Pompey crimes

Rob Parrish looks at where it all went wrong for Portsmouth and what lessons can be learned from their demise.

Portsmouth: Shambolic season

In the short space of 21 months, Portsmouth have gone from FA Cup winners to the first Premier League side to plunge into administration, with relegation to the Championship expected to follow long before the season ends.

Pompey's inevitable step to stave off the very realistic threat of going out of existence, with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs waiting in the wings with a High Court winding-up order amid reported debts of £70million and rising, was confirmed on Friday morning at 10.20am.

The move follows a shambolic season for the South Coast outfit, who have seen four owners take the helm at Fratton Park, each appearing more unwilling and unable than the previous incumbent to stop the club's accounts from haemorrhaging money.

Even at the moment Harry Redknapp and his expensively-assembled squad held aloft the famous trophy to the jubilation of the Pompey faithful at Wembley on 17th May 2008, the club's financial footing was anything but secure and they were about to have the rug pulled from under them.

Owner Sacha Gaydamak, who took control from Milan Mandaric in 2006, funded the club with loans from his own fortune and with further financial assistance from the banks. Under his stewardship, Redknapp and chief executive Peter Storrie brought in a host of big-name players who received top-level wages with the majority arriving for significant transfer fees.

Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe, Lassana Diarra, Sulley Muntari, Glen Johnson, David James, Sol Campbell, Niko Kranjcar, Sylvain Distin, Younes Kaboul, John Utaka. Eleven names who would comprise a decent Premier League team, but nine have long-since departed as the fire-sale gathered pace.

Poison

Redknapp's exit for Tottenham in October 2008 was swiftly followed by an announcement from Gaydamak that he was looking to sell the club, with the global recession biting hard into his own pocket and increasingly nervous banks looking to recoup their loans. And so the downward spiral began.

What should concern football fans across the country is that the practice Portsmouth employed in chasing success is not uncommon elsewhere in football. Other teams, most notably Chelsea and Manchester City, are funded by the wealth of individual owners, while existing in astonishing debt with funds borrowed from the banks is Manchester United's poison of choice. Even as Pompey's finances imploded, Arsenal were announcing 'positive' half-year results which saw their net debts reduced to a still mind-boggling £203.6million. That should make us all feel a little bit better about our own credit card bills.

Glance a little further down in English football and further examples of teams who wanted to 'Live the dream' only to awake in a cold sweat amid the nightmare of winding-up orders, administration, CVAs, points deductions and relegation include Leeds United, Southampton and Bradford City. All former Premier League clubs. All still paying for the excess and indulgence of the past.

Sulaiman al-Fahim, Ali al-Faraj and Balram Chainrai were the next trio to assume control at Fratton Park. The first bought the club from Gaydamak for £1 in the summer and promised transfer funds only to sell after 43 days, unable to find further investment. The second never set foot inside Fratton Park and the third only seized power in an attempt to protect the loan he had offered to his predecessor.

All three passed the Premier League's much-derided 'Fit and Proper Persons' test. But so did former Manchester City supremo Thaksin Shinawatra, a man facing accusations of corruption and abuse of power in his native Thailand. The Premier League's reputation has undoubtedly been tarnished by the sorry Pompey affair, with chief executive Richard Scudamore's recent claims of 'eternal optimism' now sounding increasingly hollow.

Ushered away

The Premier League, whose Board will dish out a mandatory nine-point penalty that will leave Pompey virtual certainties for relegation to the Championship, must now ensure the club are at least able to fulfil their remaining fixtures for the season before being ushered swiftly away from the velvet-roped VIP area of England's elite.

One constant presence at Fratton Park who basked in the glory of their success and is now being blamed for their plunge into the depths of despair is chief executive Storrie, who swiftly followed confirmation of the club entering administration with the announcement that he would be stepping down once a new owner is in place.

The vilification, personal abuse and threats levelled at Storrie by sections of Pompey's support, which played a significant part in his decision to walk away from the club after eight years, cannot be condoned. But his protestations that he was simply following the orders of the various owners he has worked under would make Pontius Pilate blush.

Portsmouth's plummet towards oblivion after 112 years as a professional entity cannot be attributed to any single individual; it is more a sorry saga of a wide-ranging collective failing with far too many people preferring to look the other way as debts spiralled beyond the point of no return.

It is not a new problem for football, and Portsmouth will not be the last to enter administration, but the time has surely come for clubs to stop living beyond their means to protect the integrity of the game in this country.