The gap between the haves and have nots in football is continuing to widen.
As Manchester City prepare to spend £1.5 million on facial recognition software at the Etihad Stadium, Bolton and Bury have already been deducted 12 points this season for entering administration (Bolton entered administration over a £1.2 million tax debt); players and other staff left unpaid with no clear solution in sight at either club.
At the time of writing, Bury are two weeks away from being kicked out of the football league altogether. Coventry City are not even playing at their own stadium this season.
More money than ever is available at the highest level of English football. Lucrative TV deals are still increasing in 2019, creating an all or nothing environment for football ownership.
For many fans and ownership groups, aggressive investment and picking a demanding management group is the only way for their football club to be competitive and reach the promised land of the Premier League.
This is an ethos of reckless ambition; spend now and get their club to as high a position as possible while the TV money is still high. Inevitably, reckless ambition will lead to financial problems at football clubs, either by clubs overreaching themselves to succeed, or by crooked owners getting past the “fit and proper person test” and asset stripping football clubs.
In this environment of modern football, where gambling is seen as ambitious, Our Club is a relevant and poignant reminder to football fans and owners alike.
Clubs can be successful by being sustainable. There are alternative ways of running football clubs. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
Barnaby Fox’s Our Club perfectly encapsulates the rise, fall and rebirth of Portsmouth FC.
From the height of the FA cup win and home game against AC Milan to a myriad of crooked owners close to bringing the club into liquidation, Our Club takes an emotional and informative approach to covering Portsmouth’s financial turmoil and the process of becoming the largest fan-owned football club in the UK.
Old information is recounted and new details are brought to light in a clear and comprehensible fashion. To this day, I still struggle to explain the myriad of owners and financial complications which plagued Pompey as I was growing up.
Our Club highlights this period in remarkable detail former owner Sulaiman Al Fahim buying Portsmouth with money he had stolen from his wife, to Vladimir Antonov buying Portsmouth whilst being under investigation for asset stripping a Lithuanian bank.
The timelines and visuals in this film further emphasise the extent to which Portsmouth was literally minutes away from liquidation at the lowest of the low times.
Interviews throughout the film fully explain the emotional impact the financial crisis had on the employees, fans and Portsmouth Supporters Trust (PST) members.
Even controversial figures such as Balram Chanrai and Trevor Birch were interviewed, giving their own insight on the situation and the credibility of the PST bid.
Both individuals thought the PST could not succeed. Chanrai, the unwilling owner of Portsmouth who put the club into administration in 2010 and 2012 – as he was trying to recoup £17m in losses – is shown to cast doubt on PST’s bid. Several times, the wealthier benefactors of the trust had to give Trevor Birch money to cover administration fees and players wages.
Those doubters were proved wrong and the determination from all the Pompey fans interviewed to make the PST bid a success was clear for all to see. Against all the odds, the Pompey Supporters Trust succeeded.
Fans can run football clubs viably at a certain level. If the “fit and proper person” test continues to allow unfit individuals to buy clubs and spend beyond their means, then why not encourage fan ownership.
Exeter City and Wycombe Wanderers are both stable football league clubs and are run by their respective supporters trusts.
Our Club tells that gripping story with all the ups and downs, showing the rights and wrongs of English football.
This is more than just a football film. For Pompey fans, this is a must see as the club is a pillar of the community and not just a football club.
Our Club is a reminder that anything can be achieved with the right mindset and willingness to give it everything. As Portsmouth FC’s Colin Farmery puts it:
“Don’t let anybody ever tell you that something is impossible. The bottom line is, if you have drive, enthusiasm, talent, a belief in what your doing and incurable optimism, there is nothing that can’t be done.”