“In the future”, said Andy Warhol in 1968, “everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”. It is tempting to look at Portsmouth’s ownership record over the last year or so and arrive at the conclusion that they are trying some Warholian philosophy in their ownership policy, but the truth is somewhat more prosaic than this. The stark fact of the matter is that Balram Chainrai has become the fourth owner of Portsmouth Football Club in the last twelve months because the club itself is a hopelessly insolvent basket-case which has been passed from pillar to most by a succession of owners – and it is worth pointing out at this juncture that issues relating to their nationality are utterly irrelevant – all of whom have seen a possibility of exploitation and/or a massaging of their egos and then run a mile or been shunted out of the way when the odious smell coming from the club’s accounts books becomes apparent.
How, then, did Chainrai come to take control at Fratton Park? The short answer to this is that he has effectively repossessed the club. Under the terms of the loans – believed to be in excess of £17m – that he had put into Portsmouth over the last few months through his company Portpin, he had the right to seize control of Ali al-Faraj’s controlling share in the club. With a winding up petition just six days away and Chainrai clearly unsettled at the lack of repayment being made with regard to these loans, al-Faraj (whose nickname of al-Mirage was a pretty damning indictment of a man that very few believe had any actual involvement in Portsmouth Football Club) or his associates will have to go to court should they wish to regain control of the club. The devil will obviously be in the detail of the contracts signed but, if watertight, it’s the end of the road for yet another brief chapter in the history of the club.
Is this good news or bad news for the supporters of the club, though? Well, it might have been, had Chainrai any interest in actually taking over the running of the club. He is believed to be – though finding any hard figures isn’t exactly easy – a wealthy man. However, he is believed to have no interest in taking over the ownership of the club in anything like the long term. The fact that he has stepped in does, however, say much about the current plight of the club. Were Portsmouth to be wound up at the High Court next week, his company would almost certainly lose everrything that it has put into the club.
Were it to enter into administration at the last minute he may find himself rail-roaded into a CVA that would lose him the overwhelming majority of what he is owed, although, depending on the amount of their total debt and the exact amount that his company is owed, he may have had a blocking vote on any CVA proposal. Another person that may have a blocking vote on any CVA is Alexandre Gaydamak, who claims to be owed £28m by the club. The club denies this, and this could lead to further problems with any attempt to put a CVA in place. Disputes over whom owes to whom – which, of course, start to cast doubt over what the club’s total debt even is – will frustrate any attempts to force a resolution to the issue of their long-term stability.
In the short-term, then, this may be beneficial to them. Chainrai may have considered it prudent to loan the club the money to pay off the tax debt and secure the rest of the loans that he has put into the club. This, however, seems unlikely to happen, with a message on the club’s official website this evening stating that he will be seeking an adjournment to the petition in order to “allow time for the club to be stabilised and new owners found”. Even if new owners can be found in time, for any period of time over the next few weeks the outlook looks grim. The future of Fratton Park seems likely to be thrown into jeopardy and the ultimate question of what would or will happen to the club with relegation from the Premier League cannot be answered, at this point in time, with a positive. The ultimate question that has to be asked is this: is there really anyone mad enough to continue throwing money into the bottomless pit that is Portsmouth Football Club.
Against this background, Portsmouth supporters are starting to look in the direction of saving themselves. The Pompey Trust officially launches on the eleventh of February and, whilst the exact stance that they will take remains unknown at this time, a thread such as this on the “Fratton Faithful” site (and it’s not the only one) seems to indicate that there is a number – possibly a tiny number, possibly a sizeable one – of supporters that have had enough of this nonsense and are looking towards manning the lifeboats. And who can blame them? What is striking about all of the current debate over the immediate, medium and long term future of Portsmouth Football Club is just how far down the list of priorities the best interests of the supporters seems to be. Safeguarding amounts of money that have been borrowed, preventing points deductions and paying players all seem to be more important than them. It seems that at least some of them are unlikely to put up with this for much longer.