Barbara Windsor this week announced that she will be quitting her role in EastEnders after 15 years on the soap. Portsmouth have yet to deny the actress, famous for playing pub landlady Peggy Mitchell, is being lined up for a role in the soap opera at Fratton Park, as life on South Coast takes yet another twist.
Indeed, if Pompey’s off-the-pitch woes were that of a scripted TV show, it would be all too far-fetched and ridiculous. However, the South Coast saga is very real, and as Paul Hart attempts to keep the club in the Premier League, the board have the perhaps harder task of keeping the club above water.
News broke on Tuesday that the Premier League had enforced a transfer ban on Pompey after it transpired the club had yet to pay up the agreed instalments to Arsenal and Chelsea, for Lassana Diarra and Glen Johnson – both have since been sold. The outstanding debt is believed to be around £3m, and it is yet another development that will worry the club’s fans as they – and seemingly everybody else – are left wondering, what really is going on? After Sulaiman Al Fahim sold 90% of his stake in the club last month, following a comical rein, it was hoped all the sagas and unerring sense of confusion had left with him. But it seems Al Fahim’s blinkered and baffling approach to the media has rubbed off on his successor, Ali al-Faraj. Only last week, al-Faraj gave an altogether worrying interview with a Saudi newspaper. In it he claimed he was “no billionaire” whilst going on to say: “Our plan is to stay for a period of not less than six months, until the club stands again. This is based on the fact that purchasing the club was purely an investment. It’s not a secret to hide – we are investors and we have no relation to sports.”
Not something any Pompey fan would want to hear. But after Portsmouth denied the interview ever took place and that they would be taking legal action against the Saudi paper, it was deemed the quotes were bogus, calming the nerves at Fratton Park. However, since then, the club have been forced to admit al-Faraj did indeed speak to said newspaper, after they revealed pictures of the Pompey owner in the interview itself. Whether it was al-Faraj trying to cover his back or Pompey unwittingly papering over some rather big cracks is unclear, but it is yet another tale of woe that makes the club look ever more ridiculous.
Whether the above claims made by al-Faraj were actually said has yet to be confirmed with the Saudi property tycoon only stating he was unaware the conversation was for publication. It all leaves a very sour taste as al-Faraj’s start to life on the south coast continues to throw up similarities to that of his much-maligned predecessor. Both seem desperate to make mind-boggling claims to national and international newspapers, yet both haven’t been interested in talking to the local newspaper in Portsmouth or indeed any direct route to the actual fans of the club. It all strikes of men being all too concerned about their worldwide reputation rather than that of the club’s fans.
Truth is, nobody really knows what is going on at present. There is even news of more investors coming to help al-Faraj as reports suggest he is struggling to re-finance the club and its debts. It is believed he had to take out a loan of £5m to pay the players and staff last month just prior to his takeover confirmation and now he is looking to other sources to help the club – just like Al Fahim did. And it doesn’t stop there. The new investors – who have both been at Pompey’s last two fixtures – were the two men who reportedly scuppered al-Faraj’s original deal back in August due to an ongoing dispute with then owner, Sacha Gaydamak’s, father. But now, with that issue recently settled with the now-exiled Gaydamak senior, Pompey’s latest saviours – Levi Kushnir and Balram Chainrai – are free to invest in the club. We have no real clue as to the amount the pair will invest or what stake they will acquire but if they do acquire a reasonable stake they will be forced to reveal all.
But as Hart prepares his troops for the crunch clash with Wigan this weekend, the off-the-pitch issues continue to blight the already difficult situation he is in. He, like us all, are at a total loss as to what really is going on behind closed doors at the club, but one thing is for sure – you just couldn’t script this.