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The HORRIBLE, WONDERFUL Story of Portsmouth FC

5 minute read Published May 9, 2024

What a season it’s been for Portsmouth FC. The south coast club is celebrating its 125th anniversary and, after a decade toiling in League One and Two, was just promoted to the Championship, what a tribute to its history!

Of course, Pompey is no newcomer to the higher leagues. From 1948, the club spent 32 consecutive seasons in the top tier and in 2003, it re-emerged and spent another seven straight seasons there.

In 2006, the club was bought by Russian/Israeli Alexandre Gaydamak. In the first few seasons of his ownership results kept improving. Ninth in 2007, eighth in 2008 and an FA Cup win to boot. In the 2008/2009 season, they played in Europe. The club was flying high. A new stadium, The Portsmouth Dockland, was planned for the club with European ambitions. Everything was good. Until it wasn’t.

Problems for Gaydamak

In 2009, the cracks started showing. They’d spent so much to get where they were and now, it seemed, the money faucet had been turned off. They sold players worth 77 million pounds to cover the deficit in the summer but that wasn’t enough. Players weren’t getting paid, the tax authorities and customs were chasing them for unpaid taxes.

The man who’d come into the club with grand ambitions, Gaydamak was now seen in a different light. He was the son of a shady (to put it mildly) businessman, Arcadi. Arcadi had made his fortune in arms sales, the bad kind. The kind that went to groups with less than noble ambitions. Of course, with a name like Arcadi Gaydamak, no wonder that’s where he ended up.

In 2009, coinciding with the descent of Portsmouth, Arcadi’s luck was running out. His illicit business was being chased by authorities and he had to flee back to Russia. His accounts outside the country were frozen.

Middle Eastern Ownership(s)

Since money was now tight for the family, Alexandre was forced to sell the club. Emirati businessman Suleiman Al Fahim came in as the new owner with grand promises. He said they’d bring in Maradona to coach as well as stars befitting the former superstar. However, after just 42 days, in October of 2009, Portsmouth were once again delinquent on their payment.

Another middle eastern businessman stepped in, Saudi national Ali al-Faraj. Maybe. Portsmouth fans are still undecided as to whether the Saudi investor actually exists. Nobody ever saw or spoke to the guy. The company from where he claims his funds came, Sabic, is actually owned by the Saudi government. And he somehow passed the Premier League’s fit and proper test!

Now, in 2008 we had the financial crisis which caused a credit crunch, so admittedly money was hard to come by in this period. But not this hard. Because, incredibly, for a third time in a very short period, a Portsmouth owner got in financing trouble. Al-Faraj defaulted on a loan to Nepalese businessman Baram Chainrai and he now took control of the club. An absolute circus. Imagine being a Pomey fan at this point.

Relegation to the Championship

Let’s not forget that there was also a football team. During the 09/10 season, when most of this played out, despite a transfer embargo and having sold most of their best players, with Avram Grant as their manager the team was actually doing alright. They reached another final in the FA Cup, where they lost to Chelsea. It was also looking like they just might hold on to their spot in the Premier League.

Avram Grant. Ben Sutherland, Flickr

That’s great right? Well, this entire ownership and financing mess would have consequences. Chainrai soon placed the club into administration and Portsmouth was automatically handed a nine point deduction. That was the nail in the coffin. The straw that broke the camel's back. Portsmouth were relegated.

Portsmouth Supporters Trust

The ownership and financing circus went on with the team in the Championship. The club was sold to a Russian businessman, Antonov, who would soon be arrested for asset stripping and forced to step down as chairman. The situation put Portsmouth back into administration yet again.

At this point, in 2013, Pompey supporters have been through so, so much. Russian arms dealers, fake promises from Emirati sheiks, a made up Saudi national, two bouts of administration and three relegations. They’d finally had enough. Enter The Pompey Supporters trust, or PST.

After some time in limbo, the PST together with a few other investors stepped in and bought a little more than 80% of the club, putting an end to the crisis. Finally, an owner the fans could trust – themselves. It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure. It was still a club in crisis.

But they managed to at least stay in League Two. For three seasons they steadied the ship. In 2015, they placed 16th. The following season sixth. And finally, in 2017 first and won promotion.

New, Stable, Ownership

At this point, there was no outside financing. If they wanted to take the next step, to get back to the highest level of English football, they’d need some. So, in May of 2017, the PST voted to sell the club, yet again. You’d imagine a lot of thought, discussion and hesitation went into the decision. But ultimately, to get the club back to where it belongs, there was no other option.

The man who got the trust and the honour of taking the club to the next was none other than Michael Eisner, the former Disney executive and American businessman. Since then, it’s been a slow, steady build of the club. Finishing in the top half of League one for six straight seasons was maybe frustrating to the fans. But at least the club was now stable. Until this season.

Michael Eisner. Photo: Ed Schipul, Flickr

This season the team has been led by John Mousinho. Yes, you read that correctly, the second coming of the special one. And it has been a special season indeed. Pompey finished first in league one. In 24/25, for the first time in more than a decade, Pompey will once again be playing in the Championship.

Closing Thoughts

Being a Portsmouth fan through all of this must have been heart breaking. Every new owner coming in with promises only to let them down. The threat of liquidation almost constantly following the club.

But for all the clubs that are struggling like this, like Reading or Schalke, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Now, let’s hope that this stable ownership can continue and that within a few years, Portsmouth fans get to see their club back at the biggest stage. They’ve earned it.

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