Fans of Portsmouth FC breathed a huge sigh of relief on Saturday afternoon as they learnt that former owner Alexandre Gaydamak intended to sign a deal that would save their club from the threat of liquidation. The agreement, which simultaneously brings the South Coast club out of administration, capped a momentous day for the travelling Pompey support who celebrated their side’s fifth win in six games after a 2-1 victory at Hull City.
This week’s football news has been plagued by so-called non-stories and, save for the Wayne Rooney saga, the fate of Portsmouth would have dominated the headlines somewhat more. Unfortunately, Rooney and agent-accomplice Paul Stretford decided to drag the good name of Manchester United and their fans through the mud and to divert attention away from the real talking point of the week. Were Pompey to follow the likes of ex-Football League clubs Wimbledon, Aldershot and Maidstone into folding?
It was in fact a lack of talking that led to Portsmouth almost going out of business. On Friday night, administrator Andrew Andronikou announced to the media the very real threat of Pompey going under as negotiations with key creditor Gaydamak had broken down. The club claimed that the former owner had suddenly demanded an up-front payment of £2.2 million rather than the more staggered reimbursement that other creditors had agreed.
The South Coast club were plainly unable to stump up such a sum and were therefore unable to exit administration within the deadline that the Football League had given them. As Steve Cotterill desperately tried to prepare his team for their trip to Humberside the Pompey chimes looked to have rung for the last time. It was only after a late-night emergency meeting between Cotterill and his players that they agreed to take to the field against Hull City no matter whether they had a club to play for or not.
It is testament to the character of the playing and management staff that Portsmouth are currently the form side in the Championship. Amongst all the off-field issues which have haunted the club in recent weeks, the Fratton Park side have dragged themselves away from the relegation zone after picking up 16 points from the last 18 – a run which has seen them score 17 goals in six games.
As text messages began to flood the KC Stadium with the joyous rumours that Gaydamak had settled with Andronikou, Pompey raced into a 2-0 lead with goals from David Nugent and Greg Halford. A Nicky Barmby consolation reduced the arrears for Hull City but the visitors held strong to move to within three points of the play-off positions and quell fears that the South Coast side would drop through the leagues.
By the time that the celebrating fans had arrived back at Fratton Park the picture looked even rosier. While the listless unsecured creditors would receive an average of 20p in the pound over the next five years, Gaydamak confirmed that he had graciously agreed to receive a fee of £2.5 million over those five years. That settlement paved the way for Balram Chainrai, Levi Kushnir and Deepak Chainrai to take over – a move that was later authorised by the Football League. For the time being it seems that the Pompey faithful have been granted some mercy.
However, they will not have been pleased to hear that these latest frantic developments boiled down to nothing more than childish mind games. The official club statement on Friday castigated Gaydamak for apparently being guilty of “playing hard-to-get” and “moving the goalposts at the 11th hour”. Seemingly, he was unwilling to play ball in the urgent financial negotiations that needed to take place if Portsmouth were to save themselves. The whole episode reeked of immaturity and self-indulgence.
By kicking up such a media furore – in the same way that double-act Rooney and Stretford achieved – Andronikou and his partners were desperate to paint Gaydamak as holding the club to ransom, a “bad-guy” intent on seeing one of England’s historic clubs go under. In fact this could not have been further from the truth. Gaydamak still retains an affinity with the club and has repeated time and time again his sadness at having been involved in the club’s demise.
The French businessman, of Russian descent (who also holds an Israeli passport), would have received none of his millions had Portsmouth been vanquished to the history books. But, he had been publically embarrassed by Andronikou and co. and had little option but to return to the negotiating table and sign a deal that would save face and prove himself anything but the malign third party he had been portrayed as. Just like the ridiculous Rooney saga, it had all been a game of brinkmanship.
It is a shame that football has come to this. Football clubs have become a play-thing of those in the upper-echelons of the board room who treat their ownership like a child would shake a piggy-bank, mercilessly juddering out those last few pennies for themselves. Portsmouth fans will feel aggrieved to have been treated in such a way but are we wrong to criticise Andronikou for his performance in this drama?
Yes, he scared the supporters with Friday’s statement but developing an affinity with the fans was never a pre-requisite of his job-title. Andronikou is an administrator and was appointed to remove Portsmouth FC from administration – something he has achieved. Although the petty games amongst the power-brokers of Fratton Park cannot be admired, Pompey have now paid up and will continue to play up for the time being as this historic football club moves into its 113th year.
Who knows, based on their current form, they could be playing Premiership football again next year – a financial windfall that would be exceptionally welcome to the new owners who will now attempt to work their way through the club’s estimated £120 million debt. Nevertheless, for a club which endured four owners in one season in 2009-10, it is not particularly gratifying to hear that former Hull City chairman Paul Duffen – currently accused of spending company money for his own personal use – is said to be lining up a bid for Portsmouth. Perhaps one can be excused for thinking that poor old Pompey might not have seen the end of their turmoil just yet!