The Portsmouth Supporters’ Trust Story – The Early Years
THE END OF THE BEGINNING
………as Churchill so famously stated. The acquisition in the summer of 2010 of Portsmouth Football Club by Convers Sports Initiative (CSI) an investment Group headed up by Vladimir Antonov, a Uzbekistan business man, marked a major turning point for the PST and Football Club. Mind you it didn’t seem so at the time. Many fans breathed a collective sigh of relief as the story broke. Was this the much wished for in some quarter’s mega rich successful businessman (a la Abramovich) come as the saviour of PFC from seemingly nowhere. Sadly No!
With his fingers in a number of apparently lucrative business pies, including a rather large one in Estonia by the name of ‘Snoras Bank’, he seemed to answer a dream of wiping off the debts at a stroke, piling in investment into the Club enabling it to return from whence it had so rapidly disappeared. Not for the first time, the eternal optimists among the Fratton Faithful were eventually to find that these promises were a sham as Antonov’s whole operation was based on a business structure akin to castles constructed on the sandy beaches of the South Coast.
Having taken control via yet another newly set up Company, Antonov and his chief partner Roman Dubov, in this latest chapter of the PFC ownership farce, began by writing to PST the obligatory goodwill letter (which this writer still has) promising milk & honey for the Club but nothing for the PST or the fans in terms of any control or say in running it. Fans were welcome and valued as – err well as fans and paying Customers/Patrons of course! Happy to take the money but as for listening or consulting? Not really thank you very much, that was the message.
But it didn’t matter because as the compiler of this part of the PST story predicted, the promised 5 year plan to return PFC to the Premier League lasted just 5 months. The CSI House of Cards or if you like ‘Castle in the Sky’ collapsed financially almost overnight. Expansion of its Group Business by way of rapid purchasing of to many struggling business around the globe with insufficient working capital spelt a rapid end. However, it was the collapse of Snoras Bank that was the catalyst. The later revelation being that Antonov as its head had been stripping the Estonian Bank ‘Snoras’ of its funds to under pin CSI and its many acquisitions. Charges he vehemently denied. Extradition action brought by the Estonian Government he fought only recently were concluded. He lost by the way.
Meanwhile back at the PFC ranch the Club found itself back where it had been pre CSI. In huge indebtedness thanks to CSI’s recent spending sprees, back in the control of the Hong Kong based Balraim Chanrai and his Portpin Shell Company. Smarting financially from this latest failure to sell off PFC (it turned out to be a monthly Instalment plan that Antonov had never actually started) his first act was to put the new controlling Company now operating the Club into Administration.
That was in effect when the PST came into its own and the dream of ownership by fans became more than that. Finally the Trust was able to generate real interest and with it a belief that the Club could be acquired. With support from local MP’s the Press, both Local/National, the vast majority of Fans, Supporters Clubs, world-wide but more significantly close to Home as key personnel on the PST Board with not insignificant local and national business interests via companies of their own began to garner the support of others with emotional paternal and long standing connections with the Club and the City of Portsmouth.
Yours truly by now had relinquished the PST Chair to Ashley Brown, who with 2 other Board members, Mark Trapani & Mick Williams took up the challenge putting together a bid to wrest control & ownership of the Club, from the Company in Administration Within weeks PST & its Associates financial stone gained momentum metaphorically rolling down Portsdown Hill gathering pace, membership support and financial clout via a PST shareholders initiative enabling fans to buy £1000 shares and end this sorry saga of financial mismanagement of a much loved Football Club.
Support for the PST cause flowed in including the Local Authority approving a £1.4 million loan whilst local MP’s, notably Penny Mordaunt, fought tooth and nail to garner Government backing in terms of moral if not legislative support it seemed at one point the world was collectively willing the PST to succeed save for a handful of negative doubters and anti PST critics.
By this time PST had itself undergone several changes in personnel as Elections came and went and new Board members came along to replace those who had found the heat in the Kitchen too hot to bear or for some personal reason felt their contribution to the cause had reached its natural end. Certainly these were trying times for all those on the Board as the cruises escalated and efforts were doubled to find a way to secure the Club under PST influence if not total Ownership. The likes of Ashley Brown, Tom Dearie, Mick Williams and Mark Trapani and the ever doughty Secretary, Tony Foot were prominent during this period and led the way for changes to the PST Rules enabling it to allow fans to buy shares in PST as a hoped for future investment in the Club.
Meanwhile, the PFC operating company faced yet more legal battles to avoid being wound up. Prompted by HMRC issuing yet a further Winding Up petition for unpaid taxes a further convoluted court battle ensued. To go into the fine details of that next round of legal argument, process, disputes between two sets of Administrators parties vying for control and a day to day ever changing position adopted by HMRC , Portpin, the Premier League and the Football League would require an extensive article of its own.
Suffice to say new Administrators headed by Trevor Birch, initially favoured the PST but ongoing negotiations and behind the scenes battles raged for weeks through 2012 and even after the PST was announced as the preferred bidder in October 2012 the pendulum swung this way and that complicated by 3rd party interest that at one point seriously threatened to derail the PST bid. A crucial PST Board meeting had taken place on the 23rd August 2012 at which the Bid team in rather despondent mood announced they had reached the end with towel in hand ready to throw into the ring. With Administrators, Football Authorities now favouring Chanrai’s, Portpin Company retaining Ownership based on a bid slightly more than PST could muster. However, after much discussion and soul searching the PST Board asked if they could give it one more shot, having come this far. Mick Williams a key player in this said he would try to redo the figures and perhaps be able to generate a better bid. He did and the bid team were ultimately able to do that and go back with an improved offer
Pushed deeper into a corner by exposure of financial irregularities, breach of Football rules Portpin were now on the back foot. An offer tabled by PST and their newly acquired partners in the clearly shape of Ian McIness (Club Chairman to be) and his small cohort of local Pompey Boys ‘dun good‘, Balraim Chanrai and his group of supporters had no room to manoeuvre let alone barter. The ever shaky Football League so fond of sitting on the fence swinging whichever way the wind blew finally committed its support to the PST as preferred bidders. Further undermined by a variety of blogs/articles, shredded Chanrai credibility and his persistent stance to recover his entire Investment or loan (including outrageous interest) was in tatters. Circa £17 million he reportedly stated he wanted. He was having a laugh! Not for long though.
So came the end of a long struggle begun by a small hardy band of Pompey fans in late 2009 that finally came to a successful conclusion on the 10th April 2013 in Court 32 of the Royal Courts of Justice Rolls Building when the learned Judge Peter Smith himself a Hull City fan happily signed over to the PST and its Partners ownership of Portsmouth Football Club on the back of a £3m deal.
Being there as a PST founder member along with a handful of others sharing with all those involved who had come on board to help score the most important goal in the Clubs famous and sometimes chequered financial history and a part of the whole process was something special. The journey, drams, despair, agony, stress with its edge of the seat last minute match day style day in court and aftermath celebrations was worth it. Tears? Yes, I shed a few!
For the PST it was - Job Done? Well the easy bit anyway!
What came next is for someone else to perhaps cover in the future.