By SJ Maskell
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‘Touch and go’ whether we will come out of administration this time says administrator, Trevor Birch. A massive reality check to Pompey fans. Cash will run out by April. Youth and senior players are already being loaned to other clubs and word is that all our players are open to offers for loan from now on.
The Football League has made clear to Michael Appleton what no one else thought to tell him, that the club has been embargoed on transfers for some time due to money owed to Bristol City and Wolves. The strict one-in-one-out policy is explained.
Today Mr Antonov has finally come out with the spendthrift owners’ answer to all issues of overspending – it is all the fans’ fault. In an interview with the BBC Antonov said that his £10.5m loan to the club had been because, ‘it was "simply impossible" for Portsmouth to stay within its means and "satisfy supporters' expectations".’
So, Pompey fans it’s all our fault; our fault that the Football League has taken 10 points for cheating the even playing field that is the Championship, our fault for wanting success for our team. The Football League impose their penalties because a club spending money it can’t afford is ‘distorting the competition’ implying that Pompey were still competing above their natural level – or as Trevor Birch described it, running a ‘championship club with premiership expenses,’ thereby ‘distorting performance on the pitch.’ That is, distorting it if we use money we haven’t actually got. As long as we have got it, which we did have from August to November, then it’s OK. As fans we are supposed to know this?
Maybe our expectations are distorted. There were sure some heated debates about the quality of the team at the beginning of the season, who many felt were not producing the results that they should have done. Certainly if we apply the Premier League expenses criterion those fans were right. But I would suggest that such distortion maybe down to the way we have been sold our football over the last six or more years.
The mythical idea of a ‘level you would not quite believe’ (never going to be dropped that, is it?) has been prevalent to the extent that even in October 2009, after the warning shots of Sacha’s financial demise, fans were willing to believe that distorted version of the truth. Throughout October and into January 2010 fans were still being told there would be money to build the team, even when it was patently clear we weren’t even paying for the club website. Storrie, Jacob and Lampitt have all told fans things that were later proved to be wrong.
Yet again and again we believe it, because we want to. We delude ourselves that this time we will have an owner who will give us a team that will reach celestial heights. Don’t we?
Well, no. We don’t, because most of us know the difference between fact and fiction. We know what’s likely even while we hope for the unlikely to happen – which it just occasionally does. Most of us know that when we go to a football match we will be thrown about from joy to despair from hope to hopelessness and back again, all within 90 minutes and we will have plenty of ‘ifs’, ‘buts’ and ‘maybes’ to discuss before the next escape from reality. And most of us know that it really doesn’t matter where we are in the league as long as that experience is there – it is all about those 90 minutes when we can ‘Be Here, Now’ as Oasis would have it. That is actually what it’s all about. It’s when some profiteering loan shark threatens to take it away from us – that’s when we have to face hard facts. Those of us that have found the need to study international law, high finance and money laundering techniques over the last three years or so really would like to go back to just living in that 90 minute fantasy world again.
Fans could ask exactly what expectations Mr Antonov thought he was meeting, given his lack of communication with fans and fan groups. Despite CSI’s presence on Facebook and Twitter, little of worth was ever learnt from the interactions there. Of course individual fans were going to plead the case for buying this player or that player on such an accessible medium, but serious discussions of the future of Portsmouth Football Club? There were none. Nor did CSI trouble to engage with Supporter Groups in the form of the Fans’ Conference or the Pompey Supporters’ Trust. Their five-year plan never saw the outside of the boardroom.
If CSI had engaged face-to-face they might have learned two clear lessons: one, that most fans were grateful the club still existed after administration last time and two, that many were disenchanted with the spin and deception that has passed for PR at the club over the last twenty years or so. Last August there was a long way to go to win back fans disenchanted with ticket price rises in inverse proportion to falling quality on the pitch and contemptuous treatment meted out by Messrs Chainrai, Jacob, Storrie, Lampitt et al. Progress under CSI was far too slow and Mr Lampitt learned far too late that his biggest allies in running the club could have been the fans.
So, Mr Antonov, we don’t buy that overworked old line. The fault was yours, yours and the business model you thought you could employ to make a profit at Pompey. It didn’t work because the model itself was fragile and in your case it was built on sand – on misleading statements to the gullible football authorities and on personal finances that were rated high risk by anyone with any real knowledge of the matter. You gambled and lost. A lesson that I wouldn’t mind betting might be learned soon by other erstwhile Pompey owners.
Pompey fans too now have to stare harsh reality in the face. In six weeks we could lose our club. Liquidation is not off the table even though many have expressed the belief that we now have the right people, PKF, in place to pull us back from the abyss. To be sure there will be many watching their actions and it is encouraging to see that they want to be transparent about them. But this is not the place for fantasy; it is too late to rely on the idea that ‘someone out there’ is willing to take the club on. Complacency is out of the question.
As ever, it is down to the fans to be the glue that repair the club and place it back on a sound footing. First we need to get down to Fratton and Pack the Park and remember what it used to be about – team and fans against the world. Now we can be sure that money so spent will go to save the club. Second we need as many people as possible to be active in ensuring the club doesn’t come under threat again by working to secure it in the community. If it’s our club we have to do something to make sure it stays ours. PKF see working with the Pompey Supporters Trust as part of the way out of our problems. It could be the best way of securing the club for the future for fans to have a stake in its infrastructure and governance – even if it takes the creation of a Phoenix club to do it. If it’s to be our fault in future – better make sure it’s our responsibility first.
This leaflet explains what the Trust and other fan groups are doing. Help the club, print it off and give it to anyone you know who has an interest in Pompey’s future.
The views of SJ Maskell are their own. They do not necessarily reflect the editorial view of pompey-fans.com - however, in this case pompey-fans.com will make an exception...
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