There are plenty of people who write with far more authority than I do on Pompey. You will know who they are, Farmery, Hall, Maskell, and others, and I am not about to try to outdo them in the blogosphere with this poorly-presented mess. However there are some things one can’t cram into 140 characters on Twitter; a man can only compress his rage so far.
Everyone knows now that HMRC are looking for payment of about £1.6m, and that the winding-up petition, if it gets that far, will be heard some time late in February. We heard David Lampitt on Express FM last night explaining that he wished the news hadn’t leaked – and at the weekend he attacked The News for their reference to the leak. Shooting the messenger is never an impressive activity even when the messenger is as low in credibility and public standing as The News.
In fact it would have become public knowledge anyway this week and it will not have surprised anyone intelligent looking at purchasing Portsmouth FC. Anyone who has been shown any numbers by UHY could work out what the gap is now that cashflow support from CSI has ceased. I doubt it was a factor in Joseph Cala flouncing off because his record suggests he isn’t scared of running up quite large debts in a business of his own.
Of course it would have been helpful to delay the announcement of the petition for as long as possible, but now it’s “out there” it just sounded sad to hear Mr Lampitt on Express FM last night. He is in an unenviable position, he has suffered disappointment upon disappointment in his time at Fratton. The trouble is that eventually everyone gets used to it, and comes to accept that abuse and indignity are just “things that happen” and that there is nothing that can be done. While I am typing this, the official PFC website has put up a statement of dramatically differing character to Mr Lampitt’s radio appearance last night, and I’ll comment on it presently. This is that statement.
“Support the team” Mr Lampitt says. We can still do that, though a lot of people still struggle to forgive the mess made with ticket prices this season. Those recent events are the reason Fratton has been less full this season than last. The club is not in all that bad a financial position, but the failure of CSI at a time when the cashflow position is weak means it was unable to pay HMRC the December and January tax bill. There is not a huge backlog of the sort that occurred after the collapse of Gaydamak and I do not allege incompetence or wrongdoing have mainly led to this situation.
However, the club needs to raise money now to make up for the failure of CSI. There are a few ways this could happen. New owners could magically appear, or players could be sold, or Chainrai could cover the shortfall.
Andronikou makes vague and conflicting statements all the time, but one of those however suggested that there were potential buyers hovering around apart from Cala. We can only wait and see, and hope.
Chainrai could cover the shortfall, and since he is left in an even bigger financial pickle should the club fold, it is in his interest to do so if he can. I want him to, and so should everyone else. I’ll come back to this.
The other alternative is that we sell players. We have a small squad as it is, but it is very imbalanced when you look at the values and wages of the team. We have a few huge earners who aren’t worth anything much in the transfer market and could be difficult to move, we have a few promising youngish players who earn probably little and could be sold quickly. Ward, Henderson, Pearce are all likely targets for other clubs. The club needs to raise rather more than HMRC’s immediate demand to get through to the end of the season, the amount is likely to be around £4m in total if assumptions about the financial forecasts hold good.
So we could sell the promising players, and raise the cash to get us through to the end of the season. Whether we would have a strong enough squad to keep us in the Championship this season is another thing. We may be fortunate that there are some very poor teams at the bottom of the table, but an XI including a sprinkling of our Academy players would look very weak. We would still be saddled with several expensive players draining cash out of the club, and could easily end up in a situation where the money runs out again later on and there are no saleable assets left. What happens then?
But let’s assume we sell the three players I mentioned, stay up, generate the cash to survive to the end of the season but there is no prospect of new owners towards the end of the season. At some point in the club’s financial forecast, there will be an assumption of revenue from deposits taken on season tickets for next year. In more settled times, the club has generally started selling with discounts for early take-up by about March or April. When the forecasts were made for this season, there were no grounds for planning otherwise. It is likely that the club expects a sum of over £1m to be coming in sometime in Spring against season ticket sales. Season ticket revenue, however much it is or whenever it is expected, is absolutely vital for the close-season running of the club.
The question I ask is, why would anyone buy a season ticket for next season if Chainrai still has his foot on our throat and if the squad is threadbare? I am not in any way against using and developing Academy talent, we have done far too little of it in recent years, but we are not in the position Jim Smith was in when he could rebuild almost instantly with kids who went on to become major players for us. Andy Awford was one of them and he knows how far behind we are in youth development. One of the great scandals is that he inherited a situation where not enough was done from the clean start under Mandaric onwards to build our future.
The only real answer to the season ticket question is “loyalty”. There are still over 8000 season ticket holders left from the peak of nearly twice that number in our first Premiership season. Nobody in football doubts the fanaticism Pompey inspire. But what notion are we loyal to, exactly? There will come a point, and it isn’t far off, where the club in its present state doesn’t represent much except tenancy of Fratton Park.
The fans’ icon is being stripped of dignity by the conduct of Mr Chainrai, who lacks the will to support the club adequately or the motive to finally kill it in this incarnation. If the club folds, he is left holding the deeds to Fratton Park. It is an asset he would struggle to turn into cash quickly because of the City Council’s planning regime, which includes some safeguards for the site as public leisure space. Those safeguards could be overturned, at some cost of time and money – things Mr Chainrai will not be anxious to spend. Fratton Park as an asset without a football club is worth much less to him in real terms than the book value of his debt.
So in fact this is a problem with a potentially negative outcome for Mr Chainrai however things go from here. He places an unrealistically high value on his debt and would be advised to minimise his loss by a quick sale to someone able to either buy him out of his charge, or to genuinely guarantee stability to repay him over time. For us the worst case is we lose a shrivelling football team and a ground for any replacement to play in. A reborn PFC wouldn’t need a 20000 all seater anyway, not for a long time. But I believe it is unlikely to get to that stage if we are steadfast and united.
Mr Chainrai’s negative outcome is a prime site he cannot easily develop. What both parties want, and what both need – Chainrai too – is a functioning football club with a healthy customer base in the short term. The alternatives are unpalatable to us both.
What will Chainrai do with a threadbare team playing in an empty stadium next season? How does that help him get his money back? We can guarantee discomfort for Chainrai by manipulating the club’s reliance on season ticket revenue this spring if we need to. We will hurt the club too, but some surgery is inevitably painful, and not all surgery prevents a patient from dying anyway.
The deal we should put to Chainrai is this: you help keep the squad together and fund the club until we find a buyer and you find a way out of Portsmouth Football Club for good. The alternative is you have no season ticket holders, no way of funding the club except your own pocket through the close season, and no basis for planning anything next season. You will soon be left with a dead loss and no clear way to a positive financial outcome for you.
This is a risky strategy perhaps, but as I have already said, I don’t think we are risking all that much. We have become used to being backed up, pushed around, powerless, frustrated. But finally we have been backed into a position where the ultimate weakness of our opponent should give us the realistic chance to take him on, never mind our own sense of honour to avenge the damage he has done to us. Chainrai has run out of things to frighten us with.
Individual character counts for everything in times when pride is at stake. I make no apology for using words like pride and honour. In our situation they do not represent flippant appeals to emotion, they represent about all that is left of Portsmouth Football Club and it is the tie that binds supporters to each other as much as the club. If the club as it exists now disappeared tomorrow, the bonds of loyalty would still bring us together, and we would start again.
The Supporters’ Trust, which everyone should be a member of, is drawing up Plan B in the same worst-case manner I envisage it. Nobody sensible wants to have to start again. On the contrary, the sensible view is that we can still save Portsmouth Football Club 2010, and we should be prepared to fight for it. Be prepared to use words like boycott – it is something that would need planning and coordination as much as any Plan B. Be prepared to take a risk, to make the right kind of threats, and to understand what exactly we are risking and what we are fighting for.
We have a narrow time-slot before Chainrai can start taking season ticket income to PFC for granted. I urge anyone who reads this to be prepared to boycott of season ticket purchases until we can be sure that the club will not be further weakened. I am categorically not suggesting anyone boycotts games or match-by-match ticket purchases over the remainder of the season, it is the last thing I would want. We have a team to support, friends to meet up with, and some of us have players to abuse (my next rant will probably be a defence of Dave Kitson, if we don’t sell him in the meantime). But I do feel targetting season ticket revenue is our best chance as supporters to force Mr Chainrai to see that we know he can lose a lot in this situation too.
Back to the statement I mentioned earlier. The key fact in it is that PFC now claim that Chainrai assured them funds would be provided to cover the shortfall left by CSI’s collapse, but that this has not been done. We cannot rely on Chainrai, and we cannot afford to let him imagine he can push the club or its supporters around any more. Enough is enough.
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