The Calvin Report on Portsmouth 2 Coventry City 0: Pompey win debtors' derby while both teams await higher judgment
The courts will soon decide the future of Portsmouth and Coventry, rivals joined in uncertainty
Sunday 24 March 2013
The resistance movement is gathering momentum. The debtors' derby at Fratton Park, between clubs of similar heritage, problems and ambitions, was almost incidental to a show of solidarity between supporters who are determined to seize control of their destiny.
Portsmouth moved off the bottom of League One with a victory that will be rendered irrelevant if, as their fans hope, the Football League impose a 1-0 point penalty on their re-emergence from administration next month. The certainty of relegation is infinitely preferable to the lack of clarity that has dogged them for four years.
Coventry, whose immediate future will be decided in the High Court on Tuesday, are at the mercy of a dispute between ACL, owners of the Ricoh Arena, and SISU, who placed Coventry City Football Club Ltd in administration on Thursday.
SISU, a hedge fund controlled by Joy Seppala, a reclusive businesswoman of US and Finnish descent, claim that, since Coventry City Football Club (Holdings) Ltd continues as the club's trading arm, it is business as usual. They will seek to protect the possibility of promotion by lobbying the Football League to prevent any 10-point deduction being imposed this season. Precedence, in the form of Southampton's failure to advance a similar argument when their holding company was placed into administration, is against them.
Coventry do not know where they will play their next match. The club shop has been emptied and offices have been evacuated. Friday's home game against Doncaster Rovers may be transferred to Hinckley United, Rushden, Tamworth United or the Bescot Stadium, home of League One rivals Walsall.
"I have got no idea about what is going to happen" said Steven Pressley, who has been Coventry manager for only 16 days. He refused to comment further, other than to confirm his squad were informed of developments on Friday.
Their fans, at least, are starting to mobilise. Michael Orton led a seven-strong delegation from the Sky Blue Trust, who met their Portsmouth counterparts in a single-decker bus on the car park emblazoned with a banner proclaiming, "by the fans for the fans".
As well as their season ticket, the modern fan requires a degree in company law and a keen awareness of the failings of human nature. Coventry's emissaries were given practical advice about dealing with owners who purport to be benefactors but operate as opportunists.
"You have to fear for the very existence of our club," Orton said. "Portsmouth provide the inspiration and vision for all clubs in our situation. They have given us the courage and confidence to prove that, as supporters, we can make a difference."
Pompey are resistance veterans. They have fought countless suitors of indeterminate credibility and intentions. The link between players and supporters is intimate, unforced and unashamedly inspirational.
"This is a fantastic football club," said Austrian midfield player Johnny Ertl, the Portsmouth captain. "I know everyone in football says this, but we really do play for the fans. We've all learned to take nothing for granted. Every game we play is an opportunity to give something back."
Despite the inevitability of relegation to League Two, it will be a landmark season should their administrators, PKF, convince the Royal Courts of Justice on April 10 or 11 to allow the Pompey Supporters' Trust to take control of the club, in a deal worth £2.65million.
A seven-man board is ready to be ratified. Once the fleeting euphoria of fulfilment fades, harsh, pragmatic decisions must be taken. The romantic vision of a supporter-driven club tends to dissipate quickly in the uniquely harsh economic climate of the lower leagues.
AFC Wimbledon's Trust found it necessary to sack a kindred spirit, long-serving manager Terry Brown, earlier in the season. Their equivalents at Wycombe Wanderers closed their successful academy and dismissed manager Gary Waddock.
Guy Whittingham has already been scouting League Two clubs in anticipation of relegation. He has been operating as caretaker manager, with only the limited security of his youth-team contract, for five months. Wins as emphatic as yesterday's, secured by goals from Jed Wallace and Patrick Agyemang after Simon Eastwood had saved an early penalty by Gary McSheffrey, are important additions to his CV.
Whittingham, known as The Corporal because of his military background, has used 51 players so far this season. They, like him, are not guaranteed reciprocal loyalty. Some, like academy product Dan Butler and winger Wallace, have seized their chance in adversity and are attracting Premier League scouts.Others are at the end of their careers. Veteran striker David Connolly has ambitions to move into management. Defender Gabor Gyepes, who, like his team-mates, has been existing on a monthly contract, must decide whether to move his young family over from Hungary, or move on.
What does a football club mean beyond a source of employment? Clues can be provided by something as apparently insignificant as the colour of a team's socks. Portsmouth's were red yesterday. When they were living the dream, which turned into a disaster, those socks were blue.
The explanation is stark and simple: the blue shirts symbolise the links with the Navy, and the losses at the Battle of Jutland. The reversion to red socks commemorates the 1800 members of the Pompey Pals Brigade who didn't return from the first World War.
Football really can be a game of life and death.
Portsmouth (4-4-2); Eastwood; Moutaouakil, Gyepes, Rocha, Cooper; Wallace, Racon, Ertl, Walker (Maloney, 90); Agyemang (Akinde, 90), Connolly.
Coventry (4-1-4-1); Murphy; Christie, Martin, Edjenguele, Stewart (Ball, 80); Jennings (Wilson, 65); McSheffrey (Thomas, 65), Moussa, Bailey, Fleck; McDonald.
Referee: Phil Gibbs.
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