Portsmouth's depressing decline a lesson in how not to run a football club

With the south coast outfit reduced to only five first-team players after years of financial doping and spectacular mismanagement, Pompey's crash is a lesson for all clubs
By Luke Moore

As it stands, Portsmouth can just about field a five-a-side team ahead of their opening match of the League One season against Bournemouth in 17 days. The way it's going, even that looks optimistic.

With Nwankwo Kanu agreeing to follow Luke Varney, Erik Huseklepp, David Norris and Greg Halford out of the Fratton Park exit door, the club have been left with only five first-team players as the summer purge continues. 

The key difference between Kanu and those other aforementioned players, though, is that the Nigerian is still holding out for some £3 million in back pay, whereas Varney and the rest of the remaining quartet have all agreed to effectively write-off what they are owed.

With a tribunal most likely to decide how much Kanu will receive - if anything - the focus for administrator Trevor Birch must now shift towards trying to move the other big earners from the wage bill ahead of that ominous August 10 deadline.


There is not much Pompey fans can do at this stage other than sit around with their fingers crossed, but if this horrendous situation does manage to sort itself out, fans of the south coast club can definitely throw their support behind the Portsmouth Supporters’ Trust bid - which will ensure that the club is finally in the hands of some passionate, motivated and responsible fans who have the best interests of the club at heart.

Of course, gone will be the unsustainable, big-money marquee signings and the challenge for silverware, promotion and glory for the near future at least. But gone will also be the embarrassing irresponsibility, the stiffing of payments to local businesses and charities and the hard-to-swallow relying on the wallet of faceless, far-flung businessmen who only stick around long enough to pass the club on to yet another unsuspecting stranger, like UN ambassadors passing around the Syrian diplomat at a cocktail party.

To further highlight how ridiculous this situation became at one stage at Fratton Park, there was even a theory mooted during the time of Ali Al-Faraj’s ownership that Al-Faraj himself may not even exist at all.

If nothing else, it at least highlighted how utterly ludicrous the Football Association’s rules on club ownership are. A man that cannot actually be proven to even exist can own a professional football club.

For too long now, Portsmouth have been a shining example of how not to run a football club. Taking the mantle from Ridsdale-era Leeds United, the club on the south coast has become a byword for mismanagement, spending beyond one’s means and financial doping.

If this player wages issue can be remedied, the Portsmouth Supporters’ Trust provides the best chance of the club becoming a shining example in another way, an altogether more rewarding and positive one.

Pompey can move from being the persona non grata of the Football League and reinvent themselves as a progressive club of great fan-owned potential by doing things in the right way: building up from the bottom, restarting their currently non-existent youth programme, inviting the community to get involved and putting something back into the local area with school programmes, cheap tickets for kids and open days.

In the quest to dine at the top table of football in England, this old institution has flown far too close to the sun. Only once they’ve hit the ground in such heavy, spectacular fashion in full view of the football public can they pick themselves up, dust themselves down and not only make sure it never happens again, but serve as an example to other club owners who are tempted to make the same mistake.

The Portsmouth Supporters’ Trust, who have already raised a seven-figure sum in donations, are serious and here to stay. They present the best chance of getting the club back on an even, sustainable footing.

There’s nothing to stop Tal Ben Haim, Dave Kitson et al playing hard ball over what they are owed and sending Pompey to the wall. But should this most serious of crises be averted, the ever-present fans, who have suffered most throughout this debacle through no fault of their own, have a bigger role than ever to play in securing the club’s future.

Here’s hoping they’re given the chance.

Luke Moore is the co-founder, co-producer and co-presenter of The Football Ramble, the largest independent football show in the UK. He has also contributed to The Guardian, ESPN and Sky News and is a regular contributor to BBC Radio 5 Live.

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