Wednesday’s high court hearing may not have shed any more light on Portsmouth’s eventual conclusion, but the fact they were there at all – along with two other professional clubs – only proves the ugliness in which our beautiful game is run.
Pompey’s 112 year existence is now in genuine doubt, and for what? An FA Cup. The extent in which the club overstretched becomes more and more obscene and baffling by the day. Quite how a Premier League club, who welcomes tens of thousands of match-goers a week while raking in such an unrelenting amount of TV revenue, can still rack up substantial debts defies belief. Firstly, the club itself must take the majority of the blame after being so horrendously mismanaged since the end of Milan Mandaric’s era. But Pompey’s farcical case has been one that has been on the cards for a number of years now. After Leeds badly over-extended just five or so years previous, there should have been action from above, but lessons were not learnt.
Instead of the Premier League stepping in to curb such outlandish outlay, they have needlessly spent their time designing silly money-making schemes (39th game proposal) or stopping players taking their tops off, instead of actually enforcing proper guidelines that will benefit their league and the clubs in it. While Richard Scudamore roars success after acquiring an extra few million from the new TV deal, he doesn’t realise how meaningless that extra money is. The more coming in, means the more going out – transfer fees and wages just get inflated even further. Ask yourself, while the last ten years has seen such a huge surge of TV revenue, has this lowered the cost of your tickets? The answer is a simple no – the statistics will undoubtedly prove that.
Instead, outlays on wages and transfer fees have rocketed to an unassailable level. This January just over £21m was spent, while last year the number reached a record £190m – assign of struggling clubs. Each day we read of a different club’s mountainous debts – from West Ham’s crippling expenditure – which almost went a similar way to Pompey’s current plight before the ‘David’s’ intervened – to that of Manchester United, whose figures under the Glazer regime make for worrying reading for everyone involved. Indeed their very plan is based around securing high interest debts against the club itself – a plan that sees the majority of their hefty income go towards funding their bulky debts. Surely a flawed plan? But one the Premier League seems happy to go ahead. Liverpool sit in a similar muddy puddle but again there are no guidelines to prevent these absurd regimes.
Fans of both the aforementioned clubs have made their feelings known in recent months as they know that they stand as the ones who will lose the most. Indeed as ex-Pompey owner Sacha Gaydamak left his position in the summer of last year, he left behind a club riddled with debt (a lot of which is owed to him) and on the brink of financial meltdown. The club is supposed to be a part of a community, one which thousands of fans spend a percentage of their overall income to religiously follow and support. We now look at these clubs as businesses first, and football clubs second. This weekend’s south coast derby will show all the great things about our beautiful game, but it will be played out on a distressing back note. While the players fight for the bragging rights on the south coast, more important fighting will be taking place in the board rooms at Fratton Park. And that’s the most distressing thing of all. The excitement of the upcoming derby should be engulfing the city of Portsmouth right now. Instead it is deeply overshadowed by more pressing issues. You can’t have bragging rights if you don’t have a club.
The prospect of there only being 19 teams in the Premier League is a very real one. And for all the false owners and big-name stars that have been through that revolving Fratton Park door in recent seasons, one party will never leave. The fans are the innocent victims here and it’s high time the powers above stopped them from being put through this disgusting turmoil.