With a billionaire takeover knocking at the door and recent promotion to the English Football League’s third tier, Portsmouth have plummeted from the peak of the Premier League to League Two and are showing signs of a memorable revival.
It’s one of the sad stories of football. Financial troubles dragged the 2008 FA Cup champions through successive relegations and to the brink of semi-professional football, yet things are looking up for Portsmouth FC this season following their promotion to League One.
To appreciate the great decline and potential revival that is set to take place, you must understand the pillar that Pompey fell from only a short time ago.
Their trophy haul throughout the 20th century was unspectacular but better than some, a scattering of silverware in the 30’s and 40’s all that can be boasted. Towards the end of the century, however, was when the Blues started to make a mark on the footballing scene as one of the most adored clubs in the country.
Historical figures such as Terry Venables and Jim Smith took the helm in the 90’s, achieving respectable FA Cup runs and maintaining Premier League status in its baby years. Threats of administration tried to unsteady the ship but the Southsea side were resilient and in 2002 appointed the great, and at times controversial, Harry Redknapp to press on in the search of glory.
He gained instant promotion to the Premier League following a lapse the year before his arrival, guiding the club to mid table finishes for his first three years separated by a brief spell at Southampton, Portsmouth’s bitter rivals.
A succession of strong finishes saw Portsmouth miss out on the then named UEFA Cup by two points in the 2006-07 season, the same campaign which saw Bolton achieve European qualification and Manchester City in a relegation scrap – oh how times have changed.
Early 2006 saw French/Israeli tycoon Alexandre Gaydamak purchase the club for around £2.5 million, bringing large funds to the club and securing players such as Lassana Diarra (former Real Madrid star), Peter Crouch (club record signing at £11 million) and Jermain Defoe (age-defying talisman) during his tenure.
Then came the historic moment, an FA Cup final. Played against Cardiff in the 2007-08 season, Portsmouth swatted the dragons aside aided as former Arsenal ace Nwankwo Kanu bagged the only goal of the match, earning Portsmouth their first major domestic trophy since 1950.
The club had unmeasurable ambitions and elation following this, and qualification to the 2008-09 UEFA Cup tournament added further fuel to their aspirational fire. A roasting of Vitoria de Guimaraes in the qualifying rounds saw Portsmouth line up next to the likes of AC Milan and Wolfsburg in the group stages, yet, it wasn’t to be.
Financial troubles arrived in full force, several key players had to be sold by the club due to expensive wage bills and that fateful word ‘administration’ hung over them like a sword on string.
Out in the fourth round of the FA Cup, UEFA Cup group stages and a mediocre 14th placed finish in the league saw optimistic businessman Sulaiman Al Fahim eye up a takeover. Despite rival interest from Al Fahim’s sworn enemy, Ali al-Faraj, he successfully purchased the club at the beginning of the 2009-10 season.
A change in personnel doesn’t always guarantee a change in fortune, though. The following season went from bad to worse; players weren’t being paid, redundancies became the norm and Al Fahim conceded the club’s troubles were beyond him. Ali al-Faraj, once a foe, came to the aid of Al Fahim and acquired 90% of the club for a budget price in an attempt to revive the famous port city from relegation and administration.
But even the deep pockets of al-Faraj couldn’t save them, further unpaid wages ensued in addition to HMRC issuing a ‘winding up order’, and that blade hanging above their heads was finally dropped.
After the winding up order was dropped, Balram Chainrai rather blindly took control of the club from his Saudi Arabians predecessors and immediately filed for administration, as he, unbeknown to the rest of the world, wasn’t aware of the clubs £135 million debt at the time.
Points were deducted by the FA, inevitable as it’s the rules but at the time it rather felt like robbing a blind man of his clothes, and this all but secured Portsmouth’s relegation to the Championship where they sat for a few seasons. Further capitulation took place and administration hit again in 2012 which saw Pompey plummet a further two divisions in as many seasons and land in League Two, English Football League’s bottom tier.
After four dormant years of stagnation and sanguine, Portsmouth have this weekend seen themselves promoted to League One and the ambition to regain status amongst England’s top teams seems tangible.
Michael Eisner, billionaire and former director of Walt Disney, looks set to land his money laden hands on the club and propel them to back-to-back promotions.
He’s been interested in Portsmouth for some time. Once on the fringe of purchasing Jaap Stam’s adopted home Reading FC, Eisner now seems set to purchase Portsmouth after attending a dozen or so games already this season.
A recent statement by the club read: “Portsmouth Community Football Club would like to advise all shareholders and supporters that it has entered into an Exclusivity Agreement with Michael D. Eisner and his Tornante Group to allow for a period of discussions and negotiations to take place regarding a possible purchase of the club”.
This was around a month ago and several social media tweets by Eisner following this ominously said “promotion is the key” and other reports suggested he would “bring ‘top of the table’ Championship finances to the League Two club”.
With both comments taken into account and the fact Portsmouth recently secured promotion, the stage looks set to spark a remarkable recovery which may see Portsmouth, aided by substantial investment and supported by their infamous 12th man, reach the holy grail of the Premier League once again.