Relegation Week: Portsmouth fight for two kinds of survival
It is only a few weeks since Portsmouth were scooting along quite happily in lower mid-table. Then administration struck – again – and the club now fights for survival on two fronts. Oli Igoe from Pompey blog When Sol Went Up speaks to Joe Harrison about the task ahead.
At times in recent weeks, matches seem to have been the least of Portsmouth’s problems. However, even without the 10 point deduction, Pompey would be battling the drop. Are off-field issues the only reason for their struggles this season?
Well, yes. Before the ten-point deduction we were in lower mid-table obscurity. A starting eleven including the promising Jason Pearce; the Premier League experience of Halford; former Chelsea defender Tal Ben Haim; former Spurs defender Ricardo Rocha; and so on throughout meant the team should have been upper mid-table. A larger squad, a couple of loan additions and we could have challenged for the play-offs.
However, since the latest administration and the ten point deduction we have lost the spine of our team. Player of the Season candidate goalkeeper Henderson to West Ham, our main creative threats of Liam Lawrence and Norwegian international Erik Huseklepp and most recently midfield everpresent Hayden Mullins have all gone. Any team which lost four of its first team starters would struggle, not to mention the surrounding uncertainty and the second smallest squad of the 92 clubs in the Football League.
I know a lot of people think we deserve this, but I would argue that there are a lot of clubs living beyond their means, supported by wealthy benefactor. We enjoyed the good times, but have been very unlucky with the run of our last five owners.
Michael Appleton was appointed manager when Steve Cotterill departed for Forest in November, does he take any of the blame for Portsmouth’s poor performances? Or is he simply making the best of a bad job?
As always, if a team is not playing well some people will look at the manager, but I think this would be hugely unfair. Appleton took on a struggling team as a rookie manager and I think he is done superbly: under ridiculous circumstances, he has worked hard to secure loans and the players who remain seem to like him. He has every right to gripe in the media but he has stayed stoically focused on the task in hand; the vast majority of fans appreciate this and are fully supportive. I hope a new owner takes over and backs him – if not he will go on to another club and I would back him for success.
Pompey certainly seem to be cut adrift at the bottom at the moment, though a run of form could bring them back into contention. Is there any chance of this happening?
I still think there is a chance because, basically, we have the easiest run-in. We have six of our 10 games at home and we have to play four of the five teams that occupy the bottom six with us. We still have to play Southampton away, a really difficult fixture no doubt, but a derby game is a bit of a leveller.
Finally, it would be churlish not address off-field issues. Portsmouth have, of course, been close to the brink on a number of occasions in recent years — do you think the club will eventually be saved again, or could relegation be the final nail in the coffin?
Relegation is pretty much irrelevant I think. The club are in so much financial trouble the difference between Championship and League One income wouldn’t scratch the surface. We are shedding our wage bill which is the right thing to do to keep the club afloat, but we need a knight in shining armour. There are none on the horizon. Why would you take the club on if you weren’t a fan? You can take on another club with less debt: let’s not kid ourselves that Pompey are that much of a better team, with better history or better fans than another 20 clubs in the league who have less debt.
The only person who might take the club on is our biggest creditor Balou Chainrai. The club owe him £17m and he has said he will keep the club afloat until someone can buy the club and repay his debt. But this would have the club staying alive on life support with no investment and no future.
There are some fans who prefer the idea of ‘Plan B’. That is doing an AFC Wimbledon/FC United. Folding the club and starting again in the non-league. The argument for this is this is the only way to distance ourselves from the stain of the last 5 years of financial mismanagement. The fans can restart the club, we can write into its ‘constitution’ checks and balances to make sure this never happens again. There is also a belief that football is a luxury that rich owners and fans alike cannot afford in this time of austerity – other clubs will fold and it would be advantageous to be one of the first clubs to reform.
Of course the negatives are as strong. There is no guarantee the club would zip through the leagues. The practicalities are complex, where would the club play? What would the club be called? That’s before considering the administrative complications and the fact that the fans would have to agree on what model to follow. But there is a more fundamental question, fans follow their clubs through thick and thin, Pompey had the thick during the FA cup winners era, we need to endure this thin, until we have no choice, then we will start again.