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From the Europa League to League Two: reporting on a club after financial meltdown

Thursday 17th April 2014
Portsmouth fan Alex Dodd speaks with journalist Jordon Cross from The News, Portsmouth's local newspaper about the ups and downs the club has endured in recent years.

Watching your beloved football club spiral into financial ruin and plummet down the football leagues is heartbreaking for any football fan, supporters of League Two stragglers Pompey know just this.

During their peak they danced the streets of Wembley after FA Cup glory in 2008, fast forward to 2014 and you will see a not so jubilant Pompey faithful travelling to the likes of Accrington Stanley. What an extreme difference six years makes.

The agonizing story of the supporters has been well documented in recent times, but what hasn't is how the cruel collapse of Portsmouth has affected local journalism on the south-coast.

Jordan Cross is a sports journalist who covers Portsmouth football club for the city's main newspaper, The News. He has been a sports reporter for the newspaper since 2001, and has reported on Pompey's old Division 1 triumph, multiple Premier League survivals, two FA Cup finals, financial meltdown and three relegations.

Jordan admits that despite himself and his colleagues working close to the club that no one could foresee just how dramatic the decline of the two-times FA Cup winner would be.

He said: “I don't think anyone could have anticipated the scale of the problems which hit Pompey. But I often used the phrase the club 'was built on sand' - which I often get reminded about. “There was no infrastructure in place. My view was if the Gaydamak family's millions or Harry Redknapp's expertise, with his regime being so autocratic, was taken the problems would start. That's how it panned out.”

Fortunately The News and the jobs of sports reporters at the paper were never directly affected by the possibility of Portsmouth going under, but needless to say there were many difficult circumstances that the reporters had to cover.

Said Jordan: “It didn't affect the newspaper directly, but reporting on the club's demise and, for example, seeing administrator Andew Andronikou (who was appointed by Balram Chainrai) arrive at the club in a Porsche and indifferently tell of 85 people losing their jobs was one of my most horrific days in journalism. People had their lives wrecked by the club's mismanagement.”

In the five years since the clubs' financial meltdown began they have gone through six managers, four owners and a considerable number of players. Situations like this can make it difficult for football club reporters to build and sustain good working relations with the club and the people within it. Unfortunately this situation is not exclusive to Portsmouth with clubs frequently changing managerial personnel at the slightest sign of trouble.

Jordan admitted this is the nature of modern football: “It can be a challenge building relationships when managers and players changing. You would indeed be constantly building trust with players and staff only for them to move.“That's the transient nature of football - but the Pompey 'basket case' was extreme even by the game's standards!

“Interestingly, after Milan Mandaric sold the club in 2006 I did not speak to a chairman/owner until Pompey Supporters' Trust took over in April and we interviewed Iain McInnes.”

In the glory days of Premier League, FA Cup and for a short time Europa League football the local journalists often found it difficult gaining access to players and managers for interviews. Players like Jermaine Defoe, David James and Sol Campbell came to Pompey with massive profiles and thus the club had a strict approach with the access they gave local reporters.

Jordan says that since the club has come down the footballing ladder their approach to access has become a lot more relaxed, but does admit that newspapers and clubs often have a fractious relationship and that even The News has been banned from interviewing players and attending games frequently down the years.

“If you do your job as a journalist you will inevitably upset football clubs from time to time - you aren't there to be their mouthpiece. In years gone by, as is the norm at higher levels of football, a 'director of media and communications' was employed at Pompey.

“People in these roles often act as 'gatekeepers' and can restrict the flow of information. Given the fact Pompey had a lot to hide that was the case here! Today, the relationship with the club and access is excellent with greater transparency.'

Pompey left the glitz and glamour of the Premier League behind and so did the journalists at The News. The allure of reporting in the highest level in English football is great; there were plenty of buzzes and frills of being at the top for Pompey's journalists. Travelling to big grounds like The Emirates Stadium, Old Trafford and Anfield and interviewing some of the greatest players in the world is what sets it apart from the lower divisions.

But Jordan Cross claims reporting in the EPL certainly had its cons: “Access is generally easier lower down. National press often find interviews harder to come by at higher levels and controlled by communication directors, which can lead to them becoming sanitised.

“I have access to every player, the manager, chairman and CEO at Pompey when I like. Having said that, the principles of football journalism remain the same at any level. This year has actually been an adventure going to new places like Accrington and AFC Wimbledon.”

The News played a huge role in the club's fight for survival and was at the forefront of the coverage all the way through the Pompey's final takeover saga. The newspaper and all its employees were very vocal in their backing for the Pompey Supporters Trust, and when the Football League effectively stated they were the only option to save the club from liquidation that stance was reinforced.
Alex Dodd
Second year Sports Journalism student at Staffs Uni, lover of all things football, cycling enthusiast, gadget hoarder, gym goer and terrible cook. Family originate from Manchester but grew up in Portsmouth, somehow got roped into supporting both, best of both worlds I guess.

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