The news that Portsmouth face a winding-up petition from HMRC (1) can hardly have come as a surprise to anyone. After all, HMRC have had the club under close scrutiny, recently charging both Chief Executive Peter Storrie, former Chairman Milan Mandaric and former manager Harry Redknapp. Nor are winding-up petitions entirely unknown at Fratton Park – the London Gazette reveals that they were served with winding-up petitions in 1998 (T. P. T. Fire Protection Services Limited), and 1999 (Inland Revenue), not forgetting a voluntary winding up back in 1912.
Portsmouth provide a textbook example of the unsustainability of the benefactor model.
My records go back to the 1970’s, and the end of benefaction by John Deacon. He arrived as ‘saviour’ Chairman in 1972. By 1976 the club was reduced to being kept out of bankrupcy in 1976 by the donation of £25,000 collected by fans.
Deacon somehow held on as Chairman until 1988 (he was personally declared bankrupt in 1994), when he passed the benefactor baton on to Jim Gregory (fresh from selling QPR to Marler Estates). Gregory lent the club money, but in the mid-nineties called the loans in.
Next up was Terry Venables, who was reported, the club’s financial state being so dire, as investing a £1 to become Chairman. He drew a handsome salary but was continually absent because he was also heading up Australia’s bid for World Cup glory.
In December 1998 the club went into Administration, with Gregory’s son Michael at the helm. To the rescue came Milan Mandaric, who had previously been the benefactor of FC Lika, the San Fransisco Earthquakes, the Florida Thundercats, the Connecticut Bicentennials, the Oakland Stompers, the Edmonton Drillers (these last three being the same franchise), Royal Charleroi Sporting Club and OGC Nice – clearly a man who was into a club for the long term.
To be fair to Mandaric, he did put a reported £25m into the club and saw them rise to Premier League. Having bought the club from the Administrator for £4.5m, however, he sold it in to Alexandre Gaydamak for a reported £30m in 2006, with Portsmouth fans apparently ‘daring to dream that Alexandre Gaydamak’s takeover of the club could do for them what Roman Abramovich has done for Chelsea‘ (2).
That of course is not quite what happened. The latest woes with successive owners I have blogged about before (see postings passim). First there was not-a-Dr Sulaiman Al-Fahim – ‘often described as the “Donald Trump of Abu Dhabi”‘ (3) – who had discovered during his brief flirtation with Manchester City that he was, in fact, Truly Madly Pompey (well, one out of the three at least). When it transpired that he actually wasn’t a Donald Trump, there arrived Ali Al-Faraj, who less than three months ago promised ‘substantial investment‘ (4). The cheque, it would seem, is still in the post.
What next? Well, my guess would be a new owner, a Donald Trump of the Far East, or not, as the case may be.
What is abundantly clear is that yet another benefactor is probably not what Pompey needs. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that none of these benefactors has done the club any good. Mandaric is arguably an exception, but quite what Venables ever did for the club remains unclear.
For Portsmouth, as with most clubs, the benefactor model has proved desperately unsustainable – soft debt called in, jumping ship, lack of any funds etc. etc. etc. How fans can fall for it, as they did so recently at Notts County, never ceases to amaze me.
But we can all relax – there is a Fit and Proper Person test I’m told.