25 July 2012

Time to euthanise Pompey?

Happier times: but John Portsmouth Football Club Westwood may soon be redundant.

When my family's first cat got very old and very ill, we took him to the vet, who put him to sleep. I say that, because it might soon be time to euthanise Portsmouth Football Club.

Pompey administrator Trevor Birch has said that the club will have no alternative but to close on 10 August if senior players don't agree to transfers or wage cuts.

Following the departure of Luke Varney to Leeds United, Portsmouth now have seven senior players on their books: Tal Ben Haim, Greg Halford, Erik Huseklepp, Dave Kitson, Nwankwo Kanu, Liam Lawrence and David Norris. One of them, Ben Haim, is earning the ridiculous sum of £36,000 per week - forget Premier League wages, this is UEFA Europa League wages! Considering that Birch's wage cap is £5,000 per week, you know just how far Pompey are up the creek.

But it gets worse. Kanu has lodged a claim for £3million in unpaid wages, and Ben Haim - who has become the de facto players' spokesman - says he has lost at least £2.5million, and criticised Birch, claiming that he earns "not less than what I earn". Disagreements between Ben Haim and Birch won't help the chances of an agreement being made between the two parties.

There are two takeover offers on the table at Fratton Park. The first is from former chairman Balram Chainrai's company Portpin, the second from the Pompey Supporters Trust. Both offers depend on the high earners being taken off the wage bill.

But here's the thing. Portsmouth have been failed by the "football creditors rule", which says that before a club can come out of administration, all so-called 'football creditors' (namely players, and clubs that are owed transfer fees) while other debts (with local businesses, charities, etc.) are settled for only a fraction of what is actually owed.

That's right. Millionaire players like Ben Haim and Kanu have to be paid ALL of their wages, while small businesses could end up being paid less than half of what they were due. As a consequence, those  businesses could also struggle financially and even go bankrupt. Unless the players agree to forego some or all of his unpaid wages, the job of rescuing Portsmouth will become exceedingly difficult.

There are three-and-a-half weeks to go until the new season, where Portsmouth - who as recently as 2008 won the FA Cup and reached the final again just two years ago - are due to play in League One. Before their home game against AFC Bournemouth on 18 August, they are scheduled to face Plymouth Argyle in Round 1 of the Capital One Cup four days earlier. Plymouth can sympathise with Pompey's plight, having been on the very cusp of liquidation this time last year.

Plymouth came out of the other end intact, but can Portsmouth? They are in administration for the second time in three seasons, and have had a succession of owners who spent ridiculous money on players, or in some cases did nothing to rectify things. The players themselves won't put their hearts before their wallets and write off their unpaid earnings. The situation looks so hopeless that there's more chance of a Nauru weightlifter winning the Olympic 100 metres final.

This is the point where the Football League can decide to put their foot down and bring an end to the circus, by kicking Pompey out for their own good - in other words, euthanising the cat.

This should be done soon, so that there will be time to undo the relegations of Wycombe Wanderers from League One, Hereford United from League Two, and Hayes & Yeading United from the Conference Premier. If Portsmouth go out on business on 10 August as the administrator has said, with only eight days until the new season, it won't be realistic to rejig the leagues, and League One will be left with a lopsided 23 teams.

Once they're out of the Football League, Birch can wind up the original Portsmouth FC, and the fans will be able to restart the club on a clean slate. Whether they're called Portsmouth AFC, or Portsmouth 1898, or anything else for that matter, they can start afresh in one of the lower levels of the football pyramid. Accrington Stanley, Aldershot Town and more recently AFC Wimbledon have gone down this route, so new Portsmouth will have plenty of examples to follow.

This article may be tough to swallow for Portsmouth fans, but frankly, there's not much point in prolonging the poor cat's suffering. Euthanasia looks like the best option.

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