Portsmouth are a cautionary tale for Premier League clubs

With the news that Portsmouth are to enter administration, effectively condemning them to relegation from the Premier League, argues that their demise should be the ultimate warning to the football world

Ben Sutherland via Flickr Creative Commons

Ben Sutherland via Flickr Creative Commons

Football clubs have long helped insolvency experts remain solvent. Ever since Peter Ridsdale built Leeds United’s Champions League citadel on a mound of slowly sinking sand, clubs, and their owners, throughout the football pyramid have displayed the financal acumen usually associated with gambling addicts. Administration for a Premiership club became a statistical inevitability, a sorry financal train wreck waiting to happen. The announcement today that Portsmouth have entered administration, and will have to face the effective relegation that accompanies it, signals the setting of a dark precedent for the modern game.

Many will point to Portsmouth themselves as the architects of their own grisly demise. A culture of “never – never” spending and a sucession of distinctly sour sugar daddies have left the South Coast outfit beleaguered and broken. They no longer have the money to pay for an internet server for their website. It looks as though many of the 600 people that they employ will lose their jobs. Consequences such as these are the best that Pompey’s fans can currently countenance.

Having narrowly avoided two winding up orders perhaps, as former manager Paul Hart has suggested in the press, administration will offer them a fresh start. Finally the systematic reckless mismanagement of a venerable sporting instituion will be ended. Perhaps a sense of realism will be introduced to a club mired by £60 million pounds worth of debt. Signings such as John Utaka make Portsmouth’s financal situation understandable and act as a microcosm for the wider problems inherent in modern football. The former Rennes forward was signed for £7 million in July 2007 and has started a paltry 31 premier league games, scoring just seven goals in the process. The Nigerian earns £80,000 a week and will have cost Portsmouth an incredible £23 million if he stays until the end of his contract.

Aspirational and frankly ludicrous signings are the major problem for all clubs of Portsmouth’s stature nowadays. As fans bay for greater sucess increasingly unsustainable risks are taken which fundamentally damage the long-term future of clubs everywhere. Beholden to the desires of supporters whose expectations are unreasonably altered by periods of sucess owners are only too happy to splash cash they haven’t got. Portsmouth are now paying the ultimate price.

The South Coast is not a footballing region and Portsmouth suffer from small gate recepits and a the confines of ageing facilities. After winning the FA Cup in 2008, and earning lucrative and prestigious UEFA cup ties with European giants such as AC Milan, Pompey looked like the epitome of a well run club. They seemed to be utilising their limited resources to garner as much sucess as conceivably possible and to build foundations for continued prosperity in the top flight.

In the background, an entirely different narrative was being played out as their upper management greedily looked to commerically capitalise on their sucess through a succesion of loans that make RBS seem eminently responsible. Local stalwarts like Peter Storrie were content to allow foreign owners with little or no money behind their facade of extravagant wealth to suffocate one of the most ardently supported clubs in the Premier League.

When will people say enough is enough? When will fans look beyond cheque books and exotic surnames to demand that their clubs aren’t violated any more? If Portsmouth go under it will have an incalculably negative effect on the local area and its people. Perhaps other club owners and British guardians eagerly seeking to tout their club to and sheikh or oligarch that will take notice will view Portsmouth as a cautionary tale. Instead of seeking the proverbial pot of gold at every opportunity, instead of taking out loans and crossing their fingers they will realise it is not a bad acheivement to simply be in the Premier League. Perhaps they will realise that it is better to be less successful than to not exist at all.

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