There have been plenty of insults levelled at Portsmouth Football Club over the last 18 months or so, but HMRC’s “sham” jibe threatened to be the last, and most damaging.
As Pompey fans sat glued to various media outlets throughout yesterday, they yearned for the news that their club would still be alive by the time their away trip to Coventry came around on Saturday afternoon. The very real prospect of liquidation loomed and HMRC pulled no punches in what they deem a system which unfairly sees all football debts as secured creditors, but themselves as unsecured creditors – thus granted a return of just 20p to the pound as agreed by the CVA. The ‘Football Creditors Rule’ is one HRMC intends to take up with the football governing bodies in the near future, claiming it means “one class scoops the pool and the rest are left out in the cold” as it gives preference to football creditors, but although Pompey benefited from the rule, it is a gripe with the league regulators, not the club. The case also revolved around disputes over the amount owed by Pompey, with HRMC claiming it was £13m more than the £24m claimed by Pompey’s administrators.
But despite all of this, Portsmouth won yesterday’s court case, with Judge Justice Mann claiming that the CVA is the best, and most financially rewarding option for everyone involved. The judge also stated that Balram Chainrai offered the only realistic hope of a new owner for the stricken club – a statement backed up by the club’s chief executive David Lampitt later in the day as he confirmed the Hong Kong businessman’s plans are the only ones on the table at present, although yesterday’s verdict may see further interest from elsewhere. Coinciding with the ownership situation will be the exit from administration, which will be confirmed relatively imminently along with the lifting of the existing transfer embargo. All of this cannot come soon enough with Pompey’s season starting tomorrow, with a squad of barely 14 senior players.
With this, and what has gone before it, the club can finally start to rebuild for the future. Portsmouth have been through all the ups and downs possible since their promotion to the ‘Promised Land’ in 2003, but after European football debuted at Fratton Park, the FA Cup was remarkably won amidst seven pulsating Premier League seasons, there is a sense the club is back where it started. All those years spent languishing in the (old) First Division were the only memories a whole generation for Pompey fans had to call upon, along with a brief flirtation with administration in 1998. Milan Mandaric was the man who stepped in then, and five years later his Redknapp-led revolution brought a bright new era to the south coast club. Whether or not a similar situation could occur following this administration period remains to be seen, but Pompey have rebuilt from shaky positions before and they will believe they can do it again.
The immediate concern now turns to Saturday’s game with Coventry. After an altogether miserable pre-season – boosted only by last Saturday’s narrow victory over a strong Fulham side – the side looks short on quality, as well as quantity. Wantaway duo Kevin-Prince Boateng and John Utaka would add the necessary quality at this level, but their participation is still in doubt, amid imminent transfers away from the club. If the duo were to be available for Saturday’s game it’ll be an almighty boost to the side – especially a fit and firing Boateng who starred at this summer’s World Cup. The German-born Ghanaian will no doubt be attracting suitors from higher-level clubs but as yet, they are still to meet Pompey’s valuation of the player. Utaka’s problem, meanwhile, are most likely down to wages, with the Nigerian picking up a hefty pay packet on the south coast.
But for now, the club will just be happy to know they have a future – even if a great deal of it is still up in the air. Yesterday perhaps represented an end of an era – one which promised so much but in the end fell flat on its face. The ship almost sunk, its now time for the rescue mission to gather pace and rebuild for the future. The club can now look forward, and hopefully make matters on the pitch the most important aspect once more.