28 January 2014

Fan ownership – The Pompey way

by Alex Oliver | Contributor

Valentine’s Day 2012 is not one fondly remembered by Rangers fans. It certainly was a dark day in the club’s history. Years of financial mismanagement – more specifically the actions of individuals – resulted in administration and put the entire club in jeopardy.

Portsmouth FC were quick to show compassion – on the day associated with such acts – to the stricken Glasgow giants through social networking. Twitter to be precise; which paved way to ‘#PompeyGers’. The reasoning for this perhaps boils down to an all too familiar tale experienced by the south coast side.

Little under 6 years ago, Portsmouth had their big day out in Wembley for the FA Cup Final, facing Cardiff, and were 1-0 victors. Things were looking rosy for the star studded side spearheaded by the likes of Jermaine Defoe, supplemented in midfield by Nico Kranjcar and assured at the back with Sol Campbell and England number one David James.

But soon the famous Pompey bells were being drowned out by the booming of thunderous clouds lurking ominously over Fratton Park. Dark, sun-drowning clouds of debt were overhead.
As the storm of the global financial collapse brewed, global recession hit. Banks desperate to redeem losses demanded their money back, leaving Portsmouth in a perilous situation – beginning to sound familiar to our own with Lloyds? Subsequently owner Gaydamack could no longer afford to keep Portsmouth. And the club was sold for £1 to Sulaiman al-Fahim, again familiarities with our own situation.

al-Fahim’s tenure lasted just 43 days, selling 90% of the business to al-Faraj. Al-Faraj simply did not have the capital to run Portsmouth, and was unsuccessful when attempting to secure a £30 million loan. Instead money was secured from another businessman, Balram Chainrai who loaned the club £17 million. After receiving no repayments, Chainrai took control of Portsmouth- becoming their fourth owner since the summer.

Less than two years after their Wembley success, the club entered administration in February 2010 – and were subsequently docked nine points – which practically consigned the club to relegation. However, there was some joy for Pompey on the field, reaching another FA Cup Final – they eventually succumbed to a second half Didier Drogba strike as Chelsea won 1-0.

A CVA later that year was voted through, the only opposition ccoming from HMRC and a player’s agent. Following unsuccessful court appeals by HMRC to overturn the CVA decision, Portsmouth formally left administration in October 2010.

A year later, however, storm clouds had re-appeared over Fratton Park. An arrest warrant was issued for owner Vladimir Antonov who had taken control of the club in June 2011. As a consequence of another HMRC winding up order Portsmouth re-entered administration on the 17th February 2012. It was feared that the club would struggle to make the end of the season following a 10 point deduction; relegation from the championship was a formality.

Portsmouth eventually got stability through fan ownership in April of last year. The Pompey Supporters Trust bought the club and subsequently lifted the club out of its second administration in as many years. It will be a long way back to the heights of the Premier League they hit a decade or so ago, but anything will be plain sailing after the turbulent times Pompey have been through in the past five and a half years.

Portsmouth may have been through the mire more than us; but this story, to me at least, seems all too familiar. Our current cash-flow, or somewhat lack of is a major sticking point – coupled with what seems to be a lot of greed at boardroom level – makes me feel uneasy. I have written and commented before, I have no problem with business men making money off us as long as the club is profitable. It’s the way football has become. However, I maintain that until the club makes a profit, not one person at boardroom level should consider taking a bonus or an over-inflated salary.

Unfortunately, the greed at boardroom level seems to be indicative of the current climate which British football finds itself in. Brian Stockbridge has left his position as financial director, perhaps this is a positive and a glimmer of hope – he was a sticking point with regards to the current Rangers board.

But long term, I think it is imperative that there should be much more fan involvement in the running of our club. We after all, are the life blood of this football club. With no fans, we would not have a club.

We united in our hours of need, we united against the SFA; we unite on the terraces; it is time to unite in regards to the ownership of our club. With a proper, democratic system in place I challenge anyone to turn their nose up at being an owner of our club.

The sun breaks through at the end of every storm. As the sun was beating down on Fratton Park on the opening day of this season, a card display with a simple, yet powerful message of, ‘Ours’ was held up. Portsmouth’s fans had finally won.

Let’s hope we too one day can say Rangers truly is OURS.