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! Football Finance

Pompey: out of Al Frying Pan and into Al Fire?

Posted by John Beech on October 6, 2009

The collective sigh of relief from Portsmouth fans at last night’s announcement of the sale of the majority shareholding in the club to Ali Al Faraj was almost audible, even in Coventry.  It was only slightly tempered by the recollection that we had been through the same process just 41 days ago when Sulaiman Al Fahim had finally bought the club.

The remaining worry for me is that we know even less about Ali Al Faraj than the little we knew about Al Fahim – even Al Fahim admits to never having met Al Faraj (1).  Apparently Al Faraj has passed the Premier League’s fit and proper person’s test, but that has a pass rate similar to that of O Grade Breathing – not exactly a fine discriminator.

We are told that Al Faraj is a Saudi property developer (although the BBC’s Today Programme had elevated him from that status to Saudi property tycoon in the space of an hour this morning), and much has already been made, and doubtless will be made, of his nationality.  It’s the fact that he’s a property developer that intrigues me.

Let’s set aside any base thoughts that he might be after the club merely for the ground it stands on – Fratton, after all, is not the most ‘des res’ of places.  Let’s also make a massive assumption – that he successfully fights the more serious fires at the club – paying last month’s wages, paying bank loans which are about to be called in, settling HMRC’s bill, and drawing up plans for the January transfer window.  Facing him then will be a long smoldering ember – Fratton Park.

The stadium is a complete anachronism in the Premier League.  Frankly I’m surprised that no mischievous Southampton fan has tried to get English Heritage to list it.  Almost nothing has changed there since I stood on the terraces in the sixties.  The away fans section, the Milton End, has recently acquired a roof, but that is hardly state-of-the-art in stadium design.

For over forty years, at the hint of financial problems, the successive boards have trotted out plans for a new stadium to keep the fans happy.  Way back in the Deacon era, the plan was for the club to move to Farlington Marshes.  Next came a long-running saga of a move down the road to the disused BR depot, abandoned with the demise of steam.  More recently we have seen grandiose designs for an iconic stadium next to the Dockyard, and then at Horsea Island.  The latter 36,000-seater plan was being seriously peddled, replete with 1500 houses, less than two years ago (2).  More recently reality made a marginal appearance, and latest plans (last March) have been to resurrect yet another plan, and redevelop Fratton Park in stages, while rotating it through 90 degrees (3).

The urge to redevelop his property may not strike Al Faraj however.  Peter Storrie, the club’s Chief Executive, is already beginning to paint a picture of him as a reclusive and hands-off owner, mindful perhaps of Markus Liebherr just down the road at Southampton.

The stadium is not a problem that can be ignored.  Whether it’s the tattiest in the Premier League is open to debate (well, at least in theory).  It is certainly the smallest, and that seriously inhibits any strategy to turn the club into a success off the pitch.  Much turns on what Al Faraj’s motives are in buying the club.

Surely he can’t be naive enough to think that he has bought into a goldmine – it will be more like a moneypit.  How strong will his commitment to Portsmouth be when the profits fail to materialise.  In June I questioned whether Al Fahim had “fond memories of seaside holidays in Southsea, or good friends in Copnor, Paulsgrove or Leigh Park?” (4), and it would be safe to assume that Al Faraj’s answer would be the same.

It is of course early days yet, but the cloud of uncertainty hanging over Portsmouth may well have grown smaller, but how long for?  The club has won a battle for survival, but it is far from clear that it has won the war.


3 Responses to “Pompey: out of Al Frying Pan and into Al Fire?”

  1. John Beech said

    The new stadium is already being promoted (1).

  2. John Beech said

    The chairman of the Saudi Professional League Commission Dr Hafez Almedlej tells BBC Sport’s James Munro he and his colleagues have never heard of Portsmouth’s new owner Ali Al Faraj (video clip.

  3. […] forty years of Portsmouth’s plans for a new stadium, now on at least their fifth version (1), and the other day I noted that at Southend £1.9m had spent preparing for a stadium which […]

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