Pompey's Plight - A Lesson To Us All

By Jim Bonner
Last updated : 25 October 2010

Neville Dalton is a journalist and a Portsmouth fan of more than 40 years.

I woke up on Sunday morning to the headline: "Portsmouth out of administration."

Then I read the story and noted that Sacha Gaydamak, the man who suddenly appeared to hold the key to Pompey's survival, had agreed he would be signing the necessary documents to allow that to happen.

Would be signing. Not had signed.

After what has seemed like years of trying to follow every twist of the scarcely believable saga, this is what it had come to: I was scrutinising every word of every official statement, looking for clues to the truth and get-out clauses that could scupper my relief.

Only two days earlier we had read on the club's website that without his signature to the agreement, the deal to bring it out of administrative limbo could not happen, and with no funds to enable it to continue trading, Portsmouth Football Club would have to be wound up.

Now we were being told the club would survive after all and had indeed been sold - yet Mr Gaydamak had apparently not actually signed the agreement.

It seems subsequently that all that needed to be agreed was agreed, and the club did actually exit administration and is now trading freely as a legitimate business again.

But how fitting that Pompey's journey through Hell should finish with the club spluttering back into the daylight with the i's apparently still to be dotted and the t's crossed.

That seems to sum up the course of the past couple of years, with every new development or revelation - starting with new key signings not materialising; passing through current star players having to be sold, and ending with chunks of the Pompey workforce being kicked out and an embargo on new signings - being shrouded in unexplained gobbledegook and half-truths.

It has made for a very cynical set of fans and a level of mistrust that should not exist between a football club and the community it serves, and who partially fund it.

So Pompey have been saved (or so we hope - see what I mean?).

But at what cost?

Quite apart from the headline figures in the hundreds of millions of pounds that Pompey owed - of which so little will find its way back to its rightful owners - there are the unsung employees, the non-playing staff who played no part in the shenanigans that came to define the way the club was run, yet lost their jobs in the big reckoning that ensued; the creditors, many of them fans themselves, who provided services to the club in good faith and will get little or nothing back, no doubt jeopardising livelihoods along the way.

And there is the reputation, not only of Portsmouth Football Club, but of the country's favourite sport.

We fans have been the losers many times over. We've had chancers using our club like dice to dabble in something that seemed so glamorous, prestigious and maybe lucrative, but the nitty-gritty running of which they clearly hadn't a clue.

We've been taken to the brink of the Promised Land, with a meteoric rise from the depths of the old second division to the top 10 of the Premier League and a couple of FA Cup finals, largely on a diet of attractive football with the quality of players we could once only have dreamed of watching at Fratton Park.

We've had the rug pulled from beneath us as it emerged that we could not afford those superstars who gave us such entertainment, such enjoyment.

And then we've had the justified opprobrium from commentators and supporters of other clubs that really the club knew all along that it could not afford such luxuries and should not have bought them in the first place, and worst of all in many eyes, that our achievements of recent years were tainted.

Oh, and all the time we've had the threat of our club going out of existence hanging over us; the plucky actions of successive fire-fighting managers hamstrung by the need to offload most of our remaining playing assets - with a transfer embargo handicapping our ability to compensate even in quantity if not quality.

Borrowing

Yes, years of mismanagement - dishonest or just incompetent (and probably a blend of both) - have taken their toll and left scars on every supporter and a stain on our club's reputation.

After years of listening to doublespeak and witnessing games of brinkmanship played out before our eyes, it seems we are now for the second time in a calendar year in the hands of someone who openly admits he doesn't want to own a football club.

Twice it seems Balram Chainrai has saved Pompey. Twice it's left me with an uneasy feeling about where it leaves the club.

Both times the alternative has been unpalatable.

But what now? Who can we trust? What do we offer an investor in the current economic climate?

And even if we find one, will he (or even she) just hoist us back into debt by borrowing to fund our existence?

Haven't we been there before? Time and again?

What is clear is that what Pompey have been through - largely as architects of their own downfall - must never be allowed to happen again. For the sanity of its supporters, but also for the credibility of football, which in this era of austerity is a blazing neon-sign of ostentatious over-indulgence and hedonism (isn't it, Wayne?).

We have to hope that all who in any way contributed to this most shabby period in Pompey's history are no longer at the club, and that those who replace them do not bring their own version of the same to an institution that deserves better.

Never more do I want to be confronted by accusations that the club I support bought success dishonestly; that we deprived other clubs - other businessmen, even charities - of funds that were rightfully theirs.

None of these can take away my pride and enjoyment of what the club achieved during these times, the foundations of which were laid long before our spending got out of hand: the four trips to Wembley; my club providing the backbone of the England team that qualified for the World Cup; the adventures in Portugal and Germany, the visit of AC Milan to Fratton - and the respect the club and we fans garnered along the way among football lovers throughout Europe.

But there's the dichotomy. We live in a duplicitous world where success and immorality go hand in hand.

Pompey were found out and paid a big price. Indeed, they very nearly paid the ultimate price, which those of us so close to the club will argue would have been disproportionately devastating.

But let's not be fooled into thinking we're alone.

Liverpool and Manchester United have been living beyond their means, although can rely on their big business operations to pretty much ensure their survival.

Even Chelsea for so long flirted with the risk that their benefactor might one day pick up his toys and leave.

But up and down the country, among more modest football institutions, there will be examples of clubs who - whether through over-ambition, perceived necessity or as victims of others' mismanagement - are but a mini-crisis away from a similar plight to Pompey's.

What happened to Portsmouth Football Club must be a wake-up call to the whole of football - to the clubs, the governing bodies that are supposed to scrutinise their ownership, and to the fans whose unrealistic expectations often fuel the juggernaut of borrowing and spending that threatens the game.

Football needs to get its house in order off the field.

And then it can start to tackle the growing dishonesty on it.

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