It is a year and a week since I posted my first blogpost about Pompey, entitled “Enough is Enough”. As it turns out, we have been through quite a lot more than we had already endured, thanks to the strange mix of naivety and obstinacy that is Balram Chainrai’s way of doing business. At the time we went into administration again, we had grounds for optimism in that Chainrai failed to get his way with the appointment of UHY Hacker Young, with the court imposing PKF and Trevor Birch as administrators. Sadly, in the intervening year many of us have come to curse PKF just as much as we once did UHY; indeed, for most of that period Trevor Birch looks like he has been dancing to Chainrai’s tune.
The Pompey Supporters Trust have been doing a superb job putting their bid together, often in the face of indifference from PKF, and getting it to a stage where they have converted sufficient pledges to mount a viable bid. They’ve had my money and I support them wholeheartedly. Having been faced with the choice of Portpin by Birch as preferred bidder, they kept working and have eventually driven Chainrai away from the position where he is a viable owner of Pompey. It is unlikely he would pass the Owners & Directors Test, and it was the realisation of that which brought about the abrupt and farcical change of direction by PKF last year. It was suggested while Portpin were still preferred bidders that there is some “legal kryptonite” in Chainrai’s possession which paralysed Trevor Birch and his minions; nobody outside the process could believe that a sale to Portpin could be passed by the authorities. Indeed, the very slow progress since in getting to court to allow the sale to PST to proceed prompts questions about whether there is still something in the background which gives Chainrai a hold over PKF.
During this latest administration, the club has been whittled away to the point where all anybody would be buying is the ground and a pile of debt. There are no players, no commercial infrastructure, no training facilities, and few remaining staff. The club’s financial position has deteriorated to the extent that it is being sustained by a group of relatively wealthy individual supporters writing cheques every week. Until the club leaves administration, that situation will not improve; the costs of doing business in administration are generally quite a bit higher than would otherwise be the case. Then there is the complaint, heard from several people who have left PFC voluntarily during PKF’s tenure, that PKF have done a poor job of managing the business. Trevor Birch is supposed to be a “football man”, having been a chief executive himself in his time. Unfortunately during his time the management of the club has exhibited little commonsense or commercial flair (the Official 2013 Calendar is a case in point). One or two of the staff inherited by Birch should probably have been jettisoned when he arrived, given their previous record at Fratton, but perhaps they will be removed after the PST takeover.
The latest adjournment in the PKF/Portpin court case to determine the value of Fratton Park is a disappointment, but not any kind of sign that the PST bid is flawed. The yawning gap between Portpin’s valuation of Fratton Park and PST’s is a sign of Chainrai’s delusions, not poverty on the part of the supporters’ bid. There have been several valuations of Fratton Park which tally with PST’s. It is hard to see what is keeping PKF from testing those valuations in court, where the chances of Portpin winning should be microscopically slim. But we have another adjournment for two weeks, with all the undesirable side-effects that entails.
It means another two weeks of drift, of not being able to make any permanent signings, of commercial stagnation, financial uncertainty, and growing scepticism from supporters that this miserable process will ever reach a conclusion. Sure, it also gives the Trust another two weeks to firm up their bid, to recruit additional pledges and to convert some of those still outstanding. But there is only so much PST can do before they own the club, while there is a huge amount for them to do once they have the keys to Fratton Park. I can imagine the frustrations of the bid team.
And yet we never hear any real comment from the Trust on the conduct of the administration. We know that PST have been poring over the books for some time, so they have a good idea of what the state of affairs is, and we all know that it is not a good state. They must have concerns about PKF and the weakness of their efforts. However, the official line is that the court case is a matter between PKF and Portpin, and there is nothing more to be said until it is concluded. They are, of course, right that the court case is not something PST is involved in. But I do not agree that patient silence is always the right way to deal with PKF. There is a growing risk that silence, however diplomatic, allows misplaced scepticism to flourish among supporters. These delays are not the fault of PST, so why not pin the blame where it lies – with PKF and Portpin?
The first anybody heard about the latest adjournment was in a Daily Telegraph story quoting a “Portpin spokesman”. I generally take anything about Pompey in the Telegraph with a pinch of salt – they have published a couple of daft stories about Pompey lately, based on weak sourcing; in itself, even the news of the adjournment is no cause for panic. At first I was inclined to think they had got in a muddle, and were anticipating a date being set later on to hear the case properly. However it quickly became clear that in fact things are as the Telegraph describe.
It amazes me that PKF would not warn their preferred bidder that the adjournment was being granted. It amazes me a bit less that their was no proper statement from them for wider consumption. Pompey’s website has a bare announcement that the case has been adjourned; there is nothing at all about it on PKF’s. We are all in the dark as to what the cause of the delay is. Of course the people involved will have signed confidentiality agreements, but it is hard to see why PKF could not agree a form of words to give confidence to the outside world that the process is actually advancing. It seems to me to have stopped dead, with PKF having rings run round them by Portpin.
It was certainly not diplomatic language of me to suggest on Twitter earlier that PST should give PKF a bit of a “public kicking”, but I think it is time to remind ourselves exactly who is supposed to be doing what in this process. PFC is for sale; PKF have been charged with selling it. There is only one realistic buyer, PST. PST are ready to conclude the sale, subject to PKF getting a valuation ratified in court. In every respect in this transaction, PKF are someone’s servant – the High Court, the creditors of PFC, and PST as the “customer”. PKF have an awful lot to lose should they fail to complete a sale; their credibility has already been hammered by their lack of progress at Pompey over the last year. Their lavish fees are at risk if the club is liquidated. In my view, PKF are ripe for a bit of a kicking. They have been slow and questionably competent.
The Trust are reluctant to get involved in that; Colin Farmery, the Trust’s spokesman, tweeted back to me that it would be “stupid” to do so. I have the very highest regard for Colin and everyone else in the Trust management, but on this occasion I think their tactics are too cautious. What are PKF going to do about it if PST question the delay publicly? What do they have to threaten anyone with? Are they going to liquidate because someone tells them off?
The last thing I want is the impression to get about that PST are idle during this delay, because nothing could be further from the truth. But whatever they say about anything else, the court case and the delays are what dominate the public’s consciousness. We don’t know why the delays happen, and it seemed at first the Trust didn’t either. Something similar seemed to happen in the lead-up to the adjournment in December. I am sure the problem is at PKF’s end and would much rather risk a bit of a row with them in saying so than allow any misleading ideas about PST to develop.
I do not accept that politeness cures someone else’s incompetence, or that being a bit rude is always irresponsible. We have put up with plenty since late 2008, put up with it for a long time with courtesy and affability, and suffered massively as a result. As someone with experience of business in the “real world”, I have decided the balance of probability in football is that if you suspect someone to be useless, they almost certainly are, and you should do something about it. Football is awash with people who would be unemployable outside the game, and we at Pompey have come into contact with too many of them as employees of our club and administrators at governing bodies. Don’t sit down with them for tea and biscuits, get your (strictly metaphorical) Molotov cocktails ready.
I’d like to see PST start to explain (if they know) or question (if they don’t) why the process is dragging on, very much to the detriment of the club and its supporters and the enrichment of PKF. PST may feel that diplomacy will get them further, I feel that while they are on that journey they run a risk of people being confused about the direction of travel or the identity of the driver.
If, reading this, you aren’t already a member of the Trust, do join it. If you can, get involved in buying a share, because you are buying a piece of the future. I am sure PST will get the job done, and in a year’s time I will be sitting here typing about the rebirth of the club. But we are close enough to overcoming this first, huge hurdle that we should be confident in giving PKF a bit of a shove. PKF have been lucky to have PST as a prospective buyer. Just about anyone else would have got fed up with the conduct of the administration and walked away long ago and let PKF look like idiots. Let everyone see how hard PST have fought to get here, and let everyone understand the scale of obstruction they have overcome.