Portsmouth are in serious peril of being relegated to England’s fourth division, but right now, their fans couldn’t be happier.
An agreement was today reached to sell the team’s Fratton Park home to the Pompey Supporters’ Trust, paving the way for the group of fans to complete a takeover of the stricken club. Portsmouth will become the biggest fan-owned club in English soccer. With dedicated, passionate supporters making the decisions, maybe they’ll even become a model club in the future, after spending the past couple of years in crisis.
As recently as 2009-10, Portsmouth were in their seventh successive Premier League season. They were relegated at the end of that campaign under Avram Grant’s management yet reached the FA Cup Final, losing 1-0 to Chelsea. They’d actually won the trophy in 2008, the year they finished an impressive eighth in the league, guided by Harry Redknapp.
But the club had spent beyond its means in its quest to be competitive and its largesse combined with an unstable ownership situation prompted financial collapse and repeated doubts about its ability to survive. In 2010, Portsmouth became the first Premier League club to enter administration (a form of bankruptcy protection that can allow insolvent businesses to continue to trade). It was a rule-breaking move that saw the league dock them nine points, virtually ensuring their relegation.
More misery followed as the club was deducted another ten points in February, 2012, and duly relegated from the Championship to League One. Their first spell in the third-tier for three decades has been a struggle, and they are two points adrift of safety with three games to play. But more important than their league status, now they have a future.
“I think there will be clubs around the country that will look at what we have done and probably say ‘this is the way forward’,” said Mark Trapani, a Trust director. “For me this is a greater day than the day Portsmouth won the FA Cup in 2008. That was one day. This is the future. The fans should see it like that too.”
But as one club celebrated, another warned of imminent doom. The chairman of League One’s bottom team, Bury, warned that the club will fold unless it urgently finds $1.5 million in new investment.