I've been supporting Portsmouth Football Club for more years that I care to admit. It has, by and large, been an unrewarding experience. A few promotions, a cup win and then a calamitous run of owners which resulted in the club almost disappearing from the league.
Then, a small miracle; the fans bought the club. The football remained atrocious but it was ours. Miraculously, that's how it seemed the club won the bottom division with almost the last kick of the season. A real moment. Our club; our victory. But no more. The shareholders decided to sell to an American business, one Michael Eisner who used to run Disney. Cue Mickey Mouse club jokes.
It's a sad moment. This is what I wrote at the time.
In The Pilgrim’s Progress, Jn Bunyan gives his hero a choice. Follow the blandishments of Mr Worldly Wisemen and take the easy way to salvation or take a harder path to the Celestial City.
Or as Grandmother Willow said in the Disney classic Pocahontas"Sometimes the right path is not the easiest one.”
This is the dilemma facing the supporters of Portsmouth FC. A new wannabe owner is standing at the crossroads and saying: ‘Come with me.’
The temptation set out in the Supporter’s Trust info pack is that ‘one hundred per cent ownership is more likely to lead to a faster progression through the leagues - even to the Premier League.’ Ah, the Premier League, the celestial city of 21st century football.
Maybe. We know something about 100 per cent ownership in Portsmouth. Since 1959 when the club was first relegated that model has resulted in PFC spending a mere 7 to 8 years in the top division. 100 per cent ownership as typified by a series of incompetents, crooks and clever businessmen has guaranteed nothing. In fact, it is the cause of our present financial difficulties and has - happily - resulted in the club being bought and owned by the supporters.
So what’s on offer here from Mr Worldly Wisemen aka Michael Eisner late of Disney?
No place for shareholders on the board. No place for shareholders at all except on a Heritage panel which can make three decisions - the club’s colours, its name, and an odd pledge not to move the stadium more than 15 miles from Portsmouth. The latter is a clear indication that a move is afoot. The design of the crest cannot be protected which, frankly, shows a huge misunderstanding of what these emotive symbols mean to a club. I’ll forbear from suggesting Minnie Mouse swinging from a crescent moon as an alternative.
The offer of forums to discuss club matters is very nice but meaningless. It’s a sop. If you own a club, you own a club and no amount of bleating by the fans will change your plans.
The money. Here’s the rub. The offer to buy our shares for £5 million and promise to invest £10 million - in an unspecified way - is not impressive. In fact, it’s a knock down bargain and if accepted does little to advance the cause.
We know it’s the albatross left us by previous ‘caring’ owners. It seems we could truck along with current funding but on Page 19 of the statement it says ‘it costs £50 million to build a brand new stadium but there is no commitment by Tornante to carry out this work.’ Nor is it clear whether they want to separate stadium from the company. Haven’t we been there before? We have; a fate narrowly avoided when the fans took the club over.
The statement also admits the actual requirements and the costings of stadium have yet to be finalised. Do we have to build a new stadium in one go? Can we repair, fix and improve as we go along? Build a new Milton End and work our way referring the North /South stand. In our First Division season of ’87-’88 home crowds rose above 20,000 only three times - we are not a ‘massive’ club we can afford to take time, stay solvent.
The report also makes it clear that plans are in place to see what the costs are and how they could be covered. Perhaps we need the detail on that before we vote.
In all this there is an assumption that we could never be an elite club without big investment. Well, see above, we have not been an elite club since the early Fifties. It also makes the point that many clubs in the Championship have debts over £50 million and we know most clubs run a horrendous rates of leverage. Is that what we want? Really? One puff of a wind - maybe a global economic crisis - and would Mr E bail us out like say, Mr Gaydamak, who owned the club when it won the FA Cup (hurrah) but, it transpired, had no actual money (not so good)?
The assumption is that a wealthy new owner will spur the club through the leagues. Older (much older) fans will be aware of huge investment in players in the 70s. It came to nothing. Younger fans will remember the cynical way one Milan Mandaric bought the club for a knock down price and sold it some years later for ten times the amount without making any serious investment. Then we had the chimera that was Gaydamak.
If our model can get us to the Championship in a few years - boosted by share issues, crowdfunding, bond issues, dynamic marketing - then I’ll be content. After all, PFC is the very epitome of the second division side, always has been. Above all, we have to ask why. Why does he want to buy the club? He wanted to buy Reading. Which other clubs?
We know what’s in it for us - what’s in it for him?
The fans, particularly the shareholders have taken the pilgrim’s straight and narrow path and are in this for the long run. I doubt Mr E is - that’s just not the way it works in today’s football.
I don’t want to sound too corny but what the club has now is a sense of integrity, decency and community. We won’t be citing image rights over the crest design.
It’s ours. Don’t let it be his.