Of late, Portsmouth Football Club—currently languishing in the 3rd tier of England’s professional leagues—seem to be constantly on the edge of going out of existence.
Their latest seemingly fatal blow occurred on August 14th, when former owner Balram Chanai decided against buying the club out of administration. Before that, on August 10th, liquidation was only avoided when high-earning Tal Ben Haim and Liam Lawrence agreed to end their contracts at the club.
As it stands, a consortium of fans and local businessmen are optimistic that they will be able to raise enough capital to buy the club outright. Any real soccer fan (even Southampton fans) will cross their fingers that soon, Pompey will become a fan-owned club. If they are unsuccessful, it’s curtains for arguably the worst run professional football club anywhere in the world.
Since 1996 the list of owners of the club reads like a list of characters from a 3rd rate spy novel: Terry Venables, then administration, Milan Mandarić, Sacha Gaydamak (arms dealer and asset stripper), Sulaiman Al Fahim, Ali Al-Faraj—when he couldnt repay a £17m debt—Balram Chanai the loan creditor, took control of the club by default (there was another administration in there too!). After Chanai, came Vladimir Antonov, but his reign came to an end when he was arrested for asset stripping in his native Lithuania and his holding company went into (you guessed it) administration. Since Antonov, Portsmouth FC have remained in administration.
Though there are many villains in this piece, the main finger of blame seems to point towards Gaydamak—he bankrolled then manager Harry Redknapp, who made Pompey a top 10 Premier League club and in 2008: FA Cup winners. This process though, saddled a small club with a huge wage bill and considerable debts. In fairness to Gaydamak, it’s not like all the other owners had only the clubs best interests at heart.
Portsmouth have massive debts; all sorts of people claim they are owed money (Gaydamak still has a £35m claim and Chanai has never received the £17m he loaned Al-Faraj), hundreds of small businesses are out of pocket, and they have a large outstanding tax bill, too.
If the Porstmouth fans trust is successful, then its members have a fight on their hands to avoid relegation from League One—already minus 10 points, and with a 16-man squad made up nearly entirely of teenagers and one goalkeeper. They do not have a big stadium (Fratton Park holds 20,000) or a large fan base. In the long term, they have a decent infrastructure and their natural position is probably as a mid-table Championship side. I think for now, though, Pompey and all right-thinking football fans would just be happy if they were still in existence in September.