Not so long ago, Portsmouth would have been gearing themselves up for another season in The Premiership and a campaign in the UEFA Cup courtesy of their FA Cup win over Cardiff. A wealthy owner, Harry Redknapp in charge and a fine array of talented players meant that the future was looking bright for Portsmouth. But just four years on, they begin the 2012/13 season in League One with crippling finances and without any contracted players.
For Portsmouth fans it must seem a life time ago that Kanu scrambled home to hand Pompey the FA Cup and European football. With the likes of Sulley Muntari, Lassana Diarra and a host of other international footballers on show, it was no surprise that people expected Portsmouth to sore. Harry Redknapp continued to build a top quality side and added more class with the likes of Peter Crouch ready for the new season. But just months into the campaign, Redknapp, the architect of Portsmouth’s success, took charge of Tottenham and left assistant Tony Adams to lead his team. Despite a historic 2-2 draw against Italian giants AC Milan, Adam’s did not do enough to keep his job as boss. Youth Coach Paul Hart took over for the rest of the season and kept Portsmouth up, but news started to filter out that there was a lot of cause for concern behind the scenes.
Paul Hart was rewarded for keeping Portsmouth afloat by putting pen to paper on a two year deal. As the stories of financial problems grew, Hart had to cope with the loss of a lot of first team players including Glen Johnson, Peter Crouch and Niko Kranjcar. But stability looked to be on the cards as Portsmouth accepted a takeover bid by Al Fahim with the hope that he could pay off the debts. Even though Pompey had a late flurry of transfers, they struggled through the start of the season and soon people behind the club admitted that some members of staff and players were not being paid because the money had already dried up.
Just three months in and Portsmouth were taken over for the second time in three months by Ali al-Faraj. He claimed that he could not only clear Portsmouth’s debts but also take them forward. On the pitch, Paul Hart was dismissed and Avram Grant took over to try and turn Pompey’s season around. This seemed to work and Grant’s team started to pick up points. Despite the positives on the field, there were plenty of negatives off it. It was confirmed that the players and staff were not paid again and soon after HM Revenues and Customs filed a winding up order against the club. This was later dropped, but it resulted in entering administration and a nine point penalty. This was enough to end Pompey’s stay in the top flight and although they managed to reach the FA Cup final again it was not their day as Chelsea triumphed.
Balram Chainrai completed his take over in August 2010 ready for the new Championship season. He did admit that Portsmouth had to enter administration to save them from being liquidated stating that there could be debts of up to £135 million. The task became more difficult as Avram Grant left Portsmouth to eventually join West Ham. Steve Cotterill took the reigns as Portsmouth looked to try and force their way into the promotion picture and go back up to the Premier League.
A poor start left Pompey rooted to the bottom of the table but they soon started picking up points, thus forcing their way up the table. But when everything seemed to be going well another stumbling block was heading Portsmouth’s way. It was soon announced that midfielders Richard Hughes and Michael Brown could no longer play for the club as if they made one more appearance it would trigger a clause in their contract stating they would receive more lucrative deals and the club could not afford the proposed deals. With Cotterill having to deal with the loss of two key players, Portsmouth’s hopes of the play-offs were dashed after an 8 game winless streak and ended up finishing the season in 16th.
In June 2011, Vladimir Antonov completed his takeover of the club. The Russian Businessman started to give fans hope after he enabled Portsmouth to make their first money signings since January 2010. But if constant changes in the boardroom were unsettling, on the pitch must have been a nightmare. Just months into the new season, Steve Cotterill had left for Nottingham Forest leaving Stuart Gray and Peter Whittingham as temporary managers. West Brom first team coach, Michael Appleton, was appointed manager and he was Portsmouth 6th manager since Harry Redknapp left at the end of 2008.
Things were looking up. A stronger squad, a new manager and a new owner with money meant that there was cautious optimism for the Portsmouth faithful. This didn’t help on the pitch as Pompey still struggled achieve consistent results and they found themselves at the wrong end of the table. Then just as people started to relax, a Europe wide arrest warrant was issued for the new Portsmouth owner. It was claimed that Antonov had been involved in asset stripping and other financial issues. He was arrested in London and soon resigned as chairman and left Portsmouth in all sorts of financial difficulties once again.
In January 2012 Portsmouth were handed another winding up order. With the case to be heard in February, the club had no choice but to go back into administration for the second time in two years. This resulted in a ten point deduction and put Pompey in all sorts of trouble on the pitch as well. New administrator Trevor Birch had no good news for the fans stating that the finances were in a hopeless position and felt that Pompey would struggle to make it to the end of the season. The manager and players tried to ignore the press and speculation over their own futures, but in April Portsmouth were relegated to League One for the first time in 30 years.
Life in League One began with a simple but worrying message. If all of the first team squad did not leave Pompey by the 10th of August 2012, the club would be liquidated. If that wasn’t bad enough, if Pompey did survive, they would begin life in League One with another ten point deduction after they exited administration. On the 9th of August, Liam Lawrence was the last player to leave the club and this meant Portsmouth could leave administration and start to build a squad for the new season.
But soon enough drama struck Fratton Park again as Balram Chainrai removed his offer to save the club. He stated that the lack of support from the football league, the fans and the manager meant that he no longer had to ambition to save the club. For a short period this left the Portsmouth Supporters Trust as the only bidders for the club, since then though Mr Chanrai has once again renewed his interest in a possible takeover.
Most Portsmouth supporters will be hoping for a relatively quiet season. Rebuild the squad, secure the finances and try and gain some stability. The rollercoaster ride of the past few seasons has shown people the danger of putting a football club into the hands of people that don’t really know what they are doing. Whatever may happen in the future, you can guarantee that it is going to be eventful. This story is not quite over yet, not by a long shot.