Football must stop taking Pompey name in vain

Former Pompey owners Vladimir Antonov, left, and Roman Dubov       Picture: Steve Reid
Former Pompey owners Vladimir Antonov, left, and Roman Dubov Picture: Steve Reid

So Bolton have become the latest financial casualty of the Premier League and the sweaty-palmed grasp at footballing success.

Almost £200m in debt, careering towards administration, facing relegation to League One and with a winding-up order to be heard at the High Court on Monday.

Amid all the tutting and shaking of heads from bystanders, the tired phrase is once again wheeled out.

‘Doing a Pompey’.

A label all too easily attached to clubs who have overspent and are suffering the consequences of a calamitous short-term oversight.

Except it is a myth, football will never again see another Pompey scenario unfold.

That is unless a club is owned by the son of businessman imprisoned for money laundering, an Arab of exaggerated wealth, a mysterious figure of dubious existence, a money lender and a Russian presently on the run.

The Blues were lumbered with them all – an eclectic group of five characters who between them contributed to two administrations, two HMRC winding-up petitions, the deduction of 19 points and three relegations.

Bolton have been shoved on to the financial precipice by owner and life-long fan Eddie Davies opting to turn off the tap after ploughing in his fortune since initially joining the board in 1999.

The Isle of Man-based businessman, who made his millions in kettle parts, helped the Trotters revel in the Premier League for 11 years until relegation in 2012.

Currently the club is scrapping to remain in existence as determined fans admirably unite in an attempt to discover a life preserve.

Yet the manner of their financial ruination is incomparable to that witnessed at Fratton Park, despite obviously similar outcomes.

Nor should the plight of other stuttering clubs be likened to the fate of Pompey. One size does not fit all.

This is no competition, war wounds aren’t being compared nor hard-luck stories rolled out in front of the campfire to impress.

Football, in general, continues to demonstrate a basic lack of understanding whenever gleefully chiselling the ‘doing a Pompey’ epitaph.

In truth, whatever your supporting persuasion, regardless of your fears, your club will never come close to emulating the Blues’ cautionary tale.

For it wasn’t merely overspending in the search for footballing glory which prompted the decline, as seen at so many clubs refusing to operate with self-sufficiency.

The majority of the guilty Pompey quintet barely stomached the beautiful game – their motives not as translucent as chasing the dream.

Only this week former Sky presenter Richard Keys mocked a Harry Redknapp Daily Telegraph column on the ‘FA Cup tradition being devalued by greed’ and how ‘Mid-table teams should have a go – like we did at Portsmouth in 2008’.

‘This made me laugh. Greed? That 2008 left Pompey in tatters,’ he Tweeted.

Yet when community ownership saved the club from liquidation at the High Court in April 2013, it had been four years, 10 months and 25 days since the FA Cup final victory.

Was Redknapp really more culpable than a procession of owners and their minions who oversaw financial failings long after he exited for Spurs five months after that Wembley win?

Of course not. Instead the blood is stained on the hands of those five individuals whose collective might gave origin to ‘doing a Pompey’.

Firstly there’s Vladimir Antonov, presently AWOL having lost a legal fight to avoid extradition to Lithuania on allegations of bank fraud.

Installed as Pompey chairman in June 2011, the Russian was later accused of stripping assets and funds worth £400m from Lithuanian bank, Snoras, along with business partner, Raimondas Baranauskas.

It is also alleged false documents to the Lithuanian central bank were submitted in a bid to cover their tracks. The pair denied all charges.

On July 6, 2015, his lawyer confirmed conditional bail had been broken and Antonov had fled the UK ‘due to fears for his life’. A warrant is out for his arrest.

Then there’s Sacha Gaydamak who, upon his arrival in January 2006 for an initial 50-per-cent stake, insisted the investment did not involve his father, Arkadi.

Yet the suspicion never went away, certainly not among those working for the club, and when the Gaydamaks were hit by a worldwide recession the club was sold in August 2009.

In November 2015, Arkadi started a three-year prison term in France for tax evasion and money laundering.

Al Fahim owned Pompey for 41 days, claimed he was a billionaire, called himself a doctor when actually he wasn’t, kicked a ball around the Fratton end car park with some kids, and at a packed supporters’ meeting pledged to invest £50m.

Back in November 2014, a journalist from French television channel Canal+ contacted me as Al Fahim was apparently showing interest in Paris FC, then a French Ligue 3 side.

According to their impeccable sources, he had ambitions to transform them into rivals for Paris Saint-Germain. Nothing materialised.

Next we have Saudi Arabian billionaire Ali Al Faraj, who passed the Premier League’s fit & proper person’s test despite never visiting this country and nobody meeting him.

Nicknamed Al Mirage, many doubt his existence at all, although the likelihood is he did but was actually an orchestrated-front for others.

Finally, we have Portpin, owned by Hong Kong money lender Balram Chainrai and Levi Kushnir, who claimed the club off Al Faraj in February 2010.

Chainrai was the figurehead and endured the most poisonous relationship of all the five owners with supporters during two spells, including the crucial High Court case.

Football fans may have owners they despise under whose influence their clubs are suffering hard times, some sadly bordering on fatal.

But when five of them in turn swoop down, then you really do have problems. Ask Pompey.