As the referee blew his whistle for the final time that afternoon, the Fratton Enders stood up defiantly. They burst into song, repeating the famous Pompey chimes despite their beloved club suffering relegation to England’s third tier.
There was no booing or abuse aimed at the Portsmouth players, only relentless applause and chanting. Such loyalty cannot be criticised in the slightest, and despite the fact they had to watch on as their south coast empire continued to collapse with the club’s second relegation in three seasons, surely these glorious fans deserve sympathy?
Most fans who have been to Fratton Park will acknowledge that the atmosphere is incredible. With the cow bell repeatedly clanked by the eccentric John Portsmouth Football Club Westwood and the chants of ‘Play up Pompey’ echoing around the stadium, these fans are a credit to English football.
But give them sympathy? Never. There can be absolutely no doubt that the Portsmouth faithful have endured serious turmoil of late. Their rags-to-riches tale has unraveled at such pace that it rivals the story of Leeds United. Similar to Leeds, memories of European adventures are a distant memory and the only thoughts racing through the supporters’ minds is whether or not they can ever return to the glories of recent years, or perhaps even the Premier League. For them, their latest long, arduous journey is about to begin.
Their tale is consigned the football history books titled ‘How Not To Run A Football Club’. Within its pages are some useful tips forwarded by the aforementioned Leeds, as well as Luton and Plymouth Argyle, not to mention some horrific contributions from Chester City and Rushden & Diamonds. Sadly, the list of clubs ravaged by financial troubles is a rapidly growing one.
However, unlike some clubs which have overspent and raced to the dizzy heights of which have never been seen, Portsmouth fans know of the risks and consequences of spending beyond their limits. As soon as Alexandre Gaydamak ventured to the south coast the fans should have been wary.
In 1998 the club entered administration until Milan Mandaric, who sold the club to Gaydamak at the start of 2006, rescued it. From that emotional point in the club’s history the supporters and its official staff would have been wise to treat a large and sudden influx of money with caution. Alas, they failed to do so.
Unfortunately, whilst fans should be regarded as the most important group connected with this beautiful game, they are also their own worst enemy. The lure of such riches and its ability to sign excellent players, make Wembley trips a reality, and secure European qualification, tempts some fans.
The thousands that flocked to the brilliant stage of Wembley where they saw their heroes lift the FA Cup were gripped, unaware of the looming disaster about to break this fine club. Even the strictest of traditionalists – and I would count myself in that mould – would not begrudge a little bit of money in the game. Afterall, it has been ever-present for decades. However, since the English Premier League was founded twenty seasons ago greed has slowly percolated into all four professional divisions.
And for what? It is possible to count on one hand the clubs that have gained genuine success at the very top of the football pyramid. Some sides have escaped financial oblivion and some have the tainted television money to thank, such as Wigan and Fulham, whose rise were both heavily funded.
Sadly – or perhaps that should be thankfully, we’ll see – football is going through its own banking crisis. After years of financial mishandlings and sheer greed, clubs are running for cover. A vast amount of lower league sides are quickly restructuring their financial outputs. Most are refusing to spend a penny. Those who are not established in the Championship and cannot challenge for the Premier League jackpot have little choice but to cast a cover of austerity over their clubs in a bid to stave off a financial breakdown.
But for Portsmouth fans, they had a choice when everything appeared splendid ride the out-of-control Gaydamak train or to demand a halt. Let the club, with its financially secure owner, gradually develop, they should have said. At times fans fail to see their huge importance, their power to enforce change. Even in the Premier League a sudden decline in attendances can cripple a club.
It appears fans only realise and react when it is too late and the wheels are off. Take Coventry City who, like Portsmouth, are financially ravaged and have followed them into League One. Their fans are demanding a total restructure. They are protesting for a change in board and owners.
All is well, all is so fantastically well when the team is winning, but clubs built on quicksand are bound to sink. Maybe it is a Godsend that clubs are collapsing. Not just ordinary clubs like Port Vale or Plymouth, but clubs that were hosting AC Milan just a few years ago, such as Portsmouth
UEFA have flexed its muscles with the introduction of their ‘Financial Fair Play’ rules, and the British MPs stood in the Houses of Parliament and asked for some light to be shed along football’s financial corridors.
As yet, the large untouchables have made a bit of a mockery out of UEFA (who are not without fault). Manchester City, realising the finances would not be approved of by Michel Platini, sanctioned a stadium sponsor, namely Etihad, owned by a relative of City’s foreign, passionless owners. How much the club stands to draw is anyone’s guess.
These foreign owners do not care about the state of the English game (which has spread north of the border to strike and hinder Rangers). They do not care that clubs, who struggle to attract two thousand plus gates, have been caught up in this financial tornado.
But I was under the impression that English fans adored the English game. But when you see Portsmouth fans crying with joy at the sight of Sol Campbell lifting the FA Cup and then seeing their sorry faces when it all blows up in their face… well it invokes a little sense of gratification. Hopefully, they will learn at the third attempt, and hopefully the majority of fans will eventually refuse the easy route and welcome progression by its correct, hard-working means. Who knows?
You can follow me on Twitter: @CraigOAFC for even more football discussion.