When Portsmouth Football Club was bought solely by its fans nearly 18 months ago, the paragon of sustainable and transparent club ownership that is pornography baron David Gold was questioned as to his views on fans running their own club.
‘Fans running a club doesn’t work. They sit down at a meeting with a plan to design a horse and end up with a camel’.
Now, considering that Portsmouth fans have in recent years had to put up watching the likes of Carl Dickinson, Brian Howard and John Akinde, I would imagine that their knowledge of carthorses would in fact be rather extensive and would lead to a pretty sustainable equestrian business. However, no matter what animal Portsmouth’s fans end up designing in the years to come, they will have to do one heck of a job to match the dog’s dinner of previous ‘professionally run’ regimes by the ‘fit and proper’ businessmen that Gold lauds so much. Under ‘credible’ owners such as Alexandre Gaydamak, Sulaiman Al Fahim, Ali Al Faraj, Balram Chainrai and Vladimir Antonov, Portsmouth underwent 2 administrations and 3 relegations, reaching debt levels that would make even Enron blush. In its quest for undeniable moral bankruptcy, Portsmouth ripped off the taxpayer, local businesses and even charities.
You could be forgiven for thinking that, taking this background into account alongside a widely disillusioned and disgusted fanbase, that the Pompey Supporters Trust would probably need to start designing Pegasus rather than Red Rum. On reflection, the challenges Pompey has overcome and the off the field successes it has made have been biblical. The club has cleared all legacy debts totalling over £7m nearly 2 years ahead of schedule, has progressed significantly with a new stand development whilst also repairing a number of outstanding stadium issues which limited Fratton Park’s capacity, and has raised enough money to build an outstanding new training ground (something that the club failed to do even with all the riches of the Premier League).
However, the most important change the Pompey Supporter’s Trust have made during their tenure has been with the fans. There has been a cultural shift around Fratton Park to put supporters at the heart of every action the club makes – a philosophy which has re-energised the fanbase. Instead of feeling monetised, fans feel like an integral part of their club and have rallied to the Portsmouth cause. Before the start of the season, when the club decided to use fan-funding to help build a new training ground, Portsmouth’s fans exceeded the £250000 target with days to spare. Such enthusiasm has also been reflected in the clubs attendances, too. Season ticket sales have reached 11000 in England’s bottom division, with crowds exceeding those of Premier League QPR and numerous Championship sides. This is thanks in no small part to the sensible pricing structure that the club has implemented. Furthermore, there are more schemes than ever before to try and engage young fans with their club to ensure that Portsmouth’s youngsters support their local side and don’t grow up thinking football is a TV show. When fans turn up to stand in the Fratton End, they know that every penny they spend at the club goes towards Pompey’s future, and not in the pockets of a Hong Kong loan shark or Russian fraudster.
Whilst FA Cup final appearances are now but a distant memory, the future appears bright for Portsmouth. Fans can now finally cancel their subscriptions to Private Eye and the Financial Times, and instead read their local Sports Mail as Pompey begin their ascent back up the Football League. No longer will Portsmouth be a byword for financial profligacy – instead, Portsmouth shall begin to embody unity, passion, stability, and most of all, community.
And Mr Gold cannot argue with the nature of that beast.
By Mark Thompson - Portsmouth fan - @