Seller Beware

By Bob Beech

Nobody should be surprised that there is a potential buyer for Portsmouth Football Club. Not only have there been whispers doing the rounds of late, but under the stewardship of Mark Catlin, we’ve seen the club go from a toxic brand synonymous with everything that is wrong with modern football, to one of the very few professional clubs in the country making an operating profit.

I’ve seen, both on social media and in the local press those ready to give a resounding ‘yes’ to Michael Eisner, I find this bizarre, what are they saying yes to? The truth is none of us have any idea. Nobody yet knows the details of what may be on the table, no offer has even been made.

It’s like showing people around your house then telling the estate agent you’ll accept their offer before they’ve even shown their hand. You just wouldn’t do it and besides that is so far removed from the good business practices that have reigned in the offices in Frogmore Road these past couple of years.

Equally mind boggling are those who are saying No! Never! I can fully understand a deal of scepticism in fact I applaud it, I have long urged Pompey fans to ask why?

Anything going on at Pompey should be questioned whether it be kit deals, and don’t get me started on kit deals, to the rebranding of the club, all of it should be questioned we have witnessed first-hand what happens when supporters bury their collective heads in the sand.

This potential deal is no different. However, there is a school of thought that may be just may be this will turn out different.

When things started to go sour before Balram Chainrai placed the club in administration back in 2010, under the banner of SOS Pompey, myself and admittedly a small handful of others began to ask questions of those who seemed desperate to run the good ship Pompey onto the rocks. At that time, most our fellow supporters were angry – at us!

We received a great deal of online abuse – I recall one particular fan told us that we would be responsible for the collapse of the club by driving Portpin and their millions of pounds away. How did that work out? As the club lurched from one disaster to another it became a foregone conclusion that we’d be hauled before the beak and we took no delight in being right when we were.

At the same time, another group were forming the Pompey Supporters’ Trust – at that time none of us knew just how huge that would be and most of the original steering group go unrecognised by the majority of our supporters today, but just like that Stockport match plenty will tell you they were there when the PST was formed.

By the time Pompey had come out of administration, been ‘sold’ to the hapless CSI Group, and ran full speed back into the insolvency courts, both SOS and the PST were fully operational.  I had a foot in both camps having been asked to serve on the PST board but it became clear that a ‘good cop bad cop’ strategy was needed and I knew where my particular talents lay.

While the Trust, led brilliantly by Ashley Brown and with an equally good team of unsung heroes around him, spoke bargained and negotiated, all the while us at SOS took a rather more ‘direct’ approach.

One day perhaps the full story of that campaign will be written. For now though it’s hard for some involved, those who invested so much time and effort both to save the club and then make it the success story it is, just to sell it to the first punter who shows up.

For many ‘ours’ is more than a saying – it’s far more than a photograph of the Fratton End on that bright sunny afternoon.

For many ‘ours’ is part of their soul, they have invested far more that a one-thousand-pound share, they have spent more than money can buy and for them a true community club, something that is ingrained into the DNA of our city is something that they cannot give up easily if ever.

While it is understandable that some will feel it selfish that they think this way and that they are holding back the club, it was their actions that made it possible for us all to watch Pompey on a Saturday, therefore they have earned the right to have these feelings.

So, what does Mickey Mouse’s former boss have to do to win over fans?

Don’t be fooled by gimmicks, so the Americans sat in the stands against Grimsby it means nothing – Sulaiman Al Fahim once sat in the Fratton End. It was a matter of days later that he was unable to pay the wages and his short tenure was over before he’d unpacked.

On another occasion, I was fortunate to be invited to “meet the new owner of Pompey”. After being mauled by the group of fans it was quite clear this wannabe in a blue and white scarf was another in a series of tyre kickers and was never seen again after that Sunday afternoon in Farlington.

It would be unreasonable to expect Mr Eisner to lay out all his business plans in full for the world to see. He must however tell us where he sees the club. How he sees the club progressing, and most important of all how it will be paid for. There can be no loans leveraged onto the club we simply must not go back to robbing Peter to pay Paul. Will there still be room for the PST?

Personally, I would like to see a minimum of one PST board member retained as a director of the club along with another of the current board. However, I do not think it will be plain sailing for the takeover if nothing else the bad owners of the past have made many of us cynical and not easily swayed.

No matter what I would hate is for this debate to divide our fans. There will no doubt be a few angry words, mainly from behind a keyboard via Twitter no doubt, but it shouldn’t lead to division – we are all Pompey fans and we all want our team to succeed – perhaps we have different views of the best way to achieve that.

The vote, should it happen, will be made by the shareholders, there are many syndicate shares out there and every voice must be heard, and while we are at it, just because one fan has a share and another one hasn’t it doesn’t mean one is better than the other.

I know the PST has a ‘Fan of the Year’ trophy but I hate it. Ken Malley for whom the trophy is named was my friend, someone I liked immensely as did many others. Ken fought tirelessly for the rights of all fans. For me a fitting tribute to Ken is a club where supporters are treated with decency and respect at all times by all aspects of the club and its management. As far as I am concerned there is no such thing as a fan of the year, no matter how well meaning the award is. However, I digress if there is any message you can take from these ramblings is, agree to disagree, unless you’re in the Cook out faction obviously…

Of course if our club has ambitions, and what is the point of being in professional sport without them, then money will be needed – where will that come from without investment?

Many fans suffered ‘giving fatigue’ for a while we were seen as cash cows or so it appeared. Buy a share, buy a season ticket, don’t forget Tifosy. I’ve not fully forgiven the club or whoever it was running the Twitter feed during the Tifosy campaign that tweeted you were only a “real” fan if you donated. While the tweet was deleted and obviously not aimed at an individual it meant my club considered me not to be a real fan. It also meant later that day when I was cold called about buying the Pompey Lottery the caller was given short shrift.

Let’s be honest the club needs a cash injection from somewhere, Fratton Park is a money pit, yes, we love it but the place should have been bulldozed decades ago. How would we fund an overdue regeneration? A Blue Peter style thermometer on the side of the North Stand showing what we’ve raised with milk bottle tops simply won’t crack it sadly.

No, I’m afraid that nowadays just to stand still in football needs money and while I take no pleasure in saying it, chipping in here and there won’t take us forward but at the same time we should never sell our souls just to be runners up in the League Cup, like others seem happy to do.

I can see this argument from both sides, at least I am trying to. Should it come to it use your vote wisely – I do genuinely believe this is the last throw of the Pompey dice. If horrors of horrors this all goes wrong there would be no coming back. I do not believe there would be the appetite for another fan led buyout.

The flip side of course is this could be the one, the man to take Pompey to paradise (wherever paradise may be of course) – besides nothing else could go wrong, could it?

7 thoughts on “Seller Beware

  1. Of course we are going to need outside investment. PFC has a loyal but finite fanbase given our island location and I can’t see that we’d be competitive in the Championship with our current setup. What I don’t understand yet is what would be in it for Mr Eisner.
    He is clearly a man with vast wealth, experience and success. At a cursory glance a far more credible prospective owner than any who have previously approached the club.
    So why would he want to buy a team languishing in the lower leagues, with a dilapidated stadium and a reputation that has been dragged through the mud?
    There is no room for sentiment in business – ‘The Best Fans In The World’ and a neat survival story seems like far too simple a narrative here. I am going to remain politely suspicious until his motives become clear, but with an open and hopeful mind that he could be the Prince who comes to wake the Sleeping Beauty (yeah that was dreadful)


  2. Now a few words about this out of the blue news…

    Every fan should be on the fence at this point. As you and others have intimated, we need to see what his/their vision of Pompey is.

    I just hope that the negotiation team perform very detailed due diligence. While I don’t doubt they will have the best interests of Pompey’s future as the top priority, they need to be able to read him, look into his eyes to see if there are any flaws in what he says, If there are, then they need to push deeper.

    Quite simply, I it is probably outside of the fans’ hands if the 52% vote in favour of the Offer; there will be enough Pompey share holders who will go with the flow to make up the 23% required.


  3. What a great piece. I agree we need to get someone in with some money to move the club forward, looks like we have hit the jackpot


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