If there is one lesson that can surely be taken from the last few years of the subsistence of Portsmouth Football Club, it must surely be that this, perhaps above all other clubs, is the one that defines everything that is wrong with football club ownership in this country at this time. This is the club at which wages far above and beyond a level that could ever reasonably maintained and which eventually found itself eventually being kicked from pillar to post as speculators from across the world, none of whom had any previous connection with the club and who, we can be reasonably certain, were primarily interested only in the possibility of that elusive pot of gold at the end of the Premier League rainbow, walked away scot-free as the club bumped from crisis to crisis.
This is the football club that failed twice in two years, which demonstrated the inefficacy of this country’s insolvency laws in doing anything but absolving serial debtors from their responsibilities and making it easy for them to do so. It is also the club which now, at its lowest ebb, at the point at which a sizable number of its own supporters are arriving at the opinion that it this is incarnation of it is a busted flush and that the most sensible thing to do might be to walk away from it altogether, to rip it up and start again, has an opportunity through a Community Share scheme for a grand rebirth and to control its own destiny. Yet in the very week that these plans were made public, a ghost of Christmas past is coming back to haunt the club, in the form of Peter Storrie.
Storrie, the Chief Executive Officer and Executive Chairman of Portsmouth Football Club from February 2002 until March 2010, has expressed an interest in returning to the club in its hour of need. Whether Portsmouth supporters would much want him to return is debatable, but it is worth recalling – in brief, of course, it could only be in brief – what happened to the club on his watch. During Storrie’s time at the club, Portsmouth rang up debts of over £120m. In an interview with the BBC during the week, Storrie demonstrated the hide of an elephant in stating that, “I’ve had a lot of support from people who understood the situation”, a phrase which carries the not particularly unsubtle subtext that people that criticise him don’t fully understand what happened at Fratton Park during his time at the club.
It may well be that we don’t. After all, there were some very bizarre goings-on at Fratton Park during his time at the club, such as its acquisition by Ali al-Faraj, a Saudi businessman so oblique that he earned the nickname “al-Mirage” during his disastrous few months in control of the club and a man who, some have speculated, may not even have existed in the first place. Storrie himself also found himself in court on tax evasion charges alongside Harry Redknapp, the man that took him to the club in the first place after the two had first worked together at West Ham United. There were plenty of stories of shady characters involved at Portsmouth Football Club as it tumbled towards insolvency, and we may one day find out the truth about what was going on at the club during this chaotic period in its history and beyond.
Yet here Peter is again, telling the Portsmouth News this morning that he is acting as an advisor to a – you guessed it – anonymous business that is looking into the possibility of buying the club from the administrators. “It’s not a consortium”, said Storrie, sounding more that faintly defensive, “It’s just someone I know who might be interested in the club. They want to remain confidential.” Ah yes, that confidentiality clause that never seems to raise its head when someone completely reputable and with nothing to hide is looking to buy a football club. If these potential new owners want to buy the club, then the very, very first thing that they should do is remove their cloak on anonymity. Until then, there is no way that this can be trusted by Portsmouth supporter and, as such, it should be resisted.
In the meantime, yesterday saw the release of the Pompey Supporters Trust Community Share Scheme. This scheme has come about because the Supporters Trust has now reached a point in its due diligence at which it needs to understand how much money it can raise and how much interest there is in proceeding down this avenue of inquiry, and it has the support of the MP for Portsmouth North, Penny Mordaunt, who has stated that, “The wider football community and Parliament agrees the time is right for fan ownership and I am delighted that Portsmouth is taking an early lead on this.” The shares aren’t cheap – a £100 refundable deposit is required and the eventual cost of them will be £1,000 – but they can be bought between groups of supporters and can be taken out on finance, if required. If Portsmouth FC is to be at the vanguard of a new era of a more sensible, democratic model of football club ownership, then it is going to require this sort of commitment from the supporters of clubs that have found themselves in the position in which Portsmouth FC finds itself today. The alternative, after all, may well be Peter Storrie and his friends who “want to remain confidential”.
So this, perhaps, is the choice that Portsmouth supporters have to make. They can, at a cost, take control of their own destiny and have their supporters trust make a concerted bid to buy the club from the administrator. The alternative is the arrival of yet another group of investors, the identity of whom is unknown at present, to the club and a return to the benevolent dictator model of running a football club, a system which has already failed Portsmouth FC and its supporters repeatedly in recent years. If this incarnation of Portsmouth Football Club is to survive and prosper, it is time for the supporters of the club to do what they can to support the Community Share Scheme. The alternative has let them down too many times already.
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