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”.
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?