‘I stand by my story and will fight them every step of the way.’ Micah Hall, the Pompey blogger whose work is at the centre of the suit placed on Fansnetwork last week has now received an opportunity to defend his work. A letter from libel-specialist lawyers Mishcon de Reya accusing him of defamation in his blog on Kuala Lumpar financier Pascal Najadi, one of Keith Harris’ ‘passive backers’ in his failed bid for the ownership of Portsmouth FC. Hall is now able to rebut the allegations of defamation made against him. In a development of their action to inhibit criticism against their client, Mishcon have moved on from targetting the publishing website, who appear to have not responded other than removing the blog in question from their site, to the author of the piece. It would seem that Mishcon have failed to get Fansnetwork to accept liability, and we we will have to wait and see whether proceedings are actually brought against them. Hall, on the other hand, is happy to take on this fight and is consulting lawyers with his rebuttal. He is confident he can back the contents of the blog with sources that are not only a matter of public record but also backed by as yet unpublished information.
Mishcon de Reya are, of course, experts in this much-criticised legal area. They have a strong web presence putting the case in many forms for the various ways they can ‘protect a client’s reputation’ without the need for expensive court action. For example, here Ramona Mehta advocates ‘innovative ways to ensure reputations are protected from the outset’. They are not always successful though. In one particular case their actions ended up being described as ‘an abuse of process’ , ‘without merit’ and ‘vexatious’ by the judge. However, Mishcon may be somewhat surprised at the developments seen online yesterday. Innovative ways they may be but Mishcon and their clients seem to have grossly underestimated the reaction that their actions would evoke among Pompey fans in particular and the blogging community in general. In America it has become known as the Streisand effect. In English football it is better described as the ‘Giggs effect’ or the ‘Terry effect’, a principle which states that the more somebody tries to hush something up, the more people want to know about it. And the more people want to know something, the greater the number of people who are prepared to tell them. In this case the latter is imbued with what we might call ‘the Spartacus spirit.’
The spark to this fire was another sledgehammer tactic enacted on behalf of the Harris party. Martin Watson, a blogger on the excellent Hereford United site, Bulls News, published a paragraph on the story, linking to the last Two Hundred Percent article on the matter. Early on Saturday morning he received an email from Kuala Lumpar in the name of Pascal Najadi containing this ‘press release’. Posting it online, Watson expected to receive a flood of other bloggers saying, ‘I got one too.’ To the best of our knowledge, however, nobody else has received this ‘cleared for immediate release’ communication. Hall would be pleased to hear from anyone who has. What did occur, though, was a flood of interest in the case online. There is a clear feeling that this is an attempt to suppress the freedom of a writer to express an opinion. It is an opinion held by many, that bids such as the Harris bid for Pompey, where investors buy a club cheap in order to be able to sell it on at a higher price at a later date, are not good for either the club itself or football in general. Such tactics, described by Harris’ PR man David Bick as a ‘growth play’ in financial terms, have been used on many clubs across the leagues. These have come to be regarded, at least by those on their receiving ends, as speculative punts at making a profit for unknown, unseen, passive investors. Investors with no interest in the fans or the community the clubs represent. Although, according to Bick, clubs with a relatively large loyal fan base and a strong tradition are particularly good bets in this scenario, especially if they can be bought cheap out of administration.
This apparent attempt to silence Micah Hall has done more for Pompey fan unity than any reasoned argument in favour of the Pompey Supporters Trust could have done. Portsmouth is an island community with a history of going to war at its back. A point the late, great Alan Ball was fond of making to his players. This attack on ‘one of their own’ has already come to be seen as an attack on all. Among the celebrations of the first win for the club in twenty-three games last night a fighting fund was set up for Hall’s defence by SOS Pompey (details below). Within twelve hours that fund had topped four figures. Pascal Najadi, in his Kuala Lumpar home, surely has no idea of the nature of either the City of Portsmouth or its people. If he had, he might have thought twice about attacking one of its citizens, particularly one credited with having done much to highlight the wrongs done to its football club. He might also now find, should he ever actually set foot inside Fratton Park, that the reception that he gets will be a less than welcoming one.
Let us be clear on one thing above anything else. Supporters of football clubs and those who write about them do not criticise the clubs they support lightly. They do not delve in to the ramifications of business deals and convoluted financial reports for fun. Today we would most like to be celebrating Pompey’s 2-1 victory at Crewe yesterday – a first in in twenty-four matches – and discussing why, say, nobody plays with proper wingers any more, but we can’t because there are people that have become involved at our club whom we believe will have no compunction in taking that pleasure away from us if it suits their plans. In Pompey’s case we seriously suspect that to be the truth of the matter. The Pompey Supporters Trust remains confident of success in purchasing the club for the community of Portsmouth, though, and over the course of the last week two important steps have been taken towards that end. First, the City Council Cabinet approved a £1.4m loan to the Trust towards the purchase of Fratton Park – despite an attempt by the the Harris team to claim they were the preferred bidders in an email that arrived too late for the meeting. Second, the Trust’s business partner and member of the bid consortium, Stuart Robinson, completed his purchase of land surrounding the club that at one time belonged to Sacha Gaydamak and was a large part of the disputes that began in 2009.
However, the tactics of the Harris bid team, their lawyers, solicitors and PR team need careful scrutiny. The tactics used over the last few days have been used before and, if they are successful in this case very likely will be, used elsewhere in the future. If the Harris team had withdrawn once their cause was lost, we Pompey fans would have sat back and enjoyed our successes, and their involvement might well been forgotten. As it is, though, they have stirred a hornet’s nest of anger amongst a large group of people that has, in recent years, been powerless to stop the desecration of their club but have, over this period of time, learned some chastening lessons. We have found a voice that will not be silenced without a fight. We have the right to stand up against such ‘legal’ tactics, where we consider their motives to be vexatious. We have the right to not be treated in the way that we have been for stating our opinions, although many of us in the fight to save our club have been on the receiving end of abuse, harrassment and downright lies about our intentions from a variety of different sources. It has become a matter of necessity for us to fight for these rights. It has become that big an issue that it is now broader than just the fight to save Portsmouth Football Club and remould it into something of which we can be proud. This has become an issue that football fans who care for their clubs need to pay attention to, as some have already discovered to their own personal cost and others may also discover if we don’t speak up now.
Micah Hall Fighting Fund: The Pompey blogger and FansNetwork Ltd are both facing legal action from Kuala Lumpar-based would-be Portsmouth FC investor Pascal Najadi. Please give generously to this fund, set up by SOS Pompey, to defend the right of free expression and investigation of those who would own football clubs. Click here to contribute via PayPal using the e-mail address: SOS_Pompey@hotmail.co.uk
A petition in support of Micah Hall has been set up here
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You can follow Micah Hall on Twitter by clicking here.
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