The most recent events at Fratton Park would have been more at home in the King’s Theatre, where Jack in the Beanstalk opens in a few weeks time.
To give a flavour of the goings on, let me quote from the Portsmouth News Fratton latest update newsletter for today. The four consecutive entries, in chronological order, are:
• Cotterill hails Hermann deal as recovery continues [Friday 10:45]
• Pompey could close and be liquidated [Friday 11:35]
• Andronikou hopeful of Gaydamak deal [Saturday 03:02]
• Ex-Hull City chairman wants to buy Pompey [Saturday 07:11]
A tad melodramatic by any standards – even Liverpool’s and Manchester United’s of the last week – I think you’ll agree.
So, mid-morning on Friday, everything looks by Pompey standards stable. The long-running saga of re-signing Icelandic defender Hreidarsson has finally happened. Not only that, he seems to be fully recovered from a bad Achilles injury which he suffered back in March. But he presumably knew nothing of the club statement which was about to appear on the club website (1). Notwithstanding the local newspaper’s scoop, the statement was not posted until 18:15.
To be fair, the statement does contain the sentence “it appears likely that the club will now be closed down and liquidated by the Administrators as they are unable to support the continued trading of the club“, albeit in the ninth paragraph. The statement’s headline is “Sacha Gaydamak Puts Future Of Portsmouth In Jeopardy“, hinting at the possible purpose of the statement – to increase pressure on Gaydamak to sign the necessary papers. The obstacle, at least according to the statement, is that “at the 11th hour the goalposts have been moved by Mr Gaydamak and this has now made the deal impossible to complete.” Specifically “Mr Gaydamak has demanded a very significant upfront cash payment in order to allow the deal to proceed by releasing his security.“
In pantomime tradition the, the response to the question ‘Is Pompey heading for liquidation?’ the answer appears to be ‘Oh yes it is!’. That at least is what the twitterati thought, and, with retweeting of the news, the story begins to read that Portsmouth are going into liquidation. Even my daughter-in-law was prompted to message me ‘Our thoughts are with you at this difficult time Portsmouth ‘likely to close down”, together with the link to a BBC story.
By quarter to seven the local BBC radio station had contacted me for a comment, and by ten past seven I was in the Coventry studio emphasising that this was a breaking story, with no doubt some twists to come.
Sure enough, Administrator Andrew Andronikou, apparently rather taken by the response he had provoked, was prompted to change ‘Oh yes they are!’ to Oh no they probably aren’t.’ By mid-evening Andronikou was denying the club’s imminent demise to The Guardian’s Jamie Jackson (2), and in the early hours of Saturday morning he told BBC Sport (3) “Yesterday evening’s activities were really a wake-up call for everybody to say ‘look, we just can’t sit here whilst everybody else finesses their position. It is about coming to the table and cutting a deal’“
Among the journalists following the story, Nick Szczepanik and then the BBC’s Matt Slater were quick to rumble what was going on – an attempt to pressure Gaydamak through the media, one that went rather wrong because it was in a sense too successful. The original ‘Oh yes they are!’ story was widely repeated internationally, generally without the later retraction.
What is strange about this PR fail is that Gaydamak, through his lawyers, has refuted the story, denying the allegations of his obstruction (4). What the truth is we will probably never know. All we can do is chalk it up to experience, and the Pompey fans among us hope that agreement and signatures really are close. Hopefully one lesson has been learned – while lack of transparency is singularly unhelpful, selective transparency can have decidedly unexpected outcomes.