With Liverpool having hogged the headlines over the last couple of weeks or so, it is easy to forget that there are other clubs in considerably greater trouble than they are at the moment. In Scotland, Dundee FC are understood to be on the brink (more on that in the next few days or so) and, at the other end of the country, it is starting to become that Portsmouth’s difficulties didn’t end with their successful court case against HMRC in August. Indeed, if the club’s adminstrator, Andrew Andronikou, is to be believed (and that is a different matter altogether), the club is back on the brink again after their failure to exit administration following the protracted agreement their proposed CVA during the summer.
The current crisis involves the Football League’s refusal to return the club’s golden share and sanction their exit from administration. According to Anrdonikou, the League is insisting that Balram Chainrai’s Portpin company removes the security that it holds over Fratton Park for the loans that Chainrai put into the club last year in favour of the CVA payments that were agreed during the summer to stave off winding up proceedings that had been brought by HMRC. Chainrai remains the owner of the club, but it had been widely reported that he had no interest in taking this position in anything like the long term and that he intended to sell it as soon as he had managed to stabilise it. This scenario now seems to be about as far away as it was when the sheer scale of the club’s difficulties became apparent last winter.
The Football League is understood to have four main issues with handing back the golden share to the club, which would enable it to exit administration. It has not been made clear by either the Football League or Portsmouth FC what those areas of dissatisfaction, but can at least consider general reasons why this could be. Is the League unhappy that Portsmouth have the funding to complete its fixtures for this season and maintain the CVA payments that were agreed during the summer? Is Balram Chainrai having difficulties meeting the newly beefed up Fit & Proper Persons Test criteria?
Of course, there is an alternative theory, which is that Andronikou could be playing a little brinkmanship with the Football League by suggesting that the club could be liquidated as soon as Monday. It would certainly make sense for the club administrator to make alarmist comments if it meant that the Football League would water down the requirements for getting that golden share back. It has to be said, however, that it is not in the Football League’s interests for the tribulations of Portsmouth FC to become drawn out any further than they already have been unless they have genuine cause for concern over the club’s ongoing viability. Andronikou, however, has already made this comment:
If the Football League want us to close the club I wish they were more direct in their approach, and just tell us to do it.
Andronikou claims that Portsmouth do have the funds to continue to pay the wages of the players beyond the end of this month, which rather begs the question of whether Portsmouth have been paying their tax bill over the last few months. There is nothing to suggest that this is what has happened, but considering the ways in which football clubs usually prioritise their finances it would be less than surprising if they have. Because they remain in administration, no creditors can take any legal action against them at present, and comments such as the one quoted above from Andronikou seem likely to do nothing other than antagonise many of those that the club could well be needing a favour from again in a couple of months or so.
Indeed, it is possible that the Football League is acting in the way that it is in order to secure the long term future of the club. Chainrai has never given much indication of wishing to stay at Fratton Park for any longer than he needs to – it is just that circumstances have dictated that he has needed to hang around for longer than he is likely to have wanted to. By making him remove his security over the debt, the Football League may be seeking to ensure that Chainrai stays at the club rather then simply making the right noises and then selling to a third party about which nobody knows anything at present.
Stuck in the middle of all of this are the (officially long-suffering) supporters of Portsmouth. Their hopes of at least a new start with the CVA in place now seem to be at risk of being dashed, with everyone now involved in the running of the club doing a reasonable impression of only being there to pick the last meat from the bones of the carcass. The next few days may give us an opportunity to see just how much those concerned actually care about Portsmouth Football Club. On their form, there isn’t a great deal of cause to have much confidence about this.