Tag Archives: pompey

So… where were we?!

So… where were we?!

It’s been almost a year since my last post, and so much has changed in such a short space of time. I’ve moved house (back to Pompey!), finished my latest book, investigated meditation and Buddhism and taken up long distance running.

I’m sorry that I haven’t found the time to keep this place as up to date as I would have liked to – particularly for my regulars, who I still count as friends – but sadly at many points over the past 12 months writing a blog was the last thing on my mind. Apart from anything else that I’ve had going on, I’d spent the best part of three years sat in front of a laptop writing books. No matter how much you like history, sooner or later your mojo goes for a wander for a while!

But, with a lot of unpleasantness under the bridge and well behind me, I figured its time to ressurect Daly History, and let you all know about what’s been happening with me recently. I honestly have no plans about how it’s going to pan out, but I’m still into history as much as ever. I can’t say I’m as fascinated with defence affairs as I used to be, but who knows what news will catch my attention?

As I mentioned, I’ve taken up long distance running, following in the footsteps of my dad and brother, and recently ran the Great South Run (10 miles) in 1:22:08 – a respectable time, if I do say so myself, for someone who has only been running for a few months. There’s something very honest about running – you can’t cheat, and it’s just you and the road. I’m also back living in Portsmouth. As much as Chichester is a lovely place, I never really felt comfortable there on a socio-economic level. Now, I’m living in an inner city, end of-terrace house, that in 1901 and 1911 was inhabited by dockies and sailors and their families. I’m one street down from where my grandparents lived many years ago, so it does feel like ‘coming home’.

My new book, ‘Portsmouth’s WW1 Heroes’, is out right now, and should be on the shelves any day. The kindle version is already on sale on amazon and such like other websites. I’ve had a long break from writing, but now I’m researching for a Portsmouth Paper on ‘Portsmouth and the Great War‘, co-authored with Dan Kneller. That should be out in July 2014. I’m also working up a proposal for a new book on ‘Portsmouth and the Blitz‘, utilising Oral History testimonies and photographs never before published.

Stay tuned, it won’t be 12 months until the next post, I promise!

-James

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Another Aircraft Carrier U-turn

Artist depiction of the Queen Elizabeth-class,...

Artist depiction of the Queen Elizabeth-class, two of which are under construction for the Royal Navy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m several days late in reporting this one, but earlier in the week it emerged that the current governing coalition is planning to perform a u-turn and introduce both Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers into service. Previously, it had planned to mothball one. Both will enter service with the Royal Navy once completed, as was originally planned by the previous Labour Government.

The mothball option emerged in the Strategic Defence and Security Review, which also opted to purchase conventional ‘cat and trap’ versions of the joint strike fighter rather than the vertical version -a decision that was also reversed earlier this year. Yet another defence u-turn raises questions about the coalitions judgement – whilst changing your mind is nothing to be ashamed of if the situation demands it, that decision makers have got so many things wrong in the first place is worrying. If decisions about acquiring equipment appear to be unsound, how much confidence can we – or more importantly our servicemen – have about the decision making when it comes to commiting troops?

I have always been a firm believer that there is no point in having just one of anything in defence terms. If you only have one aircraft carrier, it can only be fully operational half of the time. At best. And if you feel that you can do without it 6 months of the year, do you really need it that other 6 months? The French have had all kinds of trouble with their carrier Charles de Gaulle, and whenever she’s in port, the French have no other carrier. The Falklands – and the Royal Navy’s recent operational tempo – shows that to have one ship effective at any one time, you need at least one, preferably two more in refit or working up. One suspects that the current era of no strike carriers was prompted by the RAF trying to prove that we do not need them at all. That philosophy has clearly proved to be unsound, with carrier-borne air cover proving to be effective – militarily and financially – over Libya.

According to Defence sources, the first Carrier – Queen Elizabeth – should be undergoing sea trials by 2017. Sections being constructed in shipyards around Britain are currently being assembled in Scotland. Both ships will be based in Portsmouth, and extensive work is going on in Pompey to configure jetties and supporting infrastructure to take them. Seeing them steam into Portsmouth for the first time is bound to be an impressive sight. They are perhaps overkill for out financial means nowadays, and probably bigger than we really need militarily, but on the flip side, it is difficult to overestimate what an impact a 60,000 ton flat top could project.

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Remember the Falklands @ Portsmouth Dockyard

Myself and the HSO (History Support Officer) have just got back from the ‘Remember the Falklands‘ event at the Dockyard in Pompey today. HMS Dragon and HMS York were open to visitors, providing a contrast between the 1982 vintage of Royal Navy ship, and the modern escort fleet.

HMS Dragon

HMS Dragon

HMS Dragon

Dragon is the newest of the Type 45 Destroyers to join the fleet, having only arrived in Portsmouth a matter of months previously. As I have previously commented after visiting Daring and Dauntless, the space on these ships is incredible compared to their earlier counterparts. It’s such a privilege to look round such a clean, tidy new-smelling ship. You know when you buy a new car, and for a few months it has that new smell? Well, Dragon still has that.

OK, who let a ginger in the ops room?

The ops room in particular is incredible, the sheer amount of desks and monitors is a sight to behold. You get the impression that the skill in commanding a modern warship is how the officers – and warrants and CPO’s for that matter – learn to control and process what goes in and out of that inner sanctum. One thing that occurs to me… I’ve been on three Type 45 Destroyers now, and never been allowed onto the bridge – what is on the bridge of a T45 that we aren’t allowed to see?

HMS York

HMS York

HMS York

HMS York is a batch 3 Type 42 Destroyer, one of the ships that was hastily redesigned after the lessons of the Falklands were digested. Longer than her earlier counterparts, she has a more pronounced bow for improved seakeeping, and distinctive strengthening beams down the side. I believe that she’s up for decomissioning in the next year or so. The difference between her and Dragon is striking – so much less room, so much more cramped, and overall looking very tired. The funny thing is, that we were allowed to see a lot more on York – including the 1970’s looking Ops Room (half the size of Dragon’s), the bridge, and also ratings and officers quarters. The crew were also remarkably informative and chatty. It’s always a phenomenon looking round warships – some ratings look bored out of their minds, whilst others seem to love spinning a yarn.

Sea Dart - never to be fired again?

Sea Dart – never to be fired again?

Other Sights

As per usual at these kind of events the band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines played.

I also managed to get some good pictures of the new Up Harbour Ammunitioning Facility currently being constructed. The New UHAF is much closer to the Dockyard than before, not too far off the corner of Middle Slip and North Corner Jetties.

the new UHAF

the new UHAF

My conclusions about the day? I can’t stress enough how important these days are. The Royal Navy is notoriously bad at blowing its own trumpet and doing the PR thing. Everyone knows about the Eurofighter Typhoon thanks to the RAF’s PR department, but how many people are as aware of Type 45 Destroyers? The Royal Navy, if it want’s to be at the forefront of defence, needs to win hearts and minds at home as much as battles at sea.

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We’re all going on a League One tour

Entrance to Fratton Park (Frogmore Road) - geo...

Entrance to Fratton Park (Frogmore Road) - geograph.org.uk - 1266502 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It probably hasn’t escaped many people’s attention that my beloved Pompey were relegated last week, from the Championship to League One – the third tier of English football, for the first time in my lifetime.

The funny thing is, for many clubs you would expect it to be a heartbreaking event. But where Pompey are concerned, it’s very much the lesser of many evils. Firstly, it does represent a chance to clear the decks after our recent financial problems; it might make us more tempting to potential owners; and it might also enable the Supporters Trust to push forward their plans for a fans buyout.

The sad thing is, that it isn’t such a big deal to many of us long-term Pompey fans, as we are well used to ups and downs. For most of us, in any case, supporting a team is not about how well they are doing. Support is exactly that – you get behind the team come thick or thin – not just in the last ten minutes when they are 3-0 up. Looking at the potential fixture list next season – if Pompey survive the summer – we face games at some pretty interesting places. I’m hoping that Exeter stay up so I can take my Devonian girlfriend to an away game in the West Country! But hopefully it will be an opportunity to remind ourselves, and hopefully other people, what football should be about. Having a good time and getting behind your team, and not having to take out a second mortgage to do it.

The plight of Pompey has re-affirmed, for me, that free market philosophy and football just do not mix. Financial fair play rules are a good start, but are they strict enough? And will the laughable fit and proper persons test be seriously overhauled? In the space of five years, Portsmouth has been owned by the son of a Russian-Israeli arms dealer, the worlds only skint Arab tycoon, another Arab tycoon who did not even exist, a Hong Kong businessman who ‘claims’ to have loaned the club £17m, for which no proof has ever been proferred, and finally another billionaire Russian who was arrested when his Lithuanian bank collapsed. All of these people were found to be fit to own a football club by the FA, the Premier League and the Football League.

The problem is, even if Pompey go down the Trust route, the club would never have the muscle to compete all the time every other club is rolling in it – hardly a fair playing field. And the even bigger problem there is the indifference of most of the British public to football finance. Everyody seems to think that it is somehow our fault that Pompey have gone bust. If it is anybody’s fault, it definitely isn’t the fans. The financial culture of football makes it possible that any club could fall into the wrong hands and go to the wall – it’s almost random as to which. The ‘I’m alright Jack’ thing is endemic amongst other clubs supporters, until it affects them. And even clubs that have had problems in the past – Southampton, Brighton – tend to have short memories as soon as things start to pick up again. It’s naive, it’s narrow-minded, and it’s wrecking football.

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The History of Fratton Park

English: Entrance to Fratton Park football sta...

Much as actors can become typecast, one of the inherent risks of a career as a historian is that you end up becoming typecast in the same manner. Of course, specialising in a subject is one thing, but on the other hand, pursuing some slightly diverse fields do show flexibility, and not only that, it keeps things interesting.

With that in mind, and inspired by recent developments with Pompey, I have been giving increasing attention to the feasibility of writing a comprehensive history of Fratton Park, and Pompey’s traumatic search for a new home. I’ve always been quite interested in football stadia – not just in a technological sense, but in the context of social history too. And if you’re looking to study the history of football stadia, Fratton Park probably gives as interesting a case as any.

The plot of land off Goldsmith avenue was originally purchased in 1898, soon after the clubs foundation. In the manner of most late 19th century grounds, a pavillion housed the dressing rooms and offices, and the other three stands were open terracing. The pitch was surrounded by a quaint white picket fence. The first main stand at Fratton was in the south west corner, the origins of the famous mock tudor entrance that is still there today. At the time, the ground was bounded by houses in Carisbrooke Road and Specks Lane, but was open on the north and west sides – parts of Portsmouth were still relatively open at the time, given that urban growth had not completely taken hold. The massive increase in shipbuilding in the dockyard, and the wars of 1914-1918 and 1939-45, probably precipitated the building of more houses, which in turn hemmed in the ground. But this was certainly not unusual for the time.

In 1929 the present South Stand was built, by the famous architect Archibald Leitch, and is one of the few examples left of his work. The South Stand featured a small paddock, partly sunk below pitch level, and an upper tier housing the directors box. Sadly, the famous iron lattice work on the facade of the upper tier was covered over in the 1980’s. In 1934 the current North Stand was built, mainly by the income raised from the sale of defender Jimmy Allen. A tier of seating was placed on top of the North stand terracing, which was left largely uncovered. At some point a basic roof was placed over the Fratton End. And that is pretty much how the ground stayed for almost 50 years. In the so-called ‘boom years’ of English football, an unbelievable 51,000 packed into Fratton Park to watch an FA Cup Quarter Final with Derby County in 1949 – still a record attendance.

In the mid 1950’s, the club took the remarkably forward step of constructing one of the first pre-fabricated concrete structures in the country. The ‘old’ Fratton end – as we call it nowadays! – was a remarkable structure, and subject to quite a bit of interest in the architectural community. Unusually, the upper tier provided extra standing space, on top of the existing terraced banking. I actually attended my first football match at Fratton Park stood on the lower tier of this stand in about 1988. Sadly, the stand was condemmed shortly after due to concrete cancer. After a couple of years of dilapidation, the upper tier was taken down, leaving the ‘hump’ of the low tier as a small terrace.

With the rise of hooliganism in football, from the 1970’s onwards, the first winds of change began to blow through football stadia. Steel fences and segregation of fans were introduced. This had the effect of cutting capacity. But stadium disasters at Bradford in 1985 and Hillsborough in 1989, and the subsequent Popplewell and Taylor Reports, changed the face of football stadiums forever. Capacities were cut dramatically in the interests of safety after Bradford, and new fire escapes were introduced. But after the Hillsborough disaster capacities were cut yet further, and the steel fences were taken away. The biggest changes were motivated by introduction of all-seater stadia by 1994. With a lack of space, the club could not easily adapt Fratton to seating, and the only option was to bolt seats onto existing terracing – reducing the capacity to 15,000. Almost exactly 50 years before, the same ground had held 36,000 more people.

With the constraints of the Fratton site, the club looked at relocating to a new site at Farlington. Called Parkway, the proposal was for an exciting new stadium, similar in design to Huddersfield and Bolton’s new stadiums; a retain park, and a new train station. The plan was widely supported by most of Pompey’s fanbase and the city as a whole, but the local residents – presumably not football fans – campaigned vigorously against it. The planning application was turned down by the City Council’s planning committee, and then overturned by the full council. The application was referred to the Department of the Environment for a public inquiry, which eventually turned down the plan on the somewhat spurious basis that it would remove important grazing land for Geese. Is it possible that residents in the most affluent area of Portsmouth found an unlikely ally in these feathered migrants?

Stuck in an outdated, vintage stadium, and in financial problems, Portsmouth spent the 1990’s at Fratton Park. There was neither the will nor the financing for any kind of large scale redevelopment. Under the ownership of Terry Venables – whose name is still a swear word in these parts – the new Fratton End was built, a large single tier stand holding 4,500 seats. a roof was also put on the North Stand covering the lower tier, with the stadium having an overall capacity of 19,000. However, Venables did not put the necesarry finance in place, and the cost of these works almost bankrupted the club. But as a silver lining, the new Fratton End improved what was already a famous atmosphere. Famous nights such as a home match against Stockport in 1998, when the crowd sang continually for 90 minutes, cemented this reputation.

When Milan Mandaric bought the club out of administration in 1999, securing its medium term future, thoughts turned once again to the stadium. With the problems of relocation, the immediate plan was to rebuild a new stadium on the Fratton site, along with a retail development on the Fratton Goods Yard land that was being vacated by British Rail. Mandaric, however, dithered. He did not wish to build a large new stadium, that whilst Pompey were in the lower leagues would have swathes of empty seats. The retail development went on, leaving the football stadium behind. Meanwhile, Mandaric began looking at alternative sites, and practically every available open space in Portsmouth was mooted – from Hilsea Gasworks to Port Solent; from Tipner to King George V playing fields in Cosham; even Farlington (again!). Yet nothing happened.

When Pompey won promotion to the Premier League in 2003, Mandaric announced plans for Pompey Village – a 34,000 stadium, turned 90 degrees on the existing stadium, incorporating three new stands, and a retail and residential development. This development gained planning permission, and at one point Mandaric even demolished a wall ceremonially to mark the beginning of work. The wall was later rebuilt. Once again, Mandaric procrastinated. Nothing happened, whilst Pompey stayed in the Premier League for seven seasons, playing in one of the smallest and oldest grounds in the top flight.

Eventually Mandaric sold up to Sacha Gaydamak, without ever delivering on his promise of providing Pompey with a new home. Gaydamak did not like the Pompey Village plans, and forwarded an even more radical plan – constructing a landmark bowl (or bedpan) design on reclaimed land at The Hard. This plan, unsurprisingly, did not get off the ground, and attention shifted towards a new Stadium at land on Horsea Island in Portsmouth Harbour. Although Horsea is miles from a train station, it is close to the M275, and free from any constraints such as local residents or lack of land. However, with the clubs well documented recent problems, the Horsea plan is a distant memory and the club is fighting to survive.

It would be hard not to come to the conclusion that the lack of a large modern ground has cost Pompey dearly. With such a small capacity, and in poor facilities, it has been difficult to grow a fanbase. There are no lucrative corporate boxes, and very little commercial opportunities with a dearth of conferincing venues. A larger stadium would enable the club to cut prices, which would then encourage more to attend. Yet, Fratton Park is loved by the vast majority of Pompey fans. It plays a large part in making the club what it is, when other clubs have been transplanted into bland, soul-less bowl type meccano stadiums.

Complaints from visiting fans abound. Particularly when the Milton End didn’t have a roof. Historically, and socially, how did we go from dockies and sailors standing up on a saturday afternoon off, to cossetted fans whinging about getting wet and a lack of leg room? To what extend do these changing attitudes reflect wider society, and football’s commercialisation? Perhaps as ticket prices have gone up, we have expected more for our money. Whilst this is understandable, it has led to football – and fans – turning their back on the games heritage. I suspect, also, that we have gone soft. I can remember standing on the old open Fratton End, surrounded by weeds, with only rudimentary toilets and one solitary burger van for a couple of thousand people. And you know what? I preferred it.

Given the manner in which Portsmouth is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, and its small size and island location, Horsea Island probably remains the only long term option for a new ground, alongside the option of redeveloping Fratton. The option of redeveloping Fratton, however, hinges on the possibility of resolving land ownership issues with Balram Chainrai (who holds a debenture on the ground) and Sacha Gaydamak (who owns much of the land around the stadium). Given its built up location, however, Fratton presents significant transport problems. Personally, I think that Horsea Island is probably the ‘ideal world’ option.

If a club such as Brighton can turn things around – witness their fantastic new Amex stadium at Falmer – then there is no reason not to dream that one day Pompey might not be walking out into a new home fit for such a famous club.

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Pompey – We Will Never Die

Most of my UK readers will probably be familiar with the news that Portsmouth Football ClubPompey – are in dire financial trouble for the second time in three years.

After our owner was arrested and his parent business went bust, we are about the enter administration, are massively in debt with some particularly nasty creditors, and the team are struggling near the foot of the table. For a team that spent seven years in the Premier League, won the FA Cup and were playing AC Milan in the UEFA Cup just four years ago, where did it go so wrong?

For me, the problems began when Milan Mandaric sold up to Sacha Gaydamak. Whilst Milan might have been a self-publicist, and liked the sound of his own voice, he didn’t spend money that we didn’t have. Gaydamak, on the other hand, was nothing but a front for his arms-dealing Russian father, Arkadi Gaydamak. At the time in 2008, we were told that the Gaydamaks wanted to sell up because their portfolio had taken a hammering in the credit crunch.

After a protracted period where the club was up for sale, Gaydamak sold to Sulaiman Al Fahim in the summer of 2009. Yet it quickly appeared that Al Fahim – the so called Donald Trump of the Middle East – didn’t actually have any money. He swiftly sold the club on to Ali Al Faraj, who again we were told was loaded. Yet it quickly transpired that not only did he not have any money, but there was a distinct possibility that he didn’t exist. The club was asset stripped, with players being sold by shadowy ‘representatives’ such as Mark Jacob and Daniel Azougy, under the noses of the then Chief Executive.

Al Faraj – or Al Mirage as he is now known – was thought to have taken out a massive loan in order to fund the club – £17m has been rumoured – from a Hong Kong businessman, Balram Chainrai. Al Faraj defaulted, and Chainrai stepped in and took over the club. He quickly put it into administration. The administrator, one Andrew Andronikou of UHY Hacker Young, somebody who had links with Chainrai. Football creditors were paid in full, while other creditors – such as the St Johns Ambulance and the Pie Company – were only paid a small percentage of their dues. Chanrai then, after having written off a large proportion of the debt, bought the club and became a ‘reluctant owner’.

In the summer of 2011, Chanrai sold the club to Convers Sports Initiatives, owned by Vladimir Antonov. A Russian businessman, it later transpired that Antonov had been refused permission to open a bank in London by the Financial Services Authority due to concerns over his business practices. Yet somehow he passed the Football League’s fit and proper person test. Crucially, Chanrai remained a creditor to the tune of £17m, and held a debenture over Fratton Park.

All seemed hopeful, until just before Christmas Antonov was suddenly arrested in Britain. The Lithuanian authorities had requested his arrest and extradition in connection with his Bankas Snoras. Convers Sport Initiatives promptly went into administration. The administrator? None other than Andrew Andronikou. Remember, Chanrai is still a creditor, and now effectively owns the ground. Without an owner and with no cashflow, Pompey are due to go into administration. With it comes the a ten point penalty, which puts us out of the relegation zones on goal difference only.

Andronikou is due to be appointed as administrator, and is reportedly requesting that interested parties need to prove that they have £100m to invest in the club. £100m? The theory is that Chainrai- through Andronikou – is seeking to drive Pompey to the wall, in order to get his money back. But there is a much bigger conspiracy theory at work. Prior to the credit crunch, the Gaydamaks were involved in a court case over a debt they owed a businessman. Who? None other than Balram Chainrai. The amount? Funnily enough, £17m. Is it possible that either Chanrai pursued the Gaydamaks and chose to target Pompey, or that the Gaydamaks let Chainrai take over by stealth, and Al Fahim and Al Faraj were just stooges, or naive enough to be caught up in the issue?

Whatever happened, Pompey have had five owners in just over three years, who have put nothing into the club, run up massive debts based on the club, and took out all of the incoming cash flow – asset stripping on a grand, but legal scale. The web is now so tangled, it is hard to see how things can be resolved. Such practice is endemic in English football – the Glazer family took over Manchester United for an incredible amount, took out a huge loan based on the club to finance the purchase, saddling the club with a huge burden. Without facing an liability at all for the debts, they then take out money that comes in, and charge consultancy fees and the like.

Where things go from here, we do not know. But it is certain that one of England’s most famous old football clubs will be facing a very bleak time for some years to come. After the home match against Ipswich last night around a thousand of us stayed behind in the Fratton End and staged a protest against the continual mismanagement of the club by non-Football men.

In terms of the link between a sporting or social insitution and the history and identity of a town or city, Pompey has very few equals. We can only hope that whatever happens football will slowly pull itself back from the brink, and Pompey will somehow rise from the ashes.

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Portsmouth’s WW2 Heroes – progress report

I’m off most of this week to work on my forthcoming book ‘Portsmouth’s Second World War Heroes’, and I thought you might all like a progress report.

I’ve almost finished the research needed for the Royal Navy-based chapters, which make up almost a third of the book. This week I have been mainly looking at the three Portsmouth Battleships – Royal Oak, Hood and Barham; Pompey-based submariners, Boy Seamen, and Lieutenant-Commander William Hussey.

In Portsmouth we’re blessed with a fantastic Naval History Collection in the Central Library. This includes a huge range of published books, including many you would be hard pressed to find in any other public library. There are also extensive runs of Navy Lists, the Mariners Mirror, the Naval Chronicle, and all manner of other specialist journals. The Naval Collection is based in the brand new Portsmouth History Centre on the second floor of the library. There you can also find the Local Studies collection, which contains things such as street directories, electoral registers and local books. And something I’ve found particularly useful is the Portsmouth Evening News on microfilm.

I’ve found some stuff I didn’t already know – a good account of the loss of Able Seaman James Miller GC on HMS Unity, accounts of what happened to many Pompey men sunk on the Royal Oak in particular, including some stories from the Evening News from those who were bereaved. There is a poignant photograph in the Evening News a couple of days after the Royal Oak was sunk showing navy womenfolk queuing up outside the Naval Barracks for news of their loved ones. And finally, I’ve discovered a first-hand account of how Lieutenant-Commander Bill Hussey DSO DSC and Bar died.

Research done, now to write it up… Next – the Army!

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