Before you snigger to your mates and start chanting “you don’t know what you’re doing”, hear me out. Sure, they’re ‘only’ a League 1 club these days and face a battle to retain that status for next season. Financially they’re a basket case, victims of the worst kind of foreign investors. Despite all this, or perhaps in part because of it, Portsmouth FC are moving towards becoming the most important club in English football.
Since Balram Chainrai, reluctant would-be 3rd time owner extraordinaire, was replaced as Administrator Trevor Birch’s preferred bidder by the Portsmouth Supporters’ Trust the path has gradually been clearing for Pompey to become the flagship for fan ownership in English football.
The foundations of a deal are in place, and the Trust has stated publicly its desire to have everything wrapped up before the year is out.
Currently of course, there is still a long road to travel before Portsmouth can be considered well run, and an even longer one to achieve good health. The biggest obstacle remains Chainrai himself, yet the Hong Kong-based businessman is rapidly running out of wriggle room.
With Portpin’s credibility as outright bidders now in tatters thanks to the tenacious investigative efforts of Trust members, Micah Hall in particular, Chainrai is reduced to trying to salvage what he can from the money owed to him by Arkadi Gaydamak. Having withdrawn their bid (again) last week, the focus is now shifting.
If Portpin believe they will make more money from liquidation, expect a PR smear campaign against the Trust in an attempt to undermine its bid and kill the club. If the Trust becomes their best bet, expect a PR smear campaign to increase their chances of a better return.
A PR secret: those quotes of Chainrai’s which you see in the papers? They’ll be crafted for him, not by him.
Whichever way Portpin is leaning at this point, there seems little chance of a genuine bidder stepping forward with sufficient cash who also happen to be fit and proper, leaving the Trust as the only show in town. If liquidation becomes a reality a new, supporter owned club making a rapid ascent is almost certainly the outcome. Either way, there is a decade of rebuilding and repair ahead.
There are already a number of clubs in the English league system who are suppprter owned – including Exeter City, Wycombe Wanderers and AFC Wimbledon – but none of a stature which could compete with a healthy and well run Portsmouth. Swansea fans own 20% of their club which gives them an important say in matters, but they do not have control of the boardroom.
One of the biggest arguments against the notion of supporter ownership is that it won’t work at the top levels of English football. The game is too big for fans to run their club themselves without investment from outside, claim the naysayers.
This has yet to be tested to the full in the English game and this is why Portsmouth has such national significance. If the Trust can make a go of it, the momentum this gives to the supporters’ trust movement will be invaluable. Any amount of power which fans can claw back from the moguls and oligarchs is welcome progress. The greed of the Premier League continues unabated, despite what they may be saying about break even rules and wage caps. That’s about keeping more of the TV cash for themselves (i.e. the owners), not making the game of football a better one to watch for supporters.
Portsmouth alone cannot achieve that, of course. But they can play a large part in changing the opinions of those who would sooner listen to the propagandistic PR (that acronym again) from the Premier League and those who believe that football is a business suited only to rich investors.
Raising awareness of perils of the boom and bust obsession with the “benevolent investor”, a rare species easily imitated by those with cruel intentions until it’s too late, is the key battle to be fought by the likes of Supporters Direct and the Football Supporters Federation and they stand up for the interests of fans and match-goers (subtle distinction) even when they themselves are happy to be fleeced and settle for being treated as second-class citizens by the clubs.
The debate over safe standing shows signs of being opened up, with Aston Villa announcing their intention to conduct trials. Outrage over ticket prices continues, and will likely increase when a combination of increasing broadcast revenues, FFP compliance and greater control of wages inevitably does not result in cheaper prices for fans.
This season so far has been marked by the number of fans who are disillusioned with the Premier League and their treatment by the clubs they follow so loyally. It would seem as if English football is heading for a tipping point of fan resentment.
Meanwhile there is no reason why Portsmouth cannot become a sustainable football club run, as it were, “by the fans, for the fans”. In so doing, they may just play an important hand in the future shaping of English football.