Martin Hardy: Grounds for optimism as fans club together to save Portsmouth

Life beyond the Premier League

Click to follow
The Independent Football

This is a fan's tale. In September 1970, Colin Farmery's Uncle Roger and his Auntie Jen took him to Fratton Park for the first time. He was seven. It was a night game and he looked up in awe at the size of the floodlights.

"My uncle thought I should support the local team," he says. "I can still remember that game. I still sit in the North Stand. Whenever I go to a night game I look up at the size of the pylons and I remember my first game. My aunt has, sadly, passed away but I thank the pair of them for taking me to Fratton Park. I was hooked."

Thus, love affairs start, the kind that can handle four relegations in eight seasons (during his formative years as a supporter), the kind that mean you can ride through the angst of being the only Portsmouth fan in the area where you live.

Local clubs for local people.

Those who sat near Colin told him of the glory days of the late 1940s and early 1950s, when Portsmouth were champions of England twice and came third and fourth during their halcyon days.

"It was the late Seventies when I was in my mid-teens and I started to get involved in the club," he adds. "I was involved in the young supporters' club. In the summer of 1979 I was odd-jobbing at Fratton Park. I painted the goalposts for my sins that summer. In that time, I lived in a village not far from Portsmouth. It's quite rare for Pompey fans to live in that village. We were going through the divisions and bottomed out in the bottom league. It was about failure after failure but I stuck with it.

"I ended up writing for the programme. I also worked in the club shop. In the Eighties Pompey were on a very upward curve, first Bobby Campbell and then Alan Ball. By 1987 we were back in the old First Division. In eight years I had seen them play in four leagues but I'm not one of those fans that thinks you have to have the notches on your belt to be a true fan. If a Pompey fan becomes a fan yesterday that is still one to me. On the other hand, you can certainly say in the 1980s following football, particularly away, was not a pleasant thing to do. You would have to escape from some cities!"

It was a different feeling driving away from Old Trafford on 6 March, 2008. Portsmouth had just beaten Manchester United to reach the FA Cup semi-final. "That was the best day for me," he adds. "After that day Barnsley beat Chelsea, and the realisation struck me that Pompey were favourites for the FA Cup. That win at Man U was the pivotal moment. That was when we thought we had arrived. The Cup final was a fantastic occasion, it was great, and the parade was great the next day. Success and failure are two sides of the same coin. I enjoyed the good times Pompey had, they were very good times. I'm certainly not someone grizzling about the situation we are in. We're in a bad situation and, indirectly, the spending in 2006, 2007 and 2008 is responsible for that."

Five years on, Portsmouth are fighting for their life, not an FA Cup final.

Next week the Pompey Supporters' Trust will find out if it has been successful in its bid to take control from Balram Chainrai. The picture remains complex. If successful, they will still have to deal with Chainrai, who is also bidding against them to take the club out of administration. He has held firm throughout the chaos in his desire to regain the £17m that was owed to him when he took over the club.

The story needs to be succinct because Portsmouth need to have a future but, briefly, Milan Mandaric sold the club to Alexandre Gaydamak. He in turn sold the club, for unknown reasons, to Sulaiman al-Fahim. Forty days later he sold the club to Ali al-Faraj (whom the Premier League never met). By 23 December 2009, HMRC issued a winding-up order on Portsmouth because bills had not been paid. At the same time Gaydamak's father was involved in a case with Chainrai, that he lost. He was ordered to pay £17m to Chainrai. Two weeks later, early in 2010, Chainrai became the reluctant owner of Portsmouth FC. A month later Portsmouth went into administration. In October 2010, Chainrai bought Portsmouth out of administration when Andrew Andronikou was administrator. Six months later Chainrai sold on to Vladamir Antanov. In November last year, Antanov was issued with a European arrest warrant by Lithuanian prosecutors alleging fraud at his bank, Snoras, which he denied and is currently standing trial for.

Portsmouth fell into administration for the second time in two years, and were relegated to League One at the end of last season and a high-profile court case led to Andronikou being replaced as the chosen administrator by Trevor Birch. At the end of July, the current administrators warned Portsmouth could be liquidated unless its first-team players agreed to transfers or wage cuts. Liam Lawrence, Tal Ben Haim (£37,000 a week) and David Norris all came to an agreement and left.

The Pompey Supporters' Trust came together in the chaotic period of 2009-10. Ashley Brown, Mick Williams, Mark Trapani and Iain Mcinnes have driven it forward. Farmery has become spokesman.

"It's all hands to the pumps, not just the man hours, but the emotional intensity of it as well," he says. "Football clubs are dream factories. There has been a hell of a lot of work done and we believe it is a credible bid. There were periods when I thought Pompey would die. We have probably come as close in the last three or four months as we ever have done. There is a complacency amongst football supporters that clubs are too big to go out of business. There was a fear, and it still remains, that perhaps Pompey could go. We're not out of the woods yet, this is not done and dusted, but I sense optimism.

"We raised £2m through fan pledges and another £1m through individual investors who have put in six-figure sums. We are looking at alternative ways of financing the deal, finding a strategic property partner.

"The model Swansea have is as good to aspire to as any. They have built a new stadium through an imaginative property strategy. They had to assign trust holding in their football club as well as private investors and they're doing very well in the Premier League. If Swansea can do it, I'm certain Pompey can."