Portsmouth beat Birmingham City 2-0 at Fratton Park yesterday afternoon to reach the FA Cup finals for the second time in three years. This in itself is a remarkable achievement considering the absolute chaos that is unfolding behind the scenes at the club, but it seems likely that any financial benefits from this will be the equivalent of applying a sticking plaster to a gaping wound. The club’s financial situation remains as dire as ever and, on this weekend of all weekends, details have been made public of a contingency plan that is being put into place by the club’s supporters trust in order to ensure that, should the worst happen, football continues in at some level next season in Portsmouth.
Under the contigency plan, a new club would groundshare next season with Blue Square South club Havant & Waterlooville, with the capacity of Havant’s Westleigh Park being increased to 6,500 in order to accommodate the size of the anticipated crowds that any new Portsmouth club may attract. Since the club is due back in court in less than two weeks as HMRC challenge their attempts to put themselves into administration, this may be a tacit admission on behalf of at least a proportion of the club’s support that the financial situation at Fratton Park is absolutely desperate. The grim truth of the matter is that, for now, the possibility of Portsmouth Football Club not existing by end of this season is a very real one.
Pompey Supporters Trust has understandably capitalised on the ongoing soap opera that has engulfed the club over recent weeks, and its membership has already swollen to over 2,000 members. This is a reflection of the normal behaviour of supporters when it comes to supporters trusts. Many – and, since it is entirely their choice, this is understandable – are not necessarily interested in joining the trust until things start getting really bad, but that so many have joined it is a positive sign. Football in Portsmouth will continue next season, in some form or another.
The increase in membership has led to a predictable rash of criticism from those that are, for whatever reason, ideologically opposed to the very notion of supporters trusts. Some seek to destabilise by making utterly unfounded claims that the trust is only out for its own aims, whilst others claim that they are a self-elected elite that don’t represent them. Of course, allegations like this aren’t easy to counter. It is obviously, palpably nonsense to say that the Pompey Trust has an agenda above and beyond enduring that football in Portsmouth continues in some form or other, and the organisation and formation of a trust requires a board to be put in place. Fortunately, as an Industrial and Provident Society, they have a clearly defined protocol that they have to follow. This, of course, will be ignored by those that are opposed to it for the sake off being opposed to it.
The obvious criticism that has been thrown at the contingency plan for a new club is to suggest, without any basis whatsoever, that the supporters trust are trying to carry out some sort of coup d’état. It is this that informs the trust’s clear and concise statement that such a contingency plan is not something that anybody “wants” and that this would only be a step taken in the eventuality that the club is wound up at the High Court and there is no Portsmouth Football Club. There will, however, be no pleasing some opponents to the Pompey Trust and no answers to the continual questions that they throw forward will satisfy them. One can only presume that such critics would not go and watch any new Portsmouth club in the event of the worst happening.
What, though, could supporters of a new club expect if they were to find that starting afresh in non-league football? The first issue for the club would be that of what league they were allowed into, and there are no hard and fast rules on this. Any decision made would be guided by two apparently contradictory matters. On the one hand, the FA (who would make the ultimate decision) have to ensure the safety of supporters. Smaller clubs, further down the non-league ladder, may not be able to cope with a travelling support that may run to four figures. It may be necessary to accommodate a new club above the bottom rung of the ladder. On the other hand, however, any clubs that win promotion this season would not ordinarily be expected to forego promotion in order to put Portsmouth into a league that is high up in the non-league pyramid. The Blue Square South, or perhaps the Southern (Zamaretto) or Isthmian (Ryman) leagues may be the best place to put them.
Westleigh Park would, under the plan, only be used in the eventuality that Fratton Park were indisposed. However, were Portsmouth FC to be wound up, it seems inconceivable that the ground wouldn’t be sold. The matter in that eventuality would be one of who would end up owning it and whether they would wish to keep a football club in Fratton Park or whether it would be more valuable to them to raze it and build something else upon the site. One of the curiosities of any new Portsmouth Footall Club would be that, since the “Portsmouth Football Club” name is owned by a member of the supporters trust (the current club trades under the name of “Portsmouth City Football Club Ltd”), there is no theoretical reason why any new club shouldn’t be called “Portsmouth FC”.
The Pompey Trust plans are at such an advanced stage that former Portsmouth player Alan McLoughlin has already been approached with a view to managing a new club. Such is the current state of Portsmouth FC. It cannot, however, be understated that this is a contingency plan and that there have been no statements made by the Pompey Trust to the effect that any of these plans would be put into action unless there was no other Portsmouth Football Club. As such, it is worth reminding Portsmouth supporters that this leaves them in a very strong position, with the spirit, the heart and the soul of Portsmouth Football Club in safe hands should the worst happen. The people that have spent the last two or three years running this proud club to the point of extinction won’t kill it that easily.