The Secrets That Are Wrecking Our Club

Last updated : 03 January 2010 By Jim Bonner

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

I'm not clever enough - and certainly not devious enough of mind - to know what's been going on at Fratton Park.

All I know is that I felt bad vibes about it all as far back as the 2008 close-season, the dawn of what should have been a great, great era in the history of Portsmouth Football Club.

Instead, we find ourselves on the precipice - and for once, only the most blinkered of followers can pretend that ours is not a genuine crisis.

Pompey's very existence really is on the line.

Regardless of what has been happening on the pitch - once the only criterion by which fans measured success or failure - the feeling has been growing that the club is in big trouble. That gut feeling I felt in August 2008 is now a bloody great stomach-churning knot that seems to get tighter every time I try to rationalise what has been happening.

And we don't even know whom to blame, on whom to vent our frustration, let alone how to do anything about it.

I know I can't speak for all of you, but here I am, a middle-aged, reasonably intelligent man who has followed Pompey through thick and thin, through all four divisions, feisty enough to spend my early working years raising the standard for poor old Pompey, in the old Fourth Division while surrounded by Southampton supporters wondering whether they could actually top their second-placed finish of 1984…

… And yet I feel too punch-drunk and fight-weary to deal with the current situation any more.

Each set of revelations dripping into the public consciousness - but rarely directly from Fratton Park - trumps the previous, leading many of us to seek solace in the notion that at least it can't get worse.

But it does.

Reading the message boards and newspaper correspondence pages, I realise I'm not the only one feeling that way.

We feel so helpless as yet another revelation chips away a little bit more of that Pompey spirit that has kept us all together, resolutely behind our beloved club for so long.

Many of us have stopped reading the papers for fear of news of yet another financial bombshell (of which there have been so many in the past few months).

But we all know, deep down, that that refusenik attitude won't pay the bills - and now won't prevent those owed big money from taking action to stop the debts growing bigger.

The chanting during our latest football embarrassment against Arsenal focused largely on the Arab involvement in the club.

What a murky bunch we've had: opportunists bearing false promises at a time when most Pompey fans were prepared to believe any good news, no matter how improbable.

How cruel is that?

Crown jewels

It's hard not to have the impression that with tens of millions of pounds coming into the club since the summer - and few hints until recently that the club's debts were anything like the figures now being bandied around daily - successive owners have been bleeding what is left of the club for their own ends.

The club has to borrow big money from yet more mysterious creditors just to honour its pay commitment to its employees - a fundamental tenet of legitimate business, for God's sake.

It has reneged on debts to fellow football clubs.

It owes players' agents money (OK, not many tears shed there, given how much those vultures have contributed to many a club's plight).

And who knows how much it owes the businesses - big and small - of Portsmouth and the surrounding area? The very community in which most of us live and work.

What sort of business is being run here?

Few of us are either knowledgeable enough, or privy to the key information to be able to challenge or rebut the few assurances emerging from Fratton Park about what these people inherited (and if it really was that bad, why did they bother?).

Nor can we point fingers with any great authority at the game of brinkmanship they now appear to be playing.

Do they have the money or not? I guess we know the answer to that.

Can they get it? The evidence is not great.

And if so, at what cost?

Isn't it all too late?

But the Fahim and Faraj regimes have been at the club only a few months.

It is clear from the action taken by the likes of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs over Christmas - and the lengthening list of major creditors that is beginning to unfold in front of us - that Pompey's financial problems are far more deep-rooted than that.

That successive regimes in charge of our precious club have at best acted incompetently with our crown jewels and at worst fraudulently.

And it's not only the current management that has shrouded the goings-on at Fratton in secrecy.

Openness is not a word that can be used in a serious sense about any aspect of Pompey's recent history.

And while fans serenaded their latest set of footballing incompetents with barbed choruses about dodgy Arabs and laments to long-gone regimes involving Milan Mandaric, let's not forget that in recent weeks, the man himself - together with Harry Redknapp and our last link with that era, Peter Storrie, have all been accused of offences of dishonesty against all of us taxpayers - charges they vehemently contest.

The murky way that Portsmouth Football Club has operated in recent times, when we fans have largely been blinded by the glittering array of players wearing those treasured blue shirts and the sparkling silverware still adorning our trophy cabinet before making its way to the pawn broker, is a lesson to fans everywhere.

So many clubs have teetered on the brink, only to be rescued at the last minute. A few - hardly a big name among them - have plunged over the precipice, only to re-form in a new, more enlightened, guise, albeit in more modest surroundings.

What will happen to Pompey in 2010 remains - like most things about the club - a mystery.

But if some fans observing our plight at the bottom of the Premier League are praying for a miracle to keep us up, just think what us needed to keep the club in existence at all.

Miracle doesn't even begin to describe it.