Where did it all go wrong for Portsmouth?
They won the FA Cup in 2008. They played AC Milan the following season in the Europa League, their first foray into Europe. On the Italian side’s books were the likes of Filipo Inzaghi, Dida, Schevchenko, Gennaro Gattuso and Ballon D’or winners Kaka and Ronaldinho. Milan had won the Champions League the year before. And yet, here were Portsmouth running them ragged. In the end they let a 2 goal lead slip and drew 2-2. Portsmouth should have won the game. What an honour for their fans.
At Fratton Park, they were watching Peter Crouch, Glen Johnson, Niko Kranjcar, Sol Campbell and Kanu week in week out. Albeit some weren’t quite in their prime, but a squad full of expensive quality that proved a force at the very top – competitive in every game in every competition. Heady days on the South Coast; then the club left their most exciting era and went on what was one hell of a rollercoaster ride.
First the rails dipped hard and it all went tits up. Harry Redknapp left in Oct 2008, his assistant Tony Adams took charge, was sacked in February 2009 and Paul Hart became the club’s third manager of the season. He steadied the ship for a bit, bless him, keeping the club up and finishing 14th in the end. The club’s rollercoaster carriage made another positive climb up the coaster as Emirati businessman Sulaiman Al Fahim bought the club. Ooooh, money money money. Exciting again?
Not quite. Weeks into his ownership of the club, the finances reportedly, and mystifyingly, dried up and there were issues with staff and players not being paid. They’d won the FA Cup less than two years before, for crying out loud. They’d been in Europe for the first time. This wasn’t supposed to happen.
Portsmouth’s form dipped under Hart, and in November 2009 he was sacked and replaced by former Chelsea manager Avram Grant – the 4th manager in 13 months. Not long after that, the HMRC got after them for the horrendous mismanagement of the clubs finances and, after their winding-up order on the club was dropped, Portsmouth went into administration and took a 9 point penalty which ultimately consigned them to the Championship.
Since then, Avram Grant left the club and there were 8 managers within the next five years – 12 in seven years in all throughout this turbulent, treacherous period. Relegation in their second season in the Championship followed and instantly they were relegated again to League Two the following season. This completed a full slide through the Football League ladder in just over three years.
In this time they hit a second administration in 2011, changed ownership again and had every single first-team player depart within a single season. What a mess the club had gotten into in five short years. Since their return to the fourth tier of English football for the first time since 1980, it’s picked up hugely though. They came out of administration at last in Sept 2014 and were finally declared completely debt-free. Pompey have got used to life in League Two as well, finishing 6th in their third season in the division and making the playoffs (losing in the semi-finals).
This season again they look good. 5th currently, they’ve performed impressively this season. A fairly stringent defence and a pretty solid, cohesive and at times dangerous attack, they’ve both scored the 5th most and conceded the 5th fewest goals. Both up front and at the back, their players are contributing across the park and they deserve their current position.
It could be better. Now just one win in 5, but they’ve played three of the top six in that run. A draw at league leaders Plymouth (1st) was impressive, even if they were minutes away from victory.
However, 2-1 defeats at home to Doncaster (3rd) and, this weekend, to Notts County (6th) were games Pompey had the better of in front of their own crowd. They averaged 57% possession across the two games and hit 32 shots while facing just 11. Portsmouth are playing good football. They’re attacking well, they hold onto the ball brilliantly and they’re just a goal here and there away from both and exceptional defence and a lot more points.
It’s an incredibly tight division this season – 4 points separate 4th from 13th as well as 14th from 21st – and that shows in the South-Coast club’s recent results. However, just one of their next five games features a top ten team and I’d be expecting at least 10 points of them in that time.
The main thing is this broken horse is back on its feet, running hard and clearing most of the hurdles in its way. Their troubles should be a warning to others but, since their first administration, six more teams have suffered the same fate. I think this is a very real and very sorry picture of football at the moment as money – or its mismanagement – continues to rule all.
Maybe Portsmouth’s resurgence can defy this monetary reign and give hope to the world of football. I certainly hope so, because it’s great to see things back on track at Fratton Park.