Stark reality bites.
Portsmouth Football Club 5 April 1898 – 10 August 2012.
Yet nothing is ever as it seems at Pompey. Beneath the choppy waters a constant storm wages on the ocean bed. Whilst Pompey Supporters Trust holds itself ready to do a deal with players, charge holders and creditors, the strange PR spin emanating from Fratton Park seems to be creating a web of misconception and deception.
As Ian King has said already on this site, Administrator Trevor Birch has issued an ultimatum. Pompey will cease to exist on 10 August if certain senior players, as football creditors, do not come to a compromise agreement with potential new owners on what they are owed. There simply is not enough money in the club, or available in the two bids (from Balram Chainrai’s Portpin and the Pompey Supporters’ Trust), to repay them what they are owed under their current contracts. Nor is there money to sustain those contracts in League 1 next season.
Over the weekend negotiations had come to resemble a Mexican stand-off. Portpin has a deal on the table, voted on by the club’s creditors and representing a CVA agreement. That deal is conditional on the high wage earners leaving the club. Birch has been working in the 28 days since the creditors meeting to that end, succeeding only in removing Hayden Mullins to Birmingham and Luke Varney to Leeds so far. Hopes are that David Norris and Erik Huseklepp’s impending deals will go through soon. That left Liam Lawrence, Greg Halford, Dave Kitson, Kanu and Tal Ben Haim apparently dragging the balance of payments deep into the red. Meanwhile the Pompey Supporters’ Trust also has a bid on the table, the details of which are dependant on the same removal of high earning players. Certain players, however, seemed unwilling to budge and Birch had taken to attacking their behaviour in the local press.
Something had to give. Enter SOS Pompey, an independent group of supporters. Monday morning found them picketing the training ground waiting to way-lay the more recalcitrant players. Their aim was to present them with an open letter asking them to help save the club by giving up what, it was acknowledged, they were entitled to by their contracts. The behaviour of players in encountering this group was enlightening, no matter how much they protested later on. Of the players present Halford, Norris and Huseklepp listened to fans, taking the letters. Both Kitson and Tal Ben Haim drove straight past, heads down. Kitson purports to have thought fans were press and engaged with them later. Ben Haim went to the press and made a direct attack on the money Administrator Birch is making from the club’s plight and the way he is handling player negotiations. Players made the case they were not the villains of the piece. But they are caught up in this stand off.
On the face of it the players as a group do seem to have a case. There is a feeling that a compromise deal with Portpin will simply put more money into Portpin’s hands. This seems unjust in that the position the club is in is due in no small measure to the actions of Portpin. The offer made to the players by Chainrai’s company is to repay them what they are owed over a four year period. This despite the fact that Parachute Payments of £11m, made by the Premier League with the aim of dealing with such a situation, cease in two years time. Portpin have declared they will be out of the club in three years time. In addition Portpin have a weak record of keeping promises in relation to the payment of debts – ask creditors under the 2010 CVA. But Portpin appear to be refusing to budge on this issue. Hence the stand-off.
It needs to be re-iterated here that the Football League has also imposed conditions on Pompey’s membership of the League. Conditions aimed a controlling the level of debt any new owner could place on the club, in particular preventing Portpin from carrying over any residue of their secured debt onto the new company owning the club – a manoeuvre Portpin used last time they brought Pompey out of administration, one which is at the root of the current situation. Owning Pompey is becoming a less and less attractive proposition for Portpin, and the players’ stance is giving Chainrai good reason to walk. Despite his claims that he will not let the club be liquidated, the players are presenting themselves as handy scapegoats for this eventuality.
SOS’s actions in stirring up the players does seem to have paved the way for frank discussions between the Supporters Trust and the administrator. ‘Show down’ talks were held between Birch and the Trust on Tuesday 24 July. There is no doubt that, in the event of liquidation of PFC, the players will get nothing at all. If the club survives, the players will be treated as ‘football creditors’. However, under liquidation they will be treated as ordinary unsecured creditors. Under liquidation of PFC unsecured creditors are way off the scale of those that will get anything. In their statement of intent to save the club, consequent on this meeting, the Trust have declared that they have a seven-figure sum backing their bid to become owners. They addressed the players directly, saying, ‘We urge the players to see the reality of the situation and sit down with our representatives so we can explain our deal … We are willing to meet you at any time to discuss terms and put the deal to bed as soon as possible.’ There is no denying that there is a chasm between what the players want and what the Trust as owners could pay, but it is not fanciful to suggest that the players would be far better served in dealing with the Trust than dealing with Portpin. Above all they would be credited with being the white knights that Pompey so badly need at this moment.
Meanwhile Birch issued his 10 August deadline.
Developments during Tuesday 24 July shed further light on the situation. Along with Norris and Huseklepp’s likely moves it is said that Liam Lawrence has attracted interest from other clubs. Greg Halford has talked directly with SOS Pompey and expressed his willingness to help. He was described today as, ‘not one of the high earners left on Pompey’s books.’ So then there were three. Kanu is in Nigeria attempting to sue the club for breach of contract to the tune of £3m. He and his agent simply need to realise that suing a liquidated company is a pointless activity. Portsmouth Evening News understands that ‘Kitson’s agent was made a compromise offer three weeks ago. There has yet to be any interest from other clubs for the 32-year-old, who has 12 months still to run on his existing deal.’ This despite Kitson’s statements to the contrary on Monday. But someone who mistakes SOS Pompey for a press scrum could be forgiven for missing such an obvious chance. By far the most interesting, and most recalcitrant, character is Tal Ben Haim. Here maybe we are entering the depths of the ocean storm.
Ben Haim is interesting because he was signed in August 2009, during the confusing early days of the ownership of Suliaman Al Fahim, by Peter Storrie in negotiation with Haim’s agent Pini Zahavi. He is the last remnant of Pompey’s Premier League days and earns a reported £36,000 per week. No relegation clause was written into his contract except a bizarre one that gave him the right to cancel his contract if he chose if the club relegated. Despite a loan period to West Ham in 2010 and not being paid by Pompey in early 2011 whilst Chainrai was owner, Ben Haim has stuck with the club.
Even more interestingly we learn today that Ben Haim is no longer being represented by Pini Zahavi, but by one Andrew Andronikou. That would be the Andrew Andronikou, employee of UHY, Pompey’s last administrators (2010), who is administrator of CSI, Pompey’s parent company whose demise precipitated the current situation. CSI whose chief creditor is Balram Chainrai’s Portpin. Not withstanding the potential conflict of interests here, it is difficult to understand why someone working on one hand in the interests of Portpin as creditors to CSI would, on the other hand, be advising a client to work against that same company’s interests in the purchase of PFC?
Incredulity in Pompey is stretched to breaking point.
The stand-off continues. It is brinkmanship of the highest order. The players either have to deal, or Balram Chainrai has to walk. Either way the Trust will pick up the pieces and reform the club if necessary. They have the least to lose in the current situation. Make or break in the next 15 days. We are counting.
Pompey Supporters’ Trust is still taking pledges to help the bid. Details can be found here
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