Portsmouth's fans broke into outright rebellion last night during their 4-1 defeat to Arsenal at Fratton Park and called for the owner Ali al-Faraj to step down as the club faced up to the prospect of having to sell their remaining decent players to pay a £6m tax bill.
The home crowd sang "You're not fit to own our club", "Where's all our money gone?" and "Sack the board" in reference to Saudi Arabian businessman Faraj, who bought the club in October.
The Inland Revenue announced yesterday that it had served the club with a winding-up petition to secure unpaid VAT debts. With a transfer embargo still in place from the Premier League, Portsmouth, who last night denied that they had been served with the petition, are on the brink of becoming the top-flight's first club to go into administration.
Their situation looks increasingly dire with the likes of last night's scorer Nadir Belhadj, Younes Kaboul, Kevin-Prince Boateng and David Nugent likely to be sold to raise funds. A club spokesman said that they were "shocked and surprised" to be hit with the demand and expected the case to be dropped at a hearing next month.
Eduardo da Silva, Samir Nasri, Aaron Ramsey and Alex Song scored last night at Fratton Park where Pompey fans turned on the captain Aaron Mokoena. They appealed for him to be sent off at one point and cheered when he was substituted.
The manager, Avram Grant, said he still believed he could keep Portsmouth, four points adrift at the bottom of the table, from relegation. "When I came to the club, I knew there were problems on the pitch," he said. "We'd lost seven games in a row. Off the pitch, I didn't know about this. I know the board are trying their best. Even if it's a difficult situation, the team can stay in the league. As far as I know, everybody knows we need to make the team stronger. No one has told me that Manchester City want to sign Kaboul. All the players in the team need to stay."
The club have total debts of around £60m and there is a residual bitterness towards former owner Sacha Gaydamak, who, among other things, has kept ownership of land around the stadium which is crucial to gaining permission for redevelopment.
The club said: "Since the takeover by Ali al-Faraj, extreme efforts have been made to reach payment arrangements with HMRC to allow the owner time to deal with inherited debt. It is well known that the business has been in a difficult position following former owners' decisions and the current owner is committed to resolving this."
In last night's other match, Manchester United thumped Wigan 5-0 at Old Trafford to maintain the pressure on Premier League leaders Chelsea.Reuse content