Goodbye Or Just Adieu?
By Jim Bonner
Updated Thursday, 3rd May 2012
Neville Dalton on the future of Portsmouth Football Club.
Neville Dalton is a journalist and a Portsmouth fan of 45 years.
Pompey say goodbye to one of the toughest seasons in their history, their very existence still in doubt.
It seems to have been the theme of the season round-ups for most of the past God-knows-how-many years.
However, perhaps it will be the last. For surely this time next year the club has either to be on an even keel at long last, finally learning the lessons of the profligacy and dishonesty of previous eras – or no longer in existence.
As I write, either seems possible, the latter rather more so than the former.
For the club to compete next season in League One will surely require a miracle of unlikely proportions, with someone brave – or stupid – enough to stump up the cash to absorb the debts we might be lucky enough to negotiate and to invest sensibly in the future.
Even if that were to happen, I imagine most fans would be on tenterhooks, fully expecting another disastrous exposure of dishonesty or incompetence, and promises unfulfilled.
At the opposite end of the scale is the liquidation of Portsmouth Football Club and possibly the emergence of a new business calling itself something akin to the current one.
To many that would still be Pompey, but in reality a parks-league Pompey would have no more connection with the club of 114 years’ history than Moneyfields, Gosport Borough or Havant & Waterlooville.
A Pompey that arises from the ashes of the latest financial mess and takes flight still in the Football League would represent some sort of compromise, a hybrid of old and new, granted continuing league status by the powers that run football (albeit incompetently much of the time).
It would still be Pompey and I would still support it. But it would, in my opinion, still be tainted as one that was unable to play by the rules – yet again – yet granted an extraordinary reprieve that might well stick in the craws of some rivals that managed to go through season after season without becoming basket cases and having to be treated as special cases.
I couldn’t begin to unravel how Portsmouth Football Club let itself get into such a pickle yet again, when the lessons of its previous flirtation with extinction were still so prominent in our minds.
What I do know is that the people who suffered most were those who played no part in its creation – the players, the management team, the fans, and particularly those who provided goods and services to the new-era club and never saw their money.
Pompey supporters have whinged about their lot; they’ve hurled accusations in the general direction of those they deem responsible, and they’ve endured the misery of watching their beloved club disintegrate before their eyes…
First an exodus of the better players with no money to replace them; then a decline in standards (not to mention discipline) on the pitch; the 10-point deduction that cost them their place in the Championship, and then the hope created by an astonishingly talented manager that we knew would evaporate again as soon as the club was relegated.
But what many of those fans have also done is take positive action to try to secure some sort of future for the club.
A fans buyout was the perceived ideal – though never their stated or expected goal.
More realistic, they hoped, would be a demonstration – financial and figurative – of the supporters’ willingness to back a new regime at Fratton Park in a practical way – which, to a certain degree, they have begun to achieve.
The fallback was to generate the resources and momentum to create a new “Pompey” at whatever level the football authorities deemed appropriate – and given that despite an impressive show of support for said scheme, the organisers have failed to secure anywhere near the level of commitment they needed for the ultimate goal, that remains a realistic possibility.
If Pompey do live to fight again at the relatively exalted level of League One, the key to their progress will almost certainly be whether they can hold on to Appleton.
I’ve already written of my high regard for him, and despite a disappointing end to the season, I am confident that he could create a squad capable of playing its way back up the league, even on a shoestring, given the time.
His eye for talent is evident – George Thorne, Scott Allan and Chris Maguire were sensational loan signings.
His tactics look flexible and pretty effective, given the constraints he was working within this season.
And his man-management, motivation and ability to see things from the fans’ perspective make him pretty much uniquely placed to pilot Pompey into a new, “clean” era.
Just a couple of ifs there – if Pompey still exist by the beginning of next season, and if he hasn’t already been lured back to West Brom to replace his former mentor Roy Hodgson.
The season just gone was not without its highlights – the second-half performance against Birmingham, those at home to Bristol City and Hull, and the admirable draw at Crystal Palace earlier in the season among them.
But really season 2011-12 was more about damage limitation, and I guess with relegation, administration, a points deduction and little prospect of a buyer on the horizon, we weren’t wholly successful in that regard.
But we have survived as a club, we have a manager we can have faith in, and if we do get that mad buyer, we have the chance to wipe the slate clean and start virtually all over again.
Reasons enough to be a little cheerful amid the gloom.
Next time I shall write about my personal highs and lows of the past season.