Brown: Pompey fans can continue going it alone

Ashley Brown
Ashley Brown
Staff from The Roberts Centre joined together at Landport Community Centre to mark the launch of the 'Find Robert The Bear' Competition. The aim is for people to take photos of their bears in interesting parts of the Portsmouth/Gosport/Fareham/Havant/Waterlooville areas.

Picture: Sarah Standing (170129-1543)

Charity urges people to think of all others

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Pompey are not ‘desperate’ to raise funds for the continuing good health of the club.

That is the verdict of Ashley Brown, who is convinced the promotion-winning Blues can continue to thrive under community ownership.

Pompey Supporters’ Trust shareholders will soon vote on whether Michael Eisner’s £5.67m takeover should be approved.

Yet Mr Brown believes retaining the current ownership model is a viable alternative, with proposals to raise necessary finance.

The ‘Proposed Sale of PST Shares’ documentation refers several times to the figure of £5m required over a five-year period for essential Fratton Park safety work.

It’s a sum Tornante have pledged to meet through the injection of at least £10m of additional equity in the club.

Meanwhile, the Trust have drawn up their own funding plans, including launching another share issue, more contributions from club presidents and utilising the remaining £900,000 Tesco money.

Mr Brown has been at the forefront of negotiations with Mr Eisner through his role on Pompey’s board and as Trust chairman.

And the 47-year-old is adamant the club can continue to go it alone, without need of the American billionaire.

Mr Brown said: ‘For what we need now, we have a competitive playing budget set aside for next year in League One and monies set aside for the ground, so there is no urgent problem.

‘What we have is a period of time over the next few years to properly understand what our financial requirements are – and then identify what we can raise through shareholders or other means.

‘But we are not in any desperate position at the moment.

‘We have been ready to raise money through a share issue and that was delayed to complete discussions with Michael Eisner.

‘The issue was going to happen early this year but, with his interest looking to be something that would push forward into a genuine offer, we felt it wasn’t fair or right at that time to grant new shares.

‘In any normal business practice you don’t issue new shares when there might be a takeover.

‘However, that is something we will be ready to pull the trigger on in the summer if need be.

‘Yet there is no desperate urgent need (for finance) in the next few months, so we would go through a process of seeing what interest there is from existing shareholders and at the same time complete the study on the ground – which is ongoing.

‘Then we can get an understanding of what we need over the next few years and at that point may have to look for additional investors who might want to work with us.

‘In the meantime, our recent survey showed 468 people would definitely buy new shares, and 886 saying they probably would.

‘We also know a handful of presidents would be interested in putting some more money in.

‘Not all of them by any means, but some of the ones in a stronger position to put in significant amounts of money.

‘We cannot talk in detail about that until it is known what happens in the next few weeks with Tornante.

‘We would probably be looking at the same price of £1,000 per share. Whether the football club share is priced identically is a different matter.’

As demonstrated in bid documentation distributed to Trust shareholders and members, there is widespread recognition of urgent safety work required at Fratton Park.

And Mr Brown insists the first year of that work is already planned and funded under the existing regime – commencing this summer.

He added: ‘We know there are certain safety works the council would like us to prioritise – and those have been prioritised.

‘During that first tranche of work over the next 12 months we will probably use most, if not all, of the Tesco money.

‘This is predominantly making sure the ground is safe and therefore we can maintain capacity. Then we need to agree on what happens next.

‘Firstly, we need to finish the studies to understand what some of the additional ground problems are because we don’t yet know.

‘Secondly, once we have that, whoever owns the club must sit down with the council and look at years two, three and four, building an affordable plan that everybody is happy with.

‘No-one knows the full amount it will cost. Numbers such as £5m over five years are an estimate based on not a lot more. You wouldn’t find anyone professional putting their name to that number at this stage.

‘Given another three to six months, we will have a more accurate understanding. That will be after structural reviews and people from the council coming in to ascertain where we are on capacity and safety grounds.

‘I don’t think the cost (£5m) will be any worse than that, personally.’

Fears over separating Fratton Park from club assets

‘We have requested further assurances regarding….. any intentions to separate assets, such as the stadium, from the company that operates the club.

‘Tornante has stated that they wish to have full flexibility in these areas.’

(Proposed Sale of PST Shares in Portsmouth Community Football Club, page 22)

Ashley Brown said: ‘Separation of assets is something we have seen happen multiple times around the country.

‘Brighton are a particular case close to home where they sold off the Goldstone Ground for a supermarket and spent years in the wilderness at the Withdean.

‘We saw it here under the Premier League years when a lot of land was bought and then hived off away from the football club in another company.

‘We went to the High Court because we wouldn’t take over Portsmouth Football Club unless we had ownership of Fratton Park. You can be charged enormous rents, all sorts of awkward things could happen.

‘Portpin wanted us to pay £2m a year to rent the ground, which would have been a significant drain on us. If you have the right intentions for the ground and football club, why would you not offer us some reassurance that the assets would not be separated from the club?

‘I am not suggesting Michael Eisner would do that – but you have to ask the question why he wouldn’t offer the protection? I talked him through the examples of the land at Fratton Park, what happened at Brighton and around the country and explained it was a concern of ours.

‘His response has been “No, you can’t have that”. That is another red flag for us.’

Concerns over Pompey club badge

‘Tornante has suggested that because of concerns they have over the ownership of the intellectual property in the crest, they need to reserve rights in this context as they may need to “augment” the crest, so this cannot be agreed by them as a veto matter, although it does fall under the Recommendation Matters on which the Heritage Board is to be consulted.’

(Proposed Sale of PST Shares in Portsmouth Community Football Club, page 29)

Brown said: ‘The crest is a strange one.

‘We want it protected, but he has declined.

‘We know Michael Eisner is very brand-orientated and has worked for one of the companies which has one of the biggest brands globally.

‘He feels that, for whatever reason, he will not have a global right or it could be withdrawn should he market the crest. Therefore he wants the ability to change it.

‘Most Pompey fans are very proud of the star and crescent and not so long ago we moved it back to the traditional format of that.

‘It’s not the biggest concern we have, it’s one of a number of concerns, and would be a shame to lose that to something that didn’t represent what our club is.’

‘No conflict of interest with commitments’

Ashley Brown has dismissed accusations of a conflict of interest during Pompey’s takeover scenario.

The 47-year-old currently sits on Pompey’s board and is serving a second stint as chairman of the Pompey Supporters’ Trust.

In addition, the South stand season ticket holder was in October appointed chief executive of Supporters Direct.

Supporters Direct’s remit is to help fans gain influence in the running and ownership of their club.

Now Pompey face surrendering such an advantage.

But Mr Brown refutes any suggestion his position has steered his actions during negotiations with Michael Eisner and his Tornante investment group.

He said: ‘I don’t have a conflict of interest – that would be if I was likely to lose my job if a particular outcome materialised. That is not going to happen.

‘People talk about me being chief executive of Supporters Direct, well at Pompey we are going through a process where fans decide who the future owner of their club is.

‘That’s a powerful message for Supporters Direct, whatever the outcome.

‘The point is the fans are deciding. It’s not one multi-millionaire unknown owner deciding behind closed doors he wants to sell to another unknown owner from somewhere else around the world. The fans decide.

‘Conflict is where individuals have something to gain from an outcome, I don’t.

‘Since I’ve had any involvement in this football club, from six years going through the great big fight saving it to running it, I have made every decision based on Portsmouth Football Club.

‘Anybody that really knows me knows that’s the case and knows the likes of myself, Iain McInnes and others care passionately about this club. We will only make decisions we believe are in the best interests of the club.

‘Accusations of a conflict of interest does annoy me, particularly when it comes to people who know me and have seen me watching this club for 45 years or more.

‘I’ve travelled round the country as a fan, stood on the terraces in the pouring rain getting wet and seeing Pompey lose. I love this club.

‘People want to push a particular agenda and will do certain things to try to achieve that agenda.

‘I have to be very careful, I am not supposed to give a personal opinion, I am trying to represent what the Trust board have said in the information pack.

‘And I will defend my position without being conflicted because I’ll make the decisions on what is best for the club.’