DCSIMG

Pompey are back from the brink to a stable future

Pompey's new 'accidental owners' have spoken for the first time about building a secure future for the club after rescuing it from its death bed.

In a full and frank first interview with The News, Balram Chainrai and Levi Kushnir have said they are here to bring much-needed stability to Portsmouth Football Club after a traumatic year which has seen the club come within days of liquidation and fighting for its very life in the High Court.

The business partners have also spoken of how they were reluctantly sucked into the financial meltdown of the club, the sleepness nights they have suffered and the hurt they have felt by the verbal attacks thrown at them.

But, for now, the thoughts of Mr Chainrai and Mr Kushnir are focused fully on the future as they seek to work with chief executive David Lampitt off the field and Steve Cotterill on the field to take Pompey back to 'excellent heights' – while emotionally their ties with the club continue to grow.

There is much work to be done in charting the club's steps ahead. And their message to fans is to keep on showing the loyal support they have been doing through the troubled times.

Mr Chainrai said: 'Our message to fans is to keep on supporting your team. This is the time they need it. We are restructuring and rebuilding for a better future. We will not let you down.'

Mr Kushnir added: 'The fans' support is the fuel for success. They went through the tough times – now they need to keep on supporting their new team who can take the club to excellent heights.'

Mr Chainrai and Mr Kushnir spoke to The News within 24 hours of agreeing terms to own Pompey and before they set off for Fratton Park to watch the club's first home game of the Championship campaign, a 1-1 draw with Reading.

They met with Mr Lampitt in London on Friday to sign a heads of agreement guaranteeing ownership of the club via a holding company that they have majority ownership of.

The full contracts have still to be completed and the agreement will need Football League approval. But all parties hope that this will be done sooner rather than later.

At this stage there is no rash talk of huge sums being invested in the club to falsely raise the expectations of fans. And Mr Chainrai still continues to openly admit that if the right offer came along, which was good for them and the club, he would sell.

Instead the talk is very much about stability and transparency. With the agreement only just being signed, Mr Chainrai and Mr Kushnir say there is much to be discussed before decisions on how to take the club forward can be made. But among the priorities will be working with Cotterill 'as much as we can'.

Mr Kushnir said: 'We are here to stabilise the club – to keep Portsmouth Football Club secure and reconstruct it with Mr Lampitt and Mr Cotterill. We got through the hard times to reach where we got to on Friday. It's not the end of the story but there is some light at the end of the tunnel.

'We have pulled the club from the intensive care unit. We have disconnected some of the tubes. Now we are starting the rehabilitation.'

Mr Kushnir added: 'This club needs stability, integrity and 100 per cent transparency. Every penny needs to be accounted for. Everything from the beer to chewing gum. Owners were putting a lot of money in but this may not have been spent wisely. Most of the money went to players and agents. The wage bill made up 96 per cent of the costs.'

In going through the finances of the club, Mr Kushnir worked out that one player, who he would not name, earned 25,000 for every minute he played.

It is clear that both men have been stung by the criticism that has come their way since their involvement with the club began last year. This reached its head at the FA Cup final against Chelsea in May, when they were attacked by fans at Wembley. Mr Kushnir said he was almost bitten by one angry supporter.

And although news of the impending new ownership was welcomed by many fans last week, others remain unhappy at the continued involvement in the club of Mr Chainrai and his business partner, wanting a clean break from the dark days following the abortive takeovers by Sulaiman Al Fahim and Ali Al-Faraj.

It is obvious Mr Chainrai remains mystified that supporters still question his motives behind staying with the club.

He said: 'We have had sleepless nights over the football club. We have nearly lost our families. We have had nightmares. If we are going to pump in money and people continue to bitch then you sometimes think "why bother?"

'But we will not let the fans down. Come and support your team – not us. It's your fight. It's not about us. We are simply the doctors.'

Mr Kushnir added: 'Fans have talked about the club being asset stripped. But there was nothing to strip, everything was pledged. We are private people – until we got hit by the Portsmouth lightning.

'We could have walked away. But we will share the problems together. And we will share the good times together. We have a business plan based on staying in the Championship – but we are happy to go back to the Premier League.'

A three-year business plan was put together by the administrators as part of the CVA which will form the basis of the way forward. Time will tell whether the new owners-to-be will be seeing this through to completion in 2013, with Mr Kushnir pointing out that in the world of business you can never be sure what is around the corner.

Mr Chainrai has never hidden their intention that if a bidder came in with a deal that was good for the club they would relinquish their control.

But their growing ties to the club might make that harder in reality.

Mr Chainrai said: 'I am starting to fall in love with the club. It's growing on me.'

His business partner agrees. 'We are creating an emotional attachment and I am excited by that.'

TAKEOVER NEWS GETS CAUTIOUS WELCOME

Pompey fans have been giving their reaction to the new owners' pledges to see the club on more stable ground.

They have also cautiously welcomed Mr Chainrai and Mr Kushnir's promises that they will help stabilise and bring transparency to the club.

Brendon Bone, of the Pompey Supporters' Trust, said: 'The main thing from the trust's point of view is that we'll give anyone a chance and work with anyone.

'But we want to see transparency at Pompey.

'If Balram Chainrai has decided to keep the club then great, but words are easy to say and it's actions the fans want to see.'

One fan, Mat Brett, from Fratton, said: 'I don't think most Pompey fans want Balram Chainrai to be owner because he seems to be reluctant, but given the circumstances if he intends to stabilise Pompey, and gets the club to run within its means, that's good news.

'I just hope he doesn't stabilise it and then immediately demand his money back.'

And Bill Gillon, who runs the Pompey online message boards, said he could sum up his reaction in one word: 'Cynical'.

He added: 'Going back to the days before Balram Chainrai we've heard this sort of thing before.

'We've been fed a lot of stuff over the last couple of years and this is just someone else saying they've got the best interests of the club and the fans at heart.'

WHITE-KNUCKLE ROLLERCOASTER RIDE

What started off as a business deal soon found Balram Chainrai and Levi Kushnir riding a Pompey rollercoaster which was just about to crash.

That is how they describe their initiation into a club they are set to own for a second time.

Mr Kushnir said they ended up on the white-knuckle ride as victims of circumstance.

Mr Chainrai added: 'We are accidental owners. We didn't go looking for the club. We were forced into the situation.'

Both say they are family businessmen trading in international markets - entrepreneurs. Their business interests are diverse and include property, hotels and gas stations. Mr Chainrai said he was currently looking at some propositions around solar energy, which included opportunities in the UK.

Their journey with Pompey began last year, when an Israeli lawyer offered them a business opportunity to lend some money for a football club. But what started as an attractive deal - with 18.2m loaned to former owner Ali Al-Faraj - soon found them trying to get their money back and then ultimately fighting to save not only their investment but the future of the club.

They say there were at least three or four occasions when the club's future was in immediate danger.

The two clearest memories of that turbulent time was last October when the club ran out of money and could not pay the salaries of the players and staff. The second was in February when Mr Chainrai eventually put the club into administration, five days before the taxman was going to the courts to have the club wound up over unpaid bills.

Mr Kushnir said: 'We could have walked away. We wanted out. We wanted our money back. But we saw there was no other way but to step in and save the club. To get out we had to get in, clean it up and build a new team.'

He added: 'We have done everything possible in order to secure our money and secure this club's future. This has been our main worry in the last seven-eight months.'

They point out that they are not taking 'one penny' from the club. Questions have been raised over 4m taken out following the sale of Younes Kaboul to Tottenham. Mr Chainrai says they had borrowed this money from 'a friend' with the agreement that they would be repaid after the transfer had taken place.

Both men also point out that creditors owed less than 2,500 will be paid by them as part of the CVA.

And as part of the move in to administration they agreed to put in place a 15m 'safety net' to satisfy the judge as well as give up their rights to all TV cash which had been their main security against their original investment.

DUO HAVE THEIR WORK CUT OUT

Balram Chainrai and Levi Kushnir know that there is much work to be done over the coming weeks as they help chart the secure future the football club craves.

The businessmen will have to juggle their renewed commitment to Pompey with, their business obligations and home lives abroad, as they arrange further meetings with David Lampitt and his team to work out the priorities ahead. This includes looking at what help can be provided to Steve Cotterill's threadbare squad.

While this process is stepped up there are still formal details which have to be completed before the ownership is finalised.

Contracts between the owner and the club have been exchanged but not completed, a process which could take six to eight weeks, but both sides are working to make sure this can be done quicker.

Mr Chainrai and Mr Kushnir have met officials from the Football League but will need to complete the paperwork for the new directors and owners 'fit and proper' test. Once approved the League will then transfer the golden share - the registration to run a club - from the administrators to the new owner.

The next official date for the process to be ratified will be at the League's board meeting on September 9. But Pompey will be pushing for a speedier resolution, with one eye on being able to add to the squad before the current transfer window closes at the end of this month.

The new owner will also have to fulfil the requirements of the CVA. Among the obligations are generating funds from the sale of players. The target was originally set at 15m but that has since been taken down to 12m. More than 8m of this has already been achieved.

Mr Chainrai and Mr Kushnir say that their role will not be hands on, with the day-to-day responsibility of running the club resting with Mr Lampitt off the field and Cotterill on it.

The chief executive faces the task of creating his new board of directors. Key to this are commercial director Lucius Peart and chief finance office - and Pompey season ticket holder - John Redgate.

For Cotterill lies the hope of the purse strings being loosened so he can add to his squad.

'I feel sorry for Mr Cotterill,' said Mr Chainrai. 'We should thank him. If I was him I would have run away. I have pain when I see his face.'

 
 
 

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