Pompey’s role in a key moment for fans

Helen Grant.  Picture: Sarah Standing (143023-3856)

Helen Grant. Picture: Sarah Standing (143023-3856)

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Over the course of more than an hour the Pompey parable was recounted in all its gore and glory.

The descent into the abyss, agony and eventual triumph of the Blues’ supporters is a well-established tale around these parts.

It echoes around the football world, its cautionary tones heard and heeded – the indomitable roars ever-increasingly admired.

But the minutiae of what has unfolded was still enough to widen eyes as Pompey Supporters’ Trust chairman and Blues director, Ash Brown, addressed his audience.

The FA Cup has offered the perfect platform to celebrate the club’s rebirth and success as the United Kingdom’s biggest fan-owned club.

The fourth-round clash with Bournemouth provided Pompey with its moment in the national spotlight at the end of last month, and the club’s exalted progress sung for all to hear.

Pompey’s crucial contribution to the lengthy work which culminated 12 days earlier, quite understandably, failed to generate even a thimble of the same excitement around PO4.

Yet, to the rest of the game, it could prove more significant than their day in the Cup sun was to Pompey.

The final report from the Government Expert Working Group on Football Supporter Ownership and Engagement is as heavy going as it sounds.

But it’s not a patch on the endless hours put in across a dozen meetings and constant conference calls by those involved over 15 months.

Pick through the detail, though, and you have the first meaningful work from a report on fan ownership.

‘We were determined to produce a report with clear recommendations and negotiated agreements rather than another “wish list” with no outcomes or solutions.’ was how chair, Joanna Manning-Cooper, termed it.

Manning-Cooper is a Pompey fan and community share holder, and has emerged with great credit from the tricky task of guiding the way forward.

It was October 2014 when then minister for sport, Helen Grant, launched the group at Fratton Park.

A month later, and the first meeting brought the main players together.

The FA, Premier League, Football League, National League, Supporters Direct, Football Supporters Federation and Department for Culture, Media & Sport made up the core group members.

Then came the PST along with Wrexham, Swansea and AFC Wimbledon’s supporter trusts.

They made up the audience for Brown’s hour-long address on the issues faced as the battle to save Pompey was fought.

‘Some from the authorities knew the story quite well,’ said Brown.

‘Others were shocked at some of the things which went on.’

Being told to come up with £100m proof of funds by administrator Andrew Andronikou in 2010, if they were to be met, was one of the shockers.

Tal Ben Haim being signed on a £36,000-a-week four-year deal, six months before Pompey became the first Premier League club to enter administration was another.

Such scenarios shouldn’t be allowed to happen again with appropriate embargoes and sanctions in place from the leagues, as lessons are learnt.

The Football Creditor Rule – which states players’ contracts are to be paid in full in an administration – remains a difficult subject, which was digested.

While in place to uphold a league’s integrity and keep it operational, Pompey saw the associated problems.

Quite simply, the PST would never have completed their takeover without the compromise agreements made with players.

Now football authorities have stated they are ready to hold such discussions for supporter trusts.

Formalising such workable and practical solutions – not lip-service – is what has emerged from the report’s publication.

They have fallen into three areas – the insolvency process, a revisited tax structure for supporter-owned clubs and funding during the bidding process.

The PST’s experience comes into play in all three, but the recommendation of administrators being required to meet with trusts in an insolvency situation stands out.

Being seen as a credible option was a huge barrier to the community bid.

‘It was long-term frustration that no one would talk to us,’ Brown reflected.

A combination of real money, a valid business plan, the credibility of the main players and the momentum being created among fans changed the tide, however.

Again, it is that experience which has been drawn upon and permeates the report.

The football family continue to benefit from that journey. Everyone from Leeds to Farnborough fall into that category. In dark days, we now hope Bolton can believe thanks to the PST’s support.

‘It was absolutely worthwhile,’ said Brown of his involvement in what is hoped will be a landmark for supporters.

‘That doesn’t mean there isn’t more to do or authorities could go further in the future. But it’s been a big step in the right direction.’

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