Tag Archives: football

Pompey debts hit £119m

So according to a report published by the administrators, Portsmouth Football Club’s debt levels now stand at £119m, and could rise even further.

Several issues jump out from the report.

The people I really feel for are the smaller creditors – the butchers, bakers and candlestick makers who are owed money, ranging from a few pence to thousands of pounds. Most of them are prominent local businesses – caterers, shopfitters, florists, plant hire companies, and such like. If Pompey’s debts to them have to be written off, several at least may go to the wall. The knock-on effect locally may well be huge. Even if debts are paid, may companies have already got a lot of un-welcome publicity.

Yet the FA and Premier League have to shoulder part of the blame, for creating an industry where football debts have to be paid up first. This means that non-footballing creditors are seen as of a low priority. People like players, former owners, agents like Pini Zahavi, are not going to go bankrupt over Portsmouth’s state. But several smaller businesses may well do.

The report also puts beyond doubt the assertion that those running the club did nothing to solve the problems. OK, so players were sold. But PFC were still living extravagantly, spening money they didnt have, knowing full well that a time might come where businesses may go bust because of it.

The FA’s role in all of this is also rather odious. It is not good enough for people like Richard Scudamore to shrug their shoulders at the mess. OK, so financial mismanagement was taking place, but how was it allowed to go on? Why were there no checks and balances? In all probability, because all Football Clubs – and Football itself – run in the same way. It just so happens that Pompey are the first club to go to the wall.

It does seem as well that the football authorities are not overly concerned by the fate of Pompey. A small, provincial, unglamorous club, you cannot help but feel that they cannot wait for us to disappear, having never wanted us in the limelight in the first place. West Ham are probably in a far worse position than Pompey are, but no-one would dare make them – darlings of Fleet Street – go into administration. ’66 and all that, you see!

As for the issue of European qualification, its also clear that the FA do not want Pompey in Europe, and that other clubs have lobbied to make sure that it does not happen. Funnily enough, if Pompey are not allowed to enter the Europa League, Liverpool are one of the teams who stand to qualify instead – fancy that!

All this shows just how rotten the institution of English football has become – corrupt, ill-scrutinised, insolvent, bent on success, and centred on the big, rich and glamorous clubs with everyone else there to make up the numbers.

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Where Pompey went wrong

With todays news that Portsmouth Football Club has entered into administration, I’ve been thinking back over the past few years to how Pompey have ended up in this sorry state.

The irony is that the club has now gone full circle since it went into administration in the late 90’s, under the reign of the Gregory family. Then Milan Mandaric saved the club from administration. Although Mandaric may have been seen at the time as tight with funds, looking back, he did not spend money that we did not have. Mandaric always promised that he would not leave Portsmouth without building a new ground, and until Pompey were in the Premier League.

Pompey eventually managed to get promoted in 2003, after Harry Redknapp managed to put together a first class team with loan signings, free transfers and free agents. After managing to remain in the Premier League for 2 successive seasons, it should have been the time to consolidate and develop sound foundations at the club. Pompey have a huge catchment area and the potential to fill a 30,000+ stadium. But Portsmouth is a small city, and Mandaric encountered problems finding both the finance anda suitable site for a stadium.

In 2006, however, Mandaric agreed to sell Pompey to Sacha Gaydamak. This is where things get seriously murky. Although Gaydamak was at the time painted as a wealthy Russian in the same vein as Roman Abramovich, in fact it seems that much of his fortune came via his arms-dealer father. Gaydamak junior has a string of failed business ventures behind him.

To begin with Gaydamak bankrolled a returned Harry Redknapp’s spending spree. Clearly with a 20,000 stadium, these infated wages and transfer fees were not sustainable on the clubs income alone. This is surely the problem with football clubs being owned by rich owners – all the time they are there, all well and good, but without sound business practice once they are go serious problems come home to roost.

Supposedly Sacha Gaydamak decided to stop funding the club in 2008, only months after the club won the FA Cup and qualified for Europe for the first time. Ostensibly this was due to the credit-crunch, but as Gaydamak’s funds were not really his own anyway, it seems that his father had decided to claw back his money. In hindsight, it seems that Gaydamak wasnt even investing his own money, but was taking out massive loans. When he left, he left his debts behind. We might have won the FA Cup, but it was like buying something on a credit card but not paying it off.

Gaydamak sold the club to Sulaiman Al Fahim, who then sold it to Ali Al Faraj. Both owners who clearly had no idea about running a football club and who had no money to invest. In the end Al Faraj defaulted on loan repayments, and the club (and ground) were taken over by Balraim Chainrai. And today, Pompey are in administration.

If anything, surely it is amazing that it has taken this long for a Premier League Football Club to go into Administration. Since the advent of Sky TV and the Premier League, English football has on the whole been operating on unworkable business models. Football Clubs used to be exactly that – Clubs. After the gradual transition into businesses, business principles should have come into play – outgoings should not be more than income, for example. Sound foundations are important, not short term success. But Football is still imbued with the Thatcherite principle that success is everything, and is worth abandoning your principles for.

There have been calls for a rich owner to come in and save Pompey. Surely that is short-sighted. After all, isnt it the rich owners who have caused this scenario in the first place. Being owned by foreign, disinterested businessmen is surely not good for the long-term of the football club and the city. In Germany many clubs are still clubs, where the fans are members and collectively control the club.

Football has changed. Supporters are more customers now than anything else. They may feel that the club belongs to them, but the cruel fact is that they have virtually no involvement in the club.

The Football world needs to sit up and take notice. Or Pompey will not be the last.

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Football in decline?

Recent events surrounding Portsmouth Football Club have reminded me of a unit I studied while at University – Football and Society.

I think it would take a brave person indeed to argue that Football has not declined in recent years. In the 1950’s Football was a boom sport – enjoyed by thousands, affordable, the players were ordinary people like the fans themselves. Clubs were run as a club. Yet now we have the spectre of bloated, commercialised clubs paying players millions, and fans paying through the nose to sit and watch matches. Rich owners treat clubs like toys, often leading to misery for fans.

But when did this decline start? and why?

For me, the crisis in Football was brought about by the Hooliganism problem, particularly in the 1980’s. Although crowd disorder has a longer history than we would believe – the word Hooligan has Victorian origins, after all – it came to a head in the mid 1980’s, with incidents such as the Millwall-Luton pitch invasion and the Heysel distaster. This was the prism through which wider society viewed football. And it led to some heavy-handed, skewed and apocalyptic developments.

The Government of the time, the Thatcher-led Conservative administration, took a dim view on Football. Despite the fact that Hooliganism was largely caused by disaffected young working class people – the kind of people alienated by the Thatcher Government – the authorities developed the blinkered view that the fans were to blame for all of Football’s problems.

Events such as the Bradford Fire in 1985, and the Hillsborough Disaster in 1989, were NOT caused by Hooliganism. The Popplewell report into the Bradford fire at least makes this clear. They were caused by poor facilities, poor crowd management and a lack of investment by clubs. But somehow the Government managed to take the view that Hooliganism was to blame, and that Football had to be ‘cleaned up’. It did, but not in the way that transpired.

Introducing seating in Football Stadia did not clean up Football itself. Standing, if managed properly, is safe – as seen in Germany. But all seater-stadia led to a gentrified sport – more comfortable, more commercial, and more lucrative. The advent of Sky TV, and the huge profits that came with it, acted with a multiplying effect.

This sat very well with Thatcherism. A disregard for normal, working people was shown by the handling of the Miners strike and the Poll Tax. Privatisation and the sale of council housing gave numerous opportunities for a few people to become rich while everyone else struggled. The Yuppy culture was alive and well, and it had sunk its teeth into Football.

This has filtered through to supporters. Now, sat in nice cosy stands, with plenty of leg room, it more akin to going to the theatre. People find nothing wrong with supporting whatever team they like, rather than their local team. Like the yuppy culture, football is about money and success. A true supporter does not care about winning or losing. I maintain that for anyone to be able to afford a season ticket and all the associated costs, they must either be wealthy, or foolish. You’re a customer like any other – but you don’t realise it.

There is something rather sad about thousands of people paying millions of pounds to sit and watch 22 bloated, overpaid players. Intelligent and humble individuals like Linvoy Primus are by far the exception. Instead of watching, why not do something active yourself? That footballers are held up as heros and role models beggars belief.

Like any commercialised situation, the bubble has to burst. There have been numerous tiny pin pricks – the ITV digital collapse, for example – but the future may well see more clubs in dire straits like Pompey are currently. Football is in the process of eating itself.

Football is not the sport I recall, even from when I first went to Fratton Park in the late 1980’s. Not only have the grounds and the players changed, the whole culture has changed too. And sadly, I feel, not for the better.

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