A New Era, What An Opportunity

It hardly seems yesterday the unseen hand of the football Gods deigned to produce a miracle of May, allowing Pompey to snatch the League 2 title in the last half an hour of the season. Carlsberg don’t do title pursuits but if they did, this would surely have been it. 

But within four weeks, the club had parted company with manager Paul Cook, skipper Michael Doyle had left for Coventry on a free transfer and Kenny Jackett had been appointed the new boss. Oh. And the takeover of the club by one of the most celebrated business people in the US had been agreed in principle. Talk about the King is dead…

So what are we to expect from surely the club’s newest of new eras?

On the field Jackett has been the perfect model of unflappability, taking a sensible if-it-ain’t-broke approach to his squad building. Tareiq Holmes-Dennis, Luke McGhee and Nathan Thompson all have proven pedigree at League One level and will slot straight in.

New striker Brett Pitman, also named team captain, already has a talismanic-like aura. With the bulk of the team used to winning, and winning well, the portents look reasonable at least for Jackett’s squad to acquit themselves more than adequately at their new level.

Last season I predicted Cook’s Pompey cream would rise to the top. Will Pompey’s Jackett fit? I think it just might.

Off the field, fans will see some cosmetic changes, although there has been some vital and substantial less visible work done using the last £1m tranche of ‘Tesco’ money, negotiated during the community takeover four years ago. Fratton Park was literally falling down last spring. Now it is not.

That work, coupled with that undertaken in seasons gone by, plus the fantastic training ground facility at Hilsea are an admirable legacy from the erstwhile community owners – that’s to say fans, like you and me – to pass on.

The League 2 title was the icing on an already very appetising cake.

So what of the future under the family tutelage of Michael Eisner?

The portents look promising. Professionally I have already had dealings with companies within his Tornante group, notably to Topps trading card business. I have not been anything other than impressed.

Personally, the Eisner family members I have met, along with their entourage, have been witty, intelligent, knowledgeable and, most importantly of all, willing to listen and learn.

English professional football is a sharp learning curve on its own; adding the Portsmouth island mentality to the mix makes a tough task, trickier still.

Keeping the present management team intact – led by CEO Mark Catlin – is a smart move; a signal this is Operation Evolution, rather than revolution.

As such the Eisners should have more than enough goodwill in the bank thus far to comfortably survive, say, languishing in the lower reaches of league come December, should such an unfortunate event befall the team this season.

Fans should be aware though the Eisners’ is a long-term project, which will build on the fundamental prudence of community ownership. The club will continue to eat, as former Chairman Iain McInnes used to put it, what we kill.

The boom and bust of previous regimes has been buried by community ownership and remains six feet under.

That’s not to say the long-overdue infrastructure investment the club needs is not on the agenda however. It very much is.

14,500 season ticket holders shows both the potential for our fan-base and underlines the inadequacy of Fratton Park, for all its olde-worlde charm. A 19,000 capacity museum piece doth not a top-flight aspiring club make.

The Eisners’ due diligence recognises this – to Pompey fans at least – self-evident fact. The business case for any new facilities will have to be made of course, but the fans have already gone a long way to making it.

Coupled with their acknowledged media nous and flair, this promises to be an exciting time for ‘brand Pompey’, which I expect to be projected and protected with equal tenacity.

I love my club’s heritage as much as any fan and I am confident our history will evolve under the Eisners in a way we are all comfortable with.


Bob Beech with Michael Eisner and the Pompey Pals 2014/15 home shirt 

But we should not fear change.

After all, 110 years ago the club played in salmon pink shirts and in the mid-1940s the idea of Pompey sporting red socks had yet to be conceived.

My personal preference is for the simple star and crescent badge of my youth, but there are fans perhaps ten or so years younger than me, who swear equally by the rope, sword and anchor badge we used in the 1980s.

Neither of us is right, but we respectively illustrate that ‘tradition’ weaves itself into the fabric of a club over years; generally complementary but occasionally – white shirts with two blue stripes in the mid 1970s anyone? – controversially.

It will be the task of the Heritage Board to steer a steady course on matters such as these. I have every confidence it will.

Modern football often gets a bad press. Not from this quarter. It needs to be a sport relevant to the mid-21st century, not the 20th, if it is to survive and thrive.

Portsmouth Football Club will not be the club we know it can be by trading solely off its former glories.

So, welcome Michael Eisner. What a challenge you have for sure but, more significantly, what an opportunity.

Good luck and Play Up Pompey!

Colin Farmery is Head of Safeguarding & Inclusion at Portsmouth FC and handles the club’s PR. He is also Chair of the Pompey History Society.

Photos: Michael Eisner & PNN

One thought on “A New Era, What An Opportunity

  1. Good piece Colin. Certainly seems a solid guy, and that his family will be here for the long term to improve the academy and build slowly – which is the right way. My only nagging doubt is Eisner’s continual quotes about turing around failed businesses into profit by ‘brand’ changes, building on existing heritage. He even mentioned that he was looking for a club with an existing history & fanbase. In football this type of ‘turnaround’ is not really an option. Even if he improves our marketing & image by 20%, fans of other clubs aren’t going to become Pompey fans! Unfortunately, what this club needs is a new stadium – that is the only way he will significantly enhance the potential revenue for the club (and selling value for his family) – and that will require Mr Eisner raising approx £30-40 million pounds. Is he up for that? If not, we will probably bounce between Championship / League One for years to come


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