From South stand lower to Pompey’s boardroom

New Pompey director John Kimbell
New Pompey director John Kimbell

That seven-year-old who marvelled at promotion scenes in his maiden Pompey visit has left his seat in the South stand lower.

Temporarily, of course.

John Kimbell finds himself in new surroundings these days, following his elevation to the Fratton Park boardroom.

The departure of Mick Williams created an opening among the Portsmouth Supporters’ Trust board to join fellow voices Ashley Brown and Mark Trapani.

The outcome was the selection of a 39-year-old father of two who numbers Alan McLoughlin, Kevin O’Callaghan, Martin Kuhl and Robert Prosinecki among his Fratton heroes.

Kimbell arrives at a time when the club have posted operating profits of £118,976 for the first full year out of administration – but are far from satisfactory on the pitch.

He walks into a boardroom dramatically shorn of Williams, whose messy exit from the Trust shocked its members and attracted criticism from a number of supporters.

Yet for Godalming-based businessman Kimbell, his entrance is the culmination of a life-long ambition.

The destiny of a fan, ball boy, mascot and Trust board member, who for 32 years has established an unbreakable bond with Pompey.

A club first sampled on May 7, 1983, when a 2-0 win over Southend sent Bobby Campbell’s men into the old Division Two.

Kimbell said: ‘It’s perhaps a fresh pair of eyes. I’m the first elected Trust member to join the club board since its original formation and now I see a new phase.

‘I have my own business with plenty of expertise on the commercial and marketing side, while my 32 years as a fan probably qualifies me enough to have a view on what makes Pompey tick.

‘I am not a Johnny-come-lately out for glory. Some people think it is all about ego and that really drives me mad. I want to make a difference. I’m passionate about that.

‘I have done everything with the club, attended home and away, gone on pre-season tours such as Kilmarnock when Amdy Faye turned up. I am a proper Pompey fan, it is in the blood. It is part of me.

‘From the day of my first game in 1983,watching us promoted against Southend, I have remained in the South stand lower. You could see me in the picture on the back page of The News the Monday afterwards.

‘I’ve had that seat next to my dad, Ian, for 32 years, just 10 feet to the left of Andy Awford so I can keep my beady eye on him! And I am definitely going to be a fan in the stand rather than a director in the box.

‘I am not saying I will never be in the directors’ box because there will be times when Iain McInnes wants us to share the hosting.

‘But as a rule I still plan to sit in South stand lower. I am very much going to remain involved as a fan, that is what I am on the board for.

‘I’m a fan representative with – I would hope – some business acumen and knowledge about how to make a business work and how we can restore the club to where it should be.’

Formerly with advertising giants Saatchi & Saatchi and then global media company Universal McCann, Kimbell formed his business, Navigate Digital, in 2007.

The digital marketing agency has since flourished into a profitable, award-winning business, working for the likes of Monarch Airlines, Lakeland, Park Resorts and Cotswold Outdoor.

Kimbell has been a Trust board member since 2013, with a role generally focusing on the media side, including revamping the Trust website and organising regular columns in the programme and the Sports Mail.

Admittedly, though, his promotion to the club board has arrived at a difficult time.

He added: ‘I have come at a time when Mick has gone, after doing a great job, but I am my own man.

‘I am a different type of person. We probably have a very different approach to business but, ultimately, we all want success for the club.

‘Admittedly, I would rather have joined the board with no controversy surrounding it. It would have been nice to have a normal start but so be it, you just crack on.

‘Everything the Trust does and continues to do is in the interests of the fans. Every decision we make is very considered.

‘Mick didn’t agree with one of the decisions but that is what happens on boards. There are always going to be one or two people disagreeing. If you all agree it would be ridiculous.

‘Decisions are made democratically, we all have our views, we are all fans and we all do what we believe is in the best interests of the Trust and subsequently the club.’

On March 26, Kimbell was among Pompey’s seven-man board who met at the London offices of Mondrian Investment Partners.

That seven-year-old had arrived.

‘Given the kind of club we are and the fanbase we possess, to have a fan-owned club and that representation on the board is massively important,’ said Kimbell.

‘There has been so much instability in the life and times of Portsmouth Football Club and now fans possess a voice on the board.

‘I was told I had passed the owners and directors’ test literally before I went into the boardroom and it was a big meeting, one of the biggest of the year where we talk about budgets and what have you.

‘It was slightly surreal sitting in there with the most important people at the club other than the fans.

‘I’ve gone from the depths of the South lower to the boardroom via the Trust. I hope it encourages a lot of people to get involved and stay involved and be patient with it.

‘Being a Pompey fan is really draining, but just goes to show if you stick with it and follow your dreams, one day you get there.’