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.