After winning the Championship title in 2003 under manager Harry Redknapp Portsmouth went on to become an established Premier League side. In their first 5 years in England’s top tier, there were the highs of thrashing South Coast rivals Southampton 4-1 at Fratton Park with Harry Redknapp , who left to join the Saints as manager, watching on in misery to the lows of nearly falling out of the division in the 2005/06 season before the returning Redknapp masterminded a ‘Great Escape’ to keep Pompey in the league. Things got better and better for the Blues after signing established England internationals such as David James and Sol Campbell as well as other stars such as Kanu and Niko Kranjcar, they had a fantastic 2006/07 campaign which saw them feature in the top 4 for the first few months for the season. They managed to collect wins against the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool before missing out on European football altogether.
After another host of top players such as Glen Johnson, Sylvain Distin, Sulley Muntari, Lassana Diarra and Jermain Defoe joined in the summer of the 2007/08 season Pompey finished in their highest ever position in the Premier League, 8th place as well as lifting the F.A. Cup by defating Cardiff City in the final thanks to a goal from Kanu. Their most meomorbale game in the cup run however was their 1-0 victory in the quarter-final over Manchester United at Old Trafford. The hosts dominated for the entirety of the game and without the inspirational defending and goalkeeping Pompey would have clearly lost. 12 minutes from time Pompey found the breakthrough. Loanee Milan Baros rounded keeper Tomas Kuszczak, who replaced Edwin Van Der Sar at half-time, before being brought down with the Polish keeper seeing red. Rio Ferdinand took over in goal but Sulley Muntari coolly fired his penalty into the net to send Pompey on their way to Wembley.
2009 was the year which the downfall really began. Sacha Gaydamak, owner of the club since 2006, was forced to sell the club due to his funding, which was coming from his father, was abruptly stopped. The club was sold to United Arab Emirates businessman Sulaiman Al Fahim at the end of the 2008/09 season in which Harry Redknapp left for Spurs, Tony Adams his successor was sacked after poor results, key players were sold due to Gaydamak not having any money and an ever crippling debt building up. Positives were far and few with the best moment of the season by far and one of the best in Pompey’s history was when AC Milan visited Fratton Park in the UEFA Cup. Pompey we replaying fantastic despite injuries to key players and were leading 2-0 after goals from Younes Kaboul and Kanu. However, two very late goals from Ronaldinho and in stoppage time Filipo Inzaghi rescued a point for Milan but it was still a memorable night for Pompey supporters. Pompey eventually bowed out of the UEFA Cup in the Group stage and the only over positive of the season was the fact that Paul Hart managed to regain Premier League football for the club and guide Pompey to a 14th place finish.
Over the next three years things got torrid for the club. Despite passing the F.A.’s ‘Fit and Proper’ ownership test, Al Fahim had hugely limited finances and was resorting to loans from a then unknown figure Balram Chainrai who eventually became a hugely dispopular man in Portsmouth. Al Fahim was forced to sell a 90% stake in the club to businessman Ali Al-Faraj, who was never once spotted in Portsmouth. He also was found out to have no money and the club had to resort to free transfers and loans in the transfer market and struggled to pay players wages. Balram Chainrai then stepped in and took full control of the club but due to the debts now gained he put the club into administration. On the pitch, Paul Hart was sacked and replaced by Avram Grant who led them to the F.A. Cup Final defeating Harry Redknapp’s Tottenham in the semi-final before losing to his previous side Chelsea in the final. Pompey were supposed to play in the UEFA Europa League next season as they were runners up and Chelsea had already qualified for Europe but the club was denied a license. During the league season they received a 9 point deduction and were eventually relegated with Avram Grant resigning at the end of the season. At the end of the season though, Portsmouth came out of administration with Chainrai regaining control of the club.
Steve Cotterill was appointed new manager ahead of the 2010/11 season and lead the club to a 16th place finish that season. Ahead of the 2011/12, Convers Sports Initative (CSI) took full control of the club with Vladmir Antonov becoming the club chairman. Despite money being invested into the playing staff the new owners only once gave an interview to the local press and were very secretive about what was going on at the club leading to suspicion from Pompey fans. In October of that season Steve Cotterill left for Nottingham Forest with Michael Appleton his replacement. Just two weeks after his appointment and him being promised by the owners that a ‘5 year plan’ was in place for the club, a Europe-wide arrest warrant was placed on owner Vladmir Antonov and it was revealed his bank in Lithuania was in over £300 million debt. Pompey went into administration again in February 2012 due to unpaid taxes and Balram Chainrai revealed was owed £38 million and it was discovered Pompey were £58 million in debt. To make matters worse, Pompey were relegated to League 1.
Before the 2012/13 season began the whole Pompey squad had to leave the club to lower the wage bill. Due to a transfer embargo players could only be signed on 1 month contracts and manager Michael Appleton could only begin signing players a couple of days before the season began. In November, Appleton left for Blackpool and Pompey legend Guy Whittingham took over as caretaker with a permanent manager unavailable to sign while the club were in administration. Many consortiums were looking to buy Pompey but the main candidates were Balram Chainrai and the Portsmouth Supporters Trust (The Fans). In November, Chainrai halted his attempts to sign the club and the PST signed a conditional agreement with the administrators. The PST had been collecting money from Pompey fans to fund the potential takeover and shares were also being sold. However, the PST still had to go to court as Chainrai was refusing to agree to a settlement over the money he was owed and unless an agreement was made the PST could not buy the club and Pompey would be liquidated. After many adjournments the court date was finally arranged for the 10th April and on that historic day the Pompey fans gained control of the club. Pompey received a point deduction and were relegated to League 2 despite a good end to the season including a memorable 3-0 victory over Sheffield United in the last home game of the season and the first in the fans’ ownership. All this did not matter. A new era had begun for Pompey.
Fast-forward to now and despite being the bookies favourite to lift the League 2 title this season Pompey currently sit in 18th position, 7 points above the relegation zone. At the start of the season there was so much optimism. Guy Whittingham was appointed permanent manager due to a good run of results towards the end of last season. Lots of new players were signed, all on free transfers and loans however, and were touted to rip the league apart. A humiliating 4-1 defeat to Oxford at home on the opening day showed that things were not going to be easy. Whittingham was sacked in November having lost the last 4 games and in December was replaced by former Crawley boss Richie Barker. To date, under Barker Pompey have won 4, drawn 4 and lost 5 but an improvement has been shown as our woeful defensive have improved and kept lots more clean sheets. (Forget about the 5- 1 defeat to Scunthorpe at the weekend.)
Since the fans took over, the talk from the Chairman and members of the board has been our long term aim to return to the Premier League and rise back up the leagues. When Barker was appointed he also spoke about the ambition and a plan to return to the top. Over the last few years there have been examples of clubs that have successfully structured out long term plans to get up the leagues. The prime examples are Swansea City and as much as I don’t like to say it but our rivals Southampton. Both clubs have used well planned strategies in their rise to the top. Swansea have taught their side over the past few years to play good passing possession play and their style of football is renowned within Britain. Southampton meanwhile have used their incredible youth system (yes this is killing me to praise them like this) to supply their team with quality players and be successful. Pompey, for me, are lacking a long term strategy. Have they carefully thought out how to return to the ‘dreamland’ of the Premier League? No.
It is okay saying that within a certain period of time we are going to climb the divisions but we don’t have a plan of action. Admittedly since Barker’s appointment we have been gradually improving the structure of the club such as installing a Chief Scout, which quite ridiculously we didn’t have while Whittingham was in charge, and searching for a new training ground. But, the quality of the football needs to improve. Yes, we are a League 2 team but playing good football is how we can progress. A style and an identity of PFC needs to be created. We need to install the passing way into every one of our players, youth players and teach football to be played the right way. Even if the manager changes the style of play should not be changed and the example which Swansea has set should be a blueprint ready made for us to follow.
Something that has definitely been missing in recent years which is needed in every one of our players is the right attitude and a great work ethic. Everyone of our players should be able to press and push at the opposition for most of the game. If you look at the Premier League, Liverpool are prime examples this season, if you push, pressure and hassle your opposition you can force the defenders into mistakes gifting you good opportunities to win the game. Especially at League 2 level the quality of the players is much worse meaning errors will be more common. Players that don’t give their all for the shirt and play their best for 90 minutes don’t deserve to represent the club. We have seen plenty of players who have not put the effort in for the club and what we need are players who will always give it their all.
Brining in younger players and promoting youth players is something we need to focus on more as a club as well. Barker has impressed me with the signings he has made though and he has spoken about rebuilding the team for the future which is very encouraging. We do have a good youth system and currently have three young players who have represented England U19s or U18’s. Adam Webster, Jed Wallace and Jack Whatmough. Webster is an England U19’s regular, Wallace’s performances for the Pompey first team have attracted the interest of many Championship clubs such as Brighton, Leeds and even Stoke have taken watch over him and Whatmough has recently been nominated for the Football League Apprentice of the Year Award. Other youngsters such as Ashley Harris and Dan Butler have made around 20-35 apps each for the club and can be the future for us.
A key addition to our club though, I believe, is Steve Coppell who joined along with Barker and took the role of Director of Football. Although, us fans can not physically see his impact on the team I am sure he is proving a key figure behind the scenes and someone with as much football knowledge as he has working for us is a huge bonus and is vital for the development of the club.
At the present, Barker’s main task is keeping us in the division. On Tuesday night we managed to beat Accrington Stanley 1-0 a vital three points for us. We may be in 18th position but we are only three points off the team in 9th place showing that this league is extremely close and that anything can happen. If we can get a good run of results going it will start to prove that this squad is capable of bigger things in the long term and that we are starting to build a team that may be capable of a rise back up the leagues.
Yes, the points I have spoken about should be addressed if we are to have a greater chance of success but we are Pompey and no matter what anything and everything can happen at this club. No matter if we don’t climb to the top again or if we remain a lower league club, you can be sure that us fans will always stick by OUR club. Portsmouth Football Club.