Opinion: Portsmouth’s accounts prove the Eisners pragmatic approach pays dividends

By Frankie Rudland

In recent history, the annual publishing of accounts has often felt like a ‘look away’ moment for those on the South Coast. But why should it?

Thanks to the incredible work started by the PST, the club has been debt free since 2014, often generating a small, yet respectable profit.

However, the remaining scars from seasons of mismanagement at the hands of countless crooked owners still made it hard to take joy from anything within the financial realm.

Consequently, when the PST voted to entrust the stewardship of the club to the Tornante Group, this understandable mistrust was again very much apparent within some facets of the Pompey fanbase – leaving the newly instated owners with a big point to prove.

Under the leadership of the Eisners and Mark Catlin, Pompey have started to implement their ‘brick by brick’ strategy – beginning with opening of a new club shop, securing a lucrative kit sponsor with Nike and investing their promised £10m to help improve the wilting Fratton Park and the training centre alike.

Subsequently, last years’ accounts (ending June 2018) alluded to the early signs of positive foundations being built.

Ticket sales, hospitality income and broadcasting income all increased, helping boost the annual turnover by well clear of £1m, and despite still posting an overall loss of £1,368,000, tangible steps were made to ensure Pompey’s status as a sustainable club. So where are we a year on?

Turnover

In short, an incredibly healthy place. In the accounts posted for the financial year ending June 2019, the rise of the Blues’ annual turnover proved perpetual.

Increased ticket sales, sponsorship deals and income from runs in both the EFL Trophy and the FA Cup were the key contributors to ensuring a £2,686,340 gain from the previous year.

Additionally, the departures of both Conor Chaplin to Coventry and Matt Clarke to Derby helped secure a further £3,333,567 of profit on player sales.

In this same period, just £940,000 was spent on new arrivals, with Ronan Curtis, Ellis Harrison, Andy Cannon and Bryn Morris all stepping through the doors of Fratton Park.

After all outgoing payments were made, including taxation and the depreciation of Fratton Park, Portsmouth netted a total profit on £2m.

Investment

This leaves Portsmouth with £6m of deferred investment to draw on over the next few years as they see fit. Given that Portsmouth are nearly half-way through their promised chest, it is certainly encouraging to see that the club are already posting a profit.

Whilst many fans will see the profit made as merely a reimbursement to the Eisners original injection, it is important to remember that the amount of cash sat in the club’s account has increased substantially, as has the wage bill which has seen a rise of around £1.2m.

Impact of coronavirus

When you compare the Blues’ situation to their League One peers, you would be forgiven for feeling slightly smug. Fleetwood have led the way for a move many other Football League clubs will have to make in deferring wages of their most senior players.

As calculated by Kieran Maguire (Price of Football) on Twitter, the Fishermen were shelling out £107 on wages for every £100 of income in 2018, and with gate receipts now essentially void their safety as a club is now very much under threat.

Sadly, this will not be an isolated incident. Fleetwood Town’s owner, Andy Pilley, has given the grim prediction that as many as ten Football League clubs could go under due to the ongoing pandemic unless significant changes are made to make English football more sustainable during this period.

Whilst still under threat, Pompey entered this pandemic with just short of £4m in the bank and have not requested that players defer the proposed 25% of their April wage packet.

For further reassurance, the club have displayed a touch of class by guaranteeing all of their casual staff that they will receive pay until the end of the season regardless of whether fans are allowed back through the turnstiles.

With the short-term futures of staff somewhat secured, the expiration of eight first team players contracts remains the elephant in the room. Christian Burgess, Lee Brown, Oli Hawkins, and Brett Pitman are among those that are set to see their current deals run out this summer.

Burgess had previously been offered fresh terms, but Jackett has since revealed that all talks have been shelved for the foreseeable future, with nothing short of a mystic ball required to predict what position the club will find itself in after the pandemic.

Elsewhere, there has been varying movement on development operations. In early April, the Blues announced that essential construction had started on the North Stand roof which was originally due to take place in the summer, with Portsmouth seemingly making the most of the down time lockdown provides.

It represents a calculated gamble which relies on the assumption that social distancing will keep crowds away from Fratton Park for at least fourteen weeks. Whilst plans remained in place for the North stand, Jackett admitted that the club’s effort to set up a reserve side have been put on ice.

Pompey had been due to construct an unorthodox second team which would have allowed fringe players and youngsters to stake a claim for a regular first team spot.

However, fans will have to wait a little longer for this much-coveted addition as the club seeks to trim any unnecessary expenditure in uncertain times.

Takeaway

To use the classic simile, the Eisners have been like marmite since they arrived in Portsmouth. Some love them, and some love to hate them. Their pragmatic approach has often been billed as a lack of ambition by those who have yearned for faster progression.

But when you examine the progress made as a club, their stewardship alongside the magnificent Catlin has been near faultless.

Their influence has undoubtedly attracted high-value sponsorship and increased commercial success which has been essential in boosting the budget for this seasons’ playing squad.

Moreover, whilst unprecedented, this pandemic has done nothing but validate their stance in running a self-sufficient football club that is built to withstand the financial tests of modern football.

Whilst every fan feels the same frustration when you read that a star player has slipped through the net and signed for a rival, I feel the accounts stand as a stark reminder that we owe those at the top some faith in making the right call for the health of the football club.

The future of football can no longer be to rely on one extremely wealthy owner to keep blindly signing cheques. The Ellis Short’s of the footballing world serve as recent reminders that this model is nor sustainable or safe.

In my opinion, a football club that is making profit is not the sign of blood sucking owners, rather a refreshing change after a lifetime of mismanagement.

Main Photo: LosingMySightUK

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