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.
- Portsmouth want Andronikou again (bbc.co.uk)
- Pompey debts revealed (skysports.com)
- Portsmouth players still not paid (bbc.co.uk)
- Pompey Trust wins Council support (news.bbc.co.uk)
- Pompey fail to pay players’ wages (news.bbc.co.uk)
- National Sport: MP questions former Pompey owner (coventrytelegraph.net)
- Portsmouth’s bills could cause the lights to go out at Fratton Park (guardian.co.uk)
- Portsmouth’s latest crisis prompts another fit-and-proper question | David Conn (guardian.co.uk)
- Mandaric can sleep easy after ‘horrible dream’ (independent.co.uk)
- Cameron backs beleaguered Pompey (mirror.co.uk)