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Pompey Celebrate Community Ownership 10 Years On

A look back to when a city came together to save its football club

22 April 2023

Club News

Pompey Celebrate Community Ownership 10 Years On

A look back to when a city came together to save its football club

22 April 2023

Colin Farmery, chair of the Pompey 125 steering committee and PR & comms officer for the community bid, recalls how a city came together to save its football club

In April 2013, Portsmouth FC became the largest community-owned football club in England after a protracted takeover bid lasting the best part of 12 months.

As part of the 125th anniversary celebrations, we today pay tribute to the people who made community ownership happen and, more to the point, ensured it was a success.

In the boardroom we are hosting Ashley Brown, then chair of the Pompey Supporters’ Trust, Mark Trapani, then PST board member, and Iain McInnes, a club president and future chairman. Sadly, Mick Williams, both a president and PST board member, is not well enough to attend.

Those four led the community bid to buy the club. The PST raised around £2 million through a community share ownership scheme – individuals or syndicates of fans paying £1,000 each for a share – and a similar amount was raised through the presidents scheme, initially involving 11 individuals.

While sceptical, the club’s administrator Trevor Birch, who is also here today, was at least prepared to listen as the quartet set about trying to put together a deal to buy the club.

The scepticism was understandable. Since 2009, Pompey, weighed down by tens, if not hundreds of millions of pounds, had twice gone into administration. It was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and a charge of £17.4 million on the club by erstwhile owners Portpin seemed an insurmountable barrier.

No club the size of Pompey had managed to remotely come into the scope of a fan-led takeover. It seemed an impossible dream.

So, how did we get to this point?

The roots of community ownership of Pompey are deep. Not long after Milan Mandarić had finally sold the club to Sacha Gaydamak in October 2006, I was running a successful supporter website and message board.

In today’s language, the profile I then had made me what might be called an ‘influencer’ and I was invited to a couple of club-organised meetings – along with fellow fan influencers – to hear Gaydamak and then CEO Peter Storrie’s ambitions.

At the second of these, in August 2007, I caused a bit of consternation on all sides by asking how the club would ‘avoid doing a Leeds’ – a reference to the financial collapse of the Yorkshire side after they had gambled on delivering Champions League success in the early 2000s.

My scepticism had been reinforced by Pompey Independent Supporters’ Association (PISA) member Barry Dewing, who took every opportunity he could to lobby me, and others, including Ashley, for fans to set up a Supporters’ Trust to protect fan interests. How right he was.

When Pompey won the FA Cup in May 2008, however, any cynicism was on the backburner. But by the time AC Milan came to town six months later, what would prove to be a runaway train to total meltdown was already rolling.

Gaydamak had pulled the financial plug overnight in October 2008 and over the next four years, the club passed through a number of owners, none of whom, it can be safely said, had Pompey’s interests first and foremost in their minds.

Fan protests, led by SOS Pompey, kept the pressure on in 2009 and early 2010. The Premier League was lobbied and the scale of the issues tacitly admitted.

Barry’s wish for a trust to be formed was granted in December 2009, as the club lurched towards its first administration and a nine-point deduction, which effectively guaranteed relegation from the Premier League.

The PST was born and, while not able to unduly influence events in that first administration, the seeds of salvation had been sown.

Two years on, administration beckoned once more as by-now owner Vladimir Antonov grappled with extradition proceedings on embezzlement charges relating to his Lithuanian bank.

Relegation to League One in April 2012 was the inevitable consequence, but with Ashley now the chair of the PST and Trevor installed as administrator by a High Court judge in preference to Andrew Andronikou, the stars were aligning.

With the backing of the PST board, in the summer of 2012 Ashley met Iain – a self-made local businessman and Pompey fan – and the community bid, bringing the presidents on board, was born. The guidance of Supporters Direct, and James Mathie in particular, would be crucial to constructing a deal.

In the nine months which followed an extraordinary story unfolded. If I try to namecheck individuals, I will inevitably leave someone out, so I won’t.

Indeed, this was a cast of thousands. Perhaps you threw a pound in a bucket or as a president, underwrote the day-to-day running costs with no prospect of getting your money back if the club failed or was sold from underneath you.

Or maybe you were in the blogging team – and nearly ended up sued for your troubles – to expose what was going on. Others planned for the worst-case. Plan B. A phoenix club. Hard graft, you hoped would never be needed.

Portpin, with an understandable desire to protect what it saw as its £17.4 million, fought a rear-guard action. In January 2013, the community bid looked doomed as an unwanted rival bid came in, only for The Football League to throw it out. It was now community ownership or bust.

On April 10 in 2013, with a High Court judge deliberating on whether the administrator had the power to sell the club to the community bid, a deal was done behind closed doors. An honourable end to a dishonourable chapter in Pompey’s history.

Arguably the harder work – of nursing the shell of a hollowed-out football club back to health – was starting.

Just over four years later, on May 6 in 2017, with virtually the last act of community ownership other than to sell the club to Tornante on the fans’ instruction, Pompey were crowned champions of League Two on the final day of the season.

The impossible dream had come true. And Disney couldn’t have scripted it better…

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