There will be some nervous tapping away at hole in the wall machines on the south coast of England this morning. In an email sent earlier this week, Portsmouth Football Club warned their staff that they may not be paid again this month. It is the icing on the cake of another desperate week for the Premier League club, who face a winding up hearing at the High Court in London on the tenth of February. On the pitch, the team itself had a reasonable time of it, beating Sunderland in the FA Cup last weekend and then managing a draw against West Ham United during the week. At this stage in time, however, anything that they manage on the pitch is overshadowed by their antics off it.
The symbolism has been striking this week, most notably with the closure of the club’s website due to non-payment. The club’s website bill must be one of its smaller monthly outgoings, whilst the importance of keeping it going surely cannot be lost on a club that is more desperate for money than it ever has been before. As if that wasn’t bad enough, this particular power cut also knocked out their electronic advertising hoardings for their match against West Ham United on Tuesday night. The stench of insolvency is in the air at Fratton Park.
It is the non-payment of the club’s normal staff, however, which is the most alarming aspect of the club’s current travails. When the non-payment of staff at insolvent football clubs is mentioned, the mind tends to turn to the players and their thousands of pounds per week and it doesn’t seem to be quite so much of a problem. Even the most profligate of players can probably take care of themselves for a few weeks. For the office staff and the club’s other employers, however, things might not necessarily be that simple. Portsmouth Football Club is neglecting one of its core duties if it fails to pay its staff today. It should hang its head in shame if their staff’s wages aren’t paid this morning.
Meanwhile, Peter Storrie told Quay Radio that his position at the club is becoming untenable. This isn’t, as one might expect, because he has presided over a period in the club’s history during which it has stumbled from one crisis to another, not been paying its tax bill, seen its website closed because they didn’t (or couldn’t) pay the bill on time, have repeatedly failed to pay their players and staff on time and have seen one protest march against the way that the club is being run, with another one planned for their match against Stoke City next month. It’s because he has found out that transfer deals are being carried out behind his back.
Portsmouth were recently – and very tentatively – allowed back into the transfer market. They’re only allowed to sign players on free transfers, and they marked the occasion by signing Quincy Owusu-Abeyie on loan from Spartak Moscow until the end of the season. The people that keep the club ticking over during the week may well look on with dismay as another well-paid player arrives at Fratton Park. It seems unlikely that they won’t lose players before the end of the January transfer window. Younes Kaboul and Asmir Begovic are still being linked with a move to Tottenham Hotspur – the moves that have troubled Peter Storrie so much – and there is still talk of David James going to Stoke City.
Players, though, are the least of their worries. Are Portsmouth capable of making it through their upcoming winding up hearing safely? We don’t know yet. It is unlikely that any winding up order would be made final at the first hearing, but the threat of administration and a nine point deduction hangs over the club. What we know for certain that the club was “shocked and surprised” when the petition was served in the first place, and that they then stated that they were disputing the amount of VAT that was outstanding. At this stage, however, it is impossible to believe anything that comes from the club. This morning, The Independent is reporting that even Avram Grant is considering his position after a promise from the club that no further players would be sold was broken.
The internal strife at Portsmouth Football Club and the hurt feelings of Avram Grant and Peter Storrie are of little concern to HMRC and the club’s other creditors. Their responsibility is to get back the money that the club hasn’t been paying as it should be, and the farcical situation there is no-one’s responsibility but that of those that have been running the club so ineptly over the last couple of years or so. At this stage, it is impossible to say how there can be a happy resolution to the club’s current predicament. The latest crisis can be averted by paying £2.7m to the taxman by the 10th of February, but the longer term prognosis for them remains grim.
What happens to them if or when they get relegated from the Premier League and their revenue drops? If the club is forced into administration, what will be salvaged from the wreckage of the club that won’t leave them fatally wounded?The Premier League won’t help them. Their silence on the matter of Portsmouth Football Club has been deafening over the last couple of weeks, and the feeling is starting to grow that they are merely keeping their fingers crossed that the worst of the club’s problems can be postponed until the end of the season, at which point they become the responsibility of the Football League and life can carry on as per normal in the Premier League – or at least the illusion of it can. All the time, though, the mask is continuing to slip.