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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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Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.
Wonderful article Ian and you hit the nail on the head perfectly. The three heroes you named certainly deserve our plaudits and a huge thank you but you are correct that there were many others that provided invaluable support. I hesitate to name them because I am sure to miss some and being 5,000 miles away I cannot claim to be as well informed as some. We had an army of great sympathisers!
I certainly think the members of the Trust deserve a huge mention and (not sure if he is a member or not) Stuart Robinson – also @ dodgycurry,SOS Pompey, Pompey Royal, Ollie Birch Carl spangled, Pompey’s 12th Man etc. etc. I may have duplicated some with their Twitter names as well as their real ones but they all deserve our undying gratitude.
Two names that you already mentioned, and with which I totally agree, are MICAH HALL and S J MASKELL (I really meant those upper case letters. So wonderful they were beyond belief – we are forever indebted to them.
You are also spot on with your praise for Neil Allen and the Portsmouth News. While Sky and Express FM ignored us and concentrated on being mouthpieces for Chainrai we were able to rely on truthful, accurate reporting from Neil and all his colleagues. That was superb and helped us all to keep fighting.
Finally, please don’t blush, but the platform that Twohundredpercent willingly (nay MORE than willingly) gave us was more invaluable than even you can imagine.
Season tickets for next year should be flying off the ‘shelves’ now. Ownership of the ground and sizeable fan base for the lower leagues, combined with good fiscal management should ensure Pompey are in a position to re-establish Championship level football in the short to medium term.
Budgets will be decent for L1/L2, players will see Portsmouth as an attractive proposition. There are no guarantees in sport, of course, but the potential is certainly there.
Well done to those who kept the faith and never compromised with those who, frankly, didn’t give a sh*t about your club.
As a supporter of another fan owned club, I wish the trust well in their endeavours…
So another larger club escapes more debts and gets to restart in Division 4 with income means it can out-bid most of the clubs there who are trying to run themselves sustainably (see Plymouth, Port Vale, Rotherham etc.)
It will be fun to see Pompey lose to the likes of Fleetwood though.
Enjoy the naive early years of fan ownership when you think you can change things even though football is broken from the top down.
Nathan, you haven’t picked up terribly good examples to support your dig. Unless you are referring to the fact that they are NOW trying to run sustainably after recent episodes of gross mismanagement.
In which case, the Pompey trust will presumably just be trying to do the same thing…
The Trust own 100 percent of the club. The fifty one per cent you talk about is the percentage the fans hope to control in relation to the HNW investors. They may though need to have a 100% conversion on their original £100 pledges to achieve this. Iain McInnes has already said the HNWI have donated an extra £1m to cover legal costs, running of the club, which will be now be transfered into shares. So it is a little too early to call Pompey the UK’s biggest community club.
Good luck to Pompey – what has happened to that club and those fans is an utter disgrace.
There will be plenty of people who identify themselves as football fans just willing you to fail. They hate the concept of fan ownership and are far happier supporting the totally discredited sugar daddy method.
Yay! Play up Pompey Assuming we aren’t relegated I look forward to us beating you next season 😉
Moe, one of the reasons we are going down is nonsense like Pompey.
Just like we as Wimbledon fans patently did not do enough to prevent our club moving to Selhurst Park and then Hammam selling Plough Lane, Portsmouth fans did not do enough to prevent the ghastly money-laundering criminals abusing “their” club when it patently obvious that is what was happening (just Google “Gaydamak” FFS!)
I wish their Trust all the goodwill in the world but know that football is still run on the single-owner with regular bankruptcies model that will prevent a sustainable supporter-owned club from progressing without vast public subsidy (as in Swansea’s case – their council paid for the £27m stadium that massively improved their prospects).