Club Focus – Portsmouth – Signs of life at Fratton Park

After months of silence, it seems Portsmouth Football Club have finally felt the need to speak up regarding the on-going saga that surrounds Fratton Park.

January 2 fans’ protest seems to have struck a cord with the club’s hierarchy, when Ali al-Faraj’s conspicuous lawyer (and Executive Chairman), Mark Jacob was sent out on the defensive for the mystery owner. But while the fact he has decided to utter any spoken words in the English language whatsoever can be regarded as encouraging, the manner and subject of his chosen few, act purely as a defensive cover, mainly against another upcoming fans’ protest. His cover is simple: “Quite clearly, had Mr Al Faraj not taken over when he did, the club would have suffered a points reduction because administration would have been on the cards.” How true this is remains up for debate. What isn’t up for debate is the current regime’s shortcomings. Even if the above statement is true, al-Faraj must have known the situation of the club when buying. He must surely have known an immediate surge of cash would be needed yet he has failed in providing the club not only with a safe standing but debts continue to be unpaid and the wages fiasco is beyond a joke.

Jacob has been quick to lay the blame at the door of Sacha Gaydamak, whose reckless regime forced wild debts upon the club. But while Jacob has a case here, the case is flawed purely down to the fact al-Faraj knew what state the club was in when taking over. On top of that the blame game has become not only boring but childish too. Jacob also stated how if al-Faraj’s initial takeover had gone through in August, he would have had £35m ready and waiting to pump into the club’s coffers. This money was no longer available two months later when al-Faraj eventually took control in October. As an outsider, you can’t help but scoff at Jacob’s futile attempts to impress a furious set of fans. This latest claim follows in the footsteps of Sulaiman al-Fahim’s £50m injection which never came to be, although upon selling it was mysteriously available again, before disappearing once more. Maybe the two sums have been lost in the post, or perhaps sent to the wrong address – possibly Narnia.

Sorry to be so sarcastic, but Jacob’s defensive words offer no comfort to the watching world. Before this week his only other notable contribution to the media was to state Pompey’s transfer embargo, issued in October, to have been reprieved within a week. We still wait – the new date being mid-January, a significant promise for the club to live up to, not just to be afforded the right to buy once more, but also to come good on at least one promise. Jacob’s task this week has been made harder due to the fact al-Faraj refuses to reveal himself from the shadows. Indeed Pompey fans and the mass media have just the single picture of the mystery man that has at least allowed us to put a name to a face. No voice yet, but it’s difficult to be heard hiding behind so many club officials.

Pompey fans look set to ask for more answers regarding the financial problems this Saturday as a protest march is expected before the visit of Birmingham. Seeing as the last minor protest seemed to trigger a reaction from within the club, perhaps a mass demonstration might push this on even further. To be fair to Jacob, he has said plenty this week and although certain answers are still lacking, he has been reassuring in outlining Pompey’s immediate plans. If the board deserve a second chance, then perhaps giving them the rest of the month to live up to their word would be beneficial. The cynicism on the south coast leaves much to be desired from Jacob’s words but he has said some encouraging things and if he walks the walk after talking the talk, then all will be forgiven. He is correct when stating certain aspects of the club’s financial state cannot be disclosed and the difficult situation that was inherited meant the first three months would always be tough. He also acknowledged the club’s silence was a “regret”, whilst stating there has been nothing “positive” to tell the fans and he was wary of making empty promises.

All well and good, but his words have come too late. The trust is gone, and its replacement is purely scepticism. A simple appearance from al-Faraj would go a long way but while his secrecy is upheld, so is the doubt over his regime. This week has been promising in the fact at least the fans have been recognized and given the respect they deserve. But by the end of the month, these words need to be turned into actions to appease the growing unrest form supporters.

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