Dark clouds gather on the south coast this evening as after Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs issued a winding up petition against Portsmouth, surrounding alleged outstanding VAT and tax payments.
For those of you that aren’t fluent in finance speak, that means the club faces extinction.
The mood at the ground tonight was solemn, as Arsenal resoundingly beat Portsmouth in a 4-1 victory—without really dominating the game. The normally vicarious crowd were unusually quiet, as television cameras panned past fans shaking their heads in disbelief.
Something changed midway through the second half, minutes before Arsenal scored their third goal, the crowd burst into life. The stands bellowed out in unison “Sack the board” and “You’re not fit to run our club”.
It seems that the fans no longer distinguish between chief executive Peter Storrie, and the overseas investors he cobbled together to oust former chairman Alexandre Gaydamak in the summer. Rightly so, Storrie has tried to worm his way out of responsibility for the club’s current plight, but the fact remains, he is chief executive of the club—it’s his job to make sure it is run responsibility.
Having already been personally charged with tax evasion over a deal to bring Amdy Faye to the club in 2003 (he is trying to worm his way out of that one too, claiming he was on holiday at the time and had no involvement), Storrie must in part shoulder the blame for this latest scrutiny from HMRC. Once the tax man takes a look at your dealings, he will leave no stone unturned.
It won’t matter if the latest case is resolved before the club is dissolved; the fact that Storrie mismanaged the clubs financially in the first place is indictment enough.
This fable started with BBC Panorama uncovering managers taking bungs in the Premier League, which lead to Lord Stevens’ inquiry, which eventually got passed onto the HMRC to investigate potential tax dodging.
The HMRC may well be fighting someone else’s battle here, as it probably isn’t their place to clean up corruption in football, but so be it.
As for the supporters, they will need to show more of the gallows humour they demonstrated tonight, singing “we’re gonna win 4-3” after Nadir Belhadj scored a consolation goal for Portsmouth, to bring the score back to 3-1.
Arsenal went on to win 4-1 on the night, but the most harrowing moment for the onlooker was the war cry that erupted just after the hour mark. It was the loudest and most resolute chant of the night, sang collectively by a truly great set of supporters:
”I’m Portsmouth till I die.” Let’s hope it isn’t their last—it would be a great shame if a club like Portsmouth was to fold because of reckless financial management.
Tonight Portsmouth fans may be reflecting on their FA cup triumph from last year, and a miraculous night at Fratton Park when they almost beat AC Milan—if not for a late Inzaghi goal. The question they may ask, were the unbelievable highs worth losing it all?
Only a Portsmouth fan can answer that, and as of now, those highs are looking ever distant. The good times are gone, and they will never be back.