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From FA Cup Champions to League Two strugglers: The sad story of Portsmouth FC

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Football and life are things which can change without giving you a clear indication of it before actually changing. They are things which can change in a flash and we are left to ponder exactly what went wrong, or right. In some cases, these changes are the mere fruits of our past doings which later come back to haunt us in a rather frightening manner. Of course, we often don’t receive premonitions about what is left to come and we are left to bear the fruits of all that we once instigated.

Loyalists who have seen their club reach the unassailable heights and the bowels in the space of just 5 years deserve a salute. They have hung around with their side even when the darkest of times took their toll on their club during a financial crisis. The case with Pompey fans is quite similar and rather saddening when viewed externally. After climbing up to the unimaginable heights of English Football after laying their hands on the FA Cup in 2008, nobody in this world could’ve foreseen what this club would endure in the approaching years.

Much like Portsmouth, there have been others who have taken this fall. Notably Leeds United and Coventry City, but this decline wasn’t as disastrous as what Portsmouth went through. And the above mentioned clubs somehow managed to claw their way back up but such possibilities seem bleak, at least for Pompey.

It all kick started when current QPR and former Tottenham manager took over as the Director of Football in 2001. Although, he was being tipped to take over at Leicester City but he opted to pledge loyalty to Pompey instead. But it didn’t pan out exceptionally well for the then manager Graham Rix who was axed after a poor run of results and then, Harry Redknapp himself took over the reins. And the ‘guvner’ lead them to claiming the League One and gaining automatic promotion to the Premier League.

But, a serious financial crisis had already engulfed Portsmouth back in the 1998-99 season and due to the presence of outstanding debts, the club went into financial administration. At the fag end of that season, the club was aided in it’s bid to tide over the crisis by a takeover by Milan Mandaric.

Harry Redknapp was compelled into offering a resignation midway through his 2nd Premier League campaign after a disagreement with chairman Mandaric. Both Mandaric and Redknapp were actually accused of tax evasion during their time at Portsmouth in 2012. Redknapp went onto claim the vacant managerial throne at Southern rivals Southampton only to return to Fratton Park in 2005. By the time Harry managed Southampton, Pompey had two managers failing to get grips on the English game in Velimir Zajec, the former Dinamo Zagreb manager and Alain Perrin, the current coach of the Chinese National side.

Early in 2006, another change in ownership followed as the club were bought by businessman Alexandre Gaydamak. And all due to Gaydamak’s allowances, which allowed Portsmouth to buy practically a whole new first team.

So, then in the English summer of 2007, nobody realized that their mouth watering new signings were a curse in disguise. The new acquisitions included former Arsenal star Nwanku Kanu from West Bromwich Albion, former Man United European cup winner Andy Cole from Man City, former Spurs and Arsenal defender Sol Campbell, Glen Johnson on loan from Chelsea, stopper David James from Man City, Djimi Traore from Charlton and Manuel Fernandez on loan from Portuguese giants SL Benfica, among others.

And their business in the transfer window seemingly worked as the club finished 9th in the proceeding season for the very first time since 1950, just a single point adrift of European qualification. And Redknapp was rewarded with a new contract which was supposed to keep him at the helm till 2011.

And Redknapp paid off the faith placed in him by making two more high quality signings in the form of Lass Diarra from Arsenal and Jermaine Defoe from Tottenham in January. And even the players delivered the goods and service, helping Pompey to an 8th position in the Premier League. And the best of all,  the Pompey lads did what wasn’t expected nine years ago. As the last blast in the whistle was sounded at a jam packed Wembley stadium on the 17th of May in 2008, travelers from the South of England couldn’t believe what was unfolding in front of their eyes. Their beloved club Portsmouth, had won the FA Cup. But the fans were oblivious to the deadly fate that awaited their club, all being the consequences of a financial crisis that has left a blemishing mark on the history of the club.

The performances helped them earn a spot in the 2008-09 UEFA Cup and they claimed a victory in their very first European clash after a 2-0 win over Vitoria Guimaraes, which ultimately helped them progress into the group stages of the competition. But with a club like Tottenham in pursuit of Harry Redknapp, the inevitable had to happen. Arsenal legend Tony Adams, who was Redknapp’s assistant manager at that time was promoted to the managerial role. Another historic day unfolded at Fratton Park in November 2008 when the Tony Adams led outfit claimed a 2-2 draw with Italian giants AC Milan.

However, a sudden dip in performances followed as Portsmouth were eliminated from the FA Cup after a loss at the hands of Swansea and as a result, Tony Adams was axed from his position. Adams blamed a lack of financial support for his failure at the South Coast club. Youth team gaffer Paul Hart was promoted to hold a managerial position who later kept the club out of the dreaded relegation zone after the season concluded. But, as financial issues began to cloud the club, Portsmouth had to sell off both Lass Diarra and Jermaine Defoe to Real Madrid and Spurs respectively.

And as a pre season beckoned, another change in ownership followed as Arab businessman Sulaiman al Fahim purchased the club and to help get rid of the crisis the club was enduring, prized assets such as Peter Crouch, Sylvain Distin, Niko Kranjcar and Glen Johnson were offloaded. And Al Fahim’s ownership could last only for 40 days. Ali Al Faraj purchased the club and his firm Falcondrone Ltd. bought 90% of Al-Fahim’s stake in Portsmouth. In October, the club admitted that they were short of finances and some of the players and staff weren’t being paid.

Hart was sacked from his position after the club was left languishing at the bottom of the table and former Chelsea manager assumed control of matters.

However, at the start of the year of 2010, al-Faraj lost his stake in Portsmouth to a debtor as part of a repayment agreement on one of his loans which he was supposed to pay. In 2010, Balram Chainrai loaned former owner Ali al-Faraj £17 million, secured through collateral of Fratton Park grounds and the club itself. And as AL-Faraj failed to meet a scheduled repayment of the dues, Chainrai took control of the club.

His intentions were to sell the club off as soon as possible and leased out Fratton Park back to Pompey. In late February, a formal announcement regarding the fact that the club had entered administration followed. On top of that, 9 points were supposed to be subtracted from the club’s tally of points and Andrew Andronikou, Peter Kubik and Michael Kiely of accountancy firm UHY Hacker Young were appointed by the club as administrators. As a result, Portsmouth became the first club enter a state of administration.

In March 2010, administrator Andrew Andronikou revealed that the club would be looking to start the next season with a whole new squad. Players with expiring contracts would be allowed to leave and Portsmouth FC were looking to sell between eight and ten players. Overall, up to twenty players could leave at the end of the season. The club would be looking to build their team from free transfers in the summer transfer window to save money.

But, despite of all the backroom crises and substantial financial glitches, the club managed to reach the FA Cup final. This time around, they were to come face to face with would be Premier League Champions Chelsea and Pompey were defeated 2-0. And as far as the league was concerned, Pompey finished rock bottom, 16 points off 17 placed West Ham United.

In June 2010, Steve Cotterill was appointed as the manager with the club in dire financial difficulties. And the Englishman, helped Portsmouth achieve some stability during some turbulent times of a possible liquidation as the club finished 16th in the Championship division. In June 2011,  Convers Sports Initiatives owned by Russian Vladimir Antonov completed its takeover of the club.

Steve Cotterill was attracting interest from Nottingham Forest and joined them in early October 2011, after offering a resignation. Following his departure,  Michael Appleton was announced as the new manager.

In November 2011,  A European arrest warrant is issued for Antonov following the collapse of a Lithuanian bank. And with HM Revenue and Customs chasing the club for £1.6m in unpaid taxes, the club again enters administration, suffering a 10-point deduction. Rather unsurprisingly, Portsmouth suffered  relegation to League One, whereupon their entire playing staff left their jobs.

On 29 November 2011, Antonov resigned as chairman of Portsmouth after parent company Convers Sports Initiatives entered administration. On 24 January 2012, Portsmouth were issued with a winding up petition by HMRC for over £1.6 million in unpaid taxes, which was heard on 20 February. And again in February, the club went into administration for the second time in 2 years, bringing them another 10 point deduction.

At the start of the 2012-13 campaign,  new manager Michael Appleton has to cobble together a squad on next to no or meagre resources. Months later, Appleton left the club to join Blackpool and Guy Whittingham is appointed as a caretaker but could never succeed in bringing a halt to what they were suffering from.

Portsmouth were unable to find a manager on a long-term basis due to their financial state. The club went on a record winless run, playing their 20th game without a win in February 2013, the streak stretching back to October 2012 when the club defeated Shrewsbury. The winless streak lasted a total of 23 matches, finally ending on 2 March 2013 as Portsmouth won 2–1 away at Crewe Alexandra.

As the club failed to wrestle with relegation to the 4th tier,  Portsmouth Supporters’ Trust finally assumed control of the club from the administrators. However, things continue to deteriorate on the pitch and the club’s demotion to the fourth tier for the first time since 1978 is finally secured.

The situation, is nothing short of shattering, more from an outside perspective than from a perspective of a Portsmouth fan. It’s way devastating to witness a club sink to the lowest possible bowels of English football 5 years after laying their hands on arguably the biggest trophy of England. It’s indicative of the fact that, not just in football but even in life, you can never escape from bearing the fruits of what you did in the past. Portsmouth’s example is one of the most depressing ones you’d ever come across but let’s hope that no other club goes through such a cataclysmic and catastrophic period in the future.

And as far as the Pompey fans are concerned, it’s very good to see that they still are by the side of their club. They have gone through everything you can go through but they haven’t lost faith yet. Yes, Fratton Park may not be filling to its fullest and wouldn’t be rocking due to ecstatic fans watching their side take on a star studded AC Milan but for them, it’s just a case of hanging around where they are. And if there’s something that Portsmouth deserve, then it’s a salute…