding in the club, and Fratton Park is finally safe. It is worth taking a moment to reflect upon those who have given up so much to make this happen, from our very own SJ Maskell, who has been keeping us up to date with goings on at the club for some time now, to Micah Hall, whose diligence in exposing the convoluted nature of the byzantine politics in play behind the scenes at the club may yet land him in court on a libel charge, and Neil Allen of the Portsmouth News, who has been providing regular updates both through his newspaper and on Twitter that have gone far beyond the call of duty. These are but three people and there are too many to list individually by name, but people such as this may well be the reason why Portsmouth supporters even have a team to support next season. As ever, where the fixers and speculators seemed incapable of looking after anything bar their own vested interests, it was the supporters who came through.
None of this means that everything will be wine and roses at the club from now on. As one challenge ends, so another begins and those that will take over the running of the club may well find that their hard work is just beginning. The lower divisions of English football are an unsentimental place, and it will require careful stewardship to start moving the club back in the right direction. Still, though, the club has a chance, and that might be more than other businesses in the same predicament might have had the fortune to receive. At the top of the list of priorities for those soon to take over the running of the club must be to have learnt the lessons of the club’s recent past. Perhaps we might suggest that a suitable motto for the club’s future should be ‘Never Again.’
At least, though, there will be an ‘again’ for Portsmouth Football Club. It was a close thing in the end, but they got there eventually and what they now have is a golden opportunity, one which has previously been unavailable for clubs of their size in England, to reshape their club into what they wish it to be, to demonstrate that there is another way which doesn’t revolve around the foibles of people that have come in from the outside and who often have little interest in anything other than what they can take from their involvement in a club. There is plenty of scope for failure – there is no such thing as an easy ride at this level of the game – but Portsmouth Football Club now has opportunity to rebuild in the right way, driven by people whose love for the club is unquestionable and whose tenacity over the last few months and years has already demonstrated the one thing that the club has had in spades in recent years, the disinterested toying of absentee landlords, will be thankfully missing in the future. It’s an opportunity that everyone associated with this famous old club should grasp with both hands.
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