Pompey’s boardroom demolition which haunts Owen

Milan Mandaric, left, strikes a deal with Sacha Gaydamak for the sale of the club
Milan Mandaric, left, strikes a deal with Sacha Gaydamak for the sale of the club

The noise of the axe thundering down on naked wood will forever haunt Richard Owen.

Stood within the Pompey boardroom on a mercy mission, the oak-panels splintered and fractured with every booming blow.

The club’s historian had arrived to save the Blues’ prized heritage from being tossed into a skip loitering outside.

But part of the contents within that Fratton Park room were already beyond rescue.

The savage scene had been decreed by Sacha Gaydamak, just hours after Milan Mandaric had formerly handed over full ownership of the Blues in August 2006.

The drive to inflict his own mark on the club resulted in gaping wounds which to this day have still to heal.

Owen himself still bares the scars, while some memorabilia formerly displayed so proudly in that boardroom has since to be reclaimed.

And the 54-year-old will never forgive.

Owen said: ‘It was probably the saddest day ever in my entire association with Portsmouth Football Club.

‘Relegation doesn’t come close to the pain I felt, it was a very dramatic day.

‘It was 2pm on a Monday afternoon, the phone rang at work and Milan’s secretary, Ros, asked if I could get down to the boardroom straight away to empty it out.

‘Apparently, it needed to be done quickly, so could I bring some boxes!

‘Milan had only just left that morning and within hours Gaydamak was stamping his mark.

‘I couldn’t get down there until 3pm and when I did there was a team of builders – fortunately under the guidance of Terry Clark who had some sympathy and was going to help me clear all the archives, trophies and glassware from the cabinet.

‘There were these four guys there with pickaxes which drew me to tears for the first time in many years as I watched them smash up the oak-panelled boardroom at Fratton Park.

‘I will never forget the sound of it – the pickaxing of the board and smashing all the panels down, smashing the toilet down, the bar was going. What we see now is an awful glass coffee lounge which has no character at all.

‘Football League boardrooms can be special and although Pompey’s wasn’t as good as Blackburn or many other boardrooms, it had an ambience and character about it.

‘The trophy cabinets were one thing, we emptied those quickly, but the little bar and the toilet had gone.

‘The contents I kept at home for a couple of days, while I put others in the safe at Havant police station for three months until it came to a time where they couldn’t stay there any more.

‘So I had the brainwave of taking them down to the city museum where they still are – and thank God!

‘The guy (Gaydamak) had no respect whatsoever for anything that had happened in the 100 or so years before he came to the club and I despise him for that.

‘His English was very, very good, he had a good handshake, but from that day I was never going to like the man because of what he did. It was totally wrong.’

This summer, Owen ended a 36-year working association with the Blues, following his decision to retire to the Lake District.

The former policeman will remain in a consultant historian capacity, along with Peter Jeffs and Jake Payne.

And pre-community ownership, Mandaric represents the last chairman he possessed respect for.

He added: ‘I would like to ask Milan where the painting of HMS Victory has gone!

‘Still, without doubt, Milan saved the club. It was just a disappointment it took seven managers to get it right.

‘He was a bit full of himself at times. He seemed to milk the adulation he got. But he got us there, he put the money in.

‘The other disappointment with Milan was, when he left, he always said he needed to spend time with his family – then went to Leicester and then Sheffield Wednesday.

‘But he was generous to the staff. He took them out for a meal at the Pizza House restaurant when he left, and refunded the fans’ money after a 4-0 defeat at Blackburn.

‘He was charismatic and liked his football. I sat behind him at away matches and he read the game well. And although very passionate, his emotions were pretty well controlled.

‘It’s fair to say he was misadvised during his years at Pompey – and let down by a few people as well.’

With 36 years having closed, Owen can look back on precious memories involved in the club he loves.

Yet when he surveys recent Pompey times, it is with a mixture of anger and frustration.

He said: ‘All the cartoon characters came along and it has been so sad over the years.

‘I actually handled Vladimir Antonov’s arrest warrant when I worked for the police. My job at Cosham was to deal with European arrest warrants and when that came in I recognised the name – so it was quite quick to get that on executed!

‘We got the Met involved, we knew where he was, and went to Westminster Magistrates Court to start the process of being extradited.

‘I never met Ali Al Faraj, while Balram Chainrai was a particularly annoying man – he had his own agenda. I actually wouldn’t have wanted to meet him.

‘Pompey have had a litany of bad people coming into the club.

‘It seems to be a terrible victim of it.’