Football Management

Commentary on the management of over 160 English football clubs by Dr John Beech, winner of the FSF Writer of the Year Award 2009/10 Twitter: @JohnBeech Curator of Scoop.it! Football Finance

Cutting your coat to suit the cloth the Pompey way

Posted by John Beech on August 11, 2011

As I write, Portsmouth still only have a squad of 16 (1).  The first two matches of the season have seen just three subs on the bench – shades of last season, when at their opening game against Coventry there were four subs on the bench, and the squad was heavily dependent on youth players.  Things might have been expected to be different with new Russian owners Convers Sports Initiatives (2) as one of the reasons they gave for selecting Portsmouth was “its potential to return to the Premier League“.  Not that they haven’t splashed any cash – Fratton Park is at least to get a desperately needed £100,000 face-lift (3), and a new ‘megastore’ has been opened (4), although perhaps there was an indication of CSI’s propensity to speculate to accumulate in the announcement that “to mark the occasion of its opening, every customer will be given a free water bottle“.

Not that limited squad size is unknown to Portsmouth.  By happenchance I recently came across the following, from 1967!

CUTTING THE COAT TO SUIT THE CLOTH

THE MUCH PUBLICISED FRATTON PARK STAFF REDUCTION TO JUST 18 PROFESSIONALS IS ONLY PART OF THE OVERALL PORTSMOUTH PLAN TO PAY THEIR WAY IN THE FOOTBALL WORLD.

Explains Secretary Mr. R. Mulcock: “It isn’t just the resultant wages saved, but overhead expenses like staff, hotels, travel have all been cut.

“Now we can pay our way from our gates, more or less, and that means that all our ancillary income from fund-raising schemes can go towards improving the team.”

They have a lively Supporters’ Club and new premises adjacent to the club offices at Fratton have just been opened.  “Now our supporters can entertain their visitors in the way they are themselves are entertained away from home”, says Mr. Mulcock.  “That’s the way we are trying to develop.”

“Modern football fans require amenities and we aim to give it to them.”

This comes from the official Football League Review of 18 March 1967, and was one of a series called ‘Club Call’ written by Harry Brown.  The Review was distributed in match programmes for many years, but is sadly now defunct, although Steve Grant has made a sterling effort to revive its spirit online albeit unofficially.

On the opposite page is an interview with the then club manager, George Smith, and again it makes for similarly ironic reading to those who have followed Portsmouth’s ‘progress’ under the multitude of owners in the last fifteen years:

A more selective public will prune the clubs argues George Smith

A much more selective public, and the shortage of players, must inevitably change the face of League football in this country.

That’s the view of Portsmouth FC manager Mr. George Smith who says, frankly: “I can only see the game shrinking.  The League is bound to get smaller”.

He justifies his views in this way: Gates at the top are getting bigger because the public want the big time, they want the drama, and they want comfort.  Only the big boys can give them that.

“There will always be a place for clubs below the top, but some of the gate drops in the Third and Fourth Divisions do suggest that in many smaller towns bread and butter football isn’t enough.  I’d be delighted to be proved wrong, but I can’t see how I will be”.

PLAYER SHORTAGE

There is a second platform to George Smith’s argument.  Shortage of players.  “In the old days there was a saying that if you called down a pit shaft a couple of footballers would come up.  Today you’d get two lead guitarists.”

Mr. Smith argues that the end of the maximum wage, with which he agreed, has also meant that the star players have tended to move into the star clubs.

“These are all factors which make life difficult for the very small clubs, and economics [sic] of it can only mean that there must be a shrinkage in the number of League clubs”, he argues.

At Portsmouth, where they only run one team and the number of professionals employed has been cut to 18 they have already cut their coat to suit the cloth.

“This is no disadvantage”, says Mr. Smith.  “We are taking a highly professional attitude.  We are running a Football League club, and our job is to keep it that way.  Clubs whose aim is to encourage football, no matter the economics of the job are, in my view, not facing realities.”

Some interesting food for thought there, not least its relevance today, and the irony.  For at least a few years Portsmouth practised in part the financial prudence that Messrs. Smith and Mulcock had preached.  They stayed up, in the old Division 2, until 1976, but there had been a change in ownership in 1972 and incoming owner John Deacon was unable to continue supporting the unsustainable business model they had slipped back into.  In 1976 the club had to be rescued from imminent receivership by fans raising £35,000 (roughly £300,000 when adjusted to today in terms of average earnings) in the SOS Pompey scheme.  By 1978 they were in the old Fourth Division.

Certainly any sense of financial prudence had disappeared by the nineties.  Could it just be that CSI will bring a sense of financial prudence and stability back to the club?  And, if they do, can they kiss goodbye to a return to the Premier League?

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3 Responses to “Cutting your coat to suit the cloth the Pompey way”

  1. Neil said

    Your assessment that the owners have not splashed any cash is a bit wide of the mark as Pompey bought five players not long after the took charge. Also, we had four subs at Middlesbrough last week.

    • John Beech said

      Thanks for the correction re the subs Neil.

      I’m not suggesting they haven’t splashed any cash (stupid omission of the word ‘haven’t’ in sentence 4 now corrected so that it makes rather better sense!), rather I’m arguing that they haven’t splashed enough cash to provide a reasonable-sized squad yet, let alone one that would get Portsmouth into the Premier League. But I’m not wanting them to be Abramoviches either – I just don’t think they’ve got the balance right yet. It’ll be interesting to see what happens between now and the end of the transfer window.

  2. SjMaskell said

    I remember those eighteen man squad days – or rather 20 man as the two coaches Pointer and Portwood were registered as players and managed an appearance each in 69 – 70. We never seemed short of players, but maybe tactics were somewhat limited. Which is exactly what Cotterill is getting accused of at the moment. How the game has changed with the greater flexibility of substitutions. But that is a luxury we haven’t currently got.

    Did we actually BUY five players? I seem to recall a number of those 5 signings were frees (I know they’re not REALLY free) or re-signings. Subs at Boro were a goalie, two ‘old men’ who can’t do a full match (Kanu however is a bonus in this league – god help us if he has to play 90 minutes though) and an inexperienced youngster. When we had 18 players in the 60s we had 18 fully fit experienced professionals.

    It seems we are operating on limited funds, speculation is rife as to the reason for that, but a CVA and a watchful FL probably have a lot to do with it. Antonov has been quoted as saying Blackpool is his model and he welcomes the FFP rules. That tells you everything you need to know about future plans I think, and maybe CSI have underestimated what they need to do to emulate Blackpool. Settle down for a season of survival Pompey. Better than two years ago in any case.

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