The day a judge sided with the fans

Trevor Birch, right, in action for Shrewsbury
Trevor Birch, right, in action for Shrewsbury
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IF EVER there was a game of two halves this was it. Even though they were pretty unequal halves.

In the gleaming new stadium that is the year-old Rolls Building of the Royal Courts of Justice, referee Mr Justice Alastair Norris, 61, kicked off bang on time – 10.30am.

And, sticking to the letter of the law, he blew for half-time after exactly 45 minutes.

At 11.15am in barn-like Court 26 he gave Pompey the news for which all Blues’ fans were waiting.

But it was hardly a shrill blast on Sir Alastair’s legal whistle which brought proceedings to a halt. If you weren’t hanging on his every word you would have missed the sentence: ‘I am prepared to appoint an administrator.’

It meant that funds could be released to pay for the team’s trip to Barnsley today.

By now Pompey chief executive David Lampitt had taken his place beside the Pompey legal team, despite arriving 10 minutes after kick-off.

As the judge uttered the words that meant Mr Lampitt’s club would, despite being badly wounded, live to fight another day, you could see some of the tension leave his back and his shoulders relaxed.

If the understated end to those first 45 minutes was disappointing, the second half – a shade under two hours – fizzed. At one point even m’lud made a reference to proceedings going into extra-time.

It was end to end stuff with the taxman’s barrister Catherine Gibaud going head to head with Pompey’s Hilary Stonefrost over whether Andrew Andronikou should be replaced by a new administrator. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs wanted Trevor Birch, Pompey wanted to stick with Mr Andronikou.

At one point the judge suggested that perhaps the two could be appointed joint administrators.

This was greeted with sharp intakes of breath from the taxman’s bench. No, Mr Birch’s firm did not think the two could work together.

So, it was left to the judge to sort out and so began his 30-minute summing-up.

In it he painted a stark picture of how things were at Fratton Park before the hearing.

He said: ‘It [the club] risks losing its supplier of medical services. It cannot afford to pay the travel to its next away match at Barnsley. It is under threat from utility companies whose bills it has not paid, one of whom has instructed bailiffs to attend.

‘It cannot afford to pay for the police attendance at any match.

‘If Portsmouth fails to keep a football league fixture, the league could in turn immediately suspend Portsmouth and deny it the right to play in the championship.’

And it gradually became obvious which end of the ground he would opt for. And it was not Mr Andronikou’s.

Mr Justice Norris added: ‘What’s proposed this time round seems to be exactly what was proposed last time round without addressing the real underlying problem.

‘One would think that the real emphasis should be on reducing the trading losses of the club to turn it into a viable trading business. Perhaps a fresh view is called for.’

And that seemed to be driven by his desire to see the small creditors finally get paid.

He said: ‘I understand the disquiet from the creditors.

‘The general body of taxpayers, the ordinary consumers who do pay their energy bills and the ordinary traders and professionals who provide services such as, coach hire, catering, medical services, ground care and maintenance, must wonder why they should be subsidising the club’s energy bill and why it is that they are involuntary lenders to the club over their outstanding bills and why they will only get back pence in the pound for the services they have provided.’

And with that he blew the final whistle saying: ‘I will appoint Mr Birch and his team to be the administrators of Portsmouth Football Club.’