The day the Football League stood up in the battle for Pompey ownership

Keith Harris

Keith Harris

Enda Stevens. Picture: Joe Pepler

Enda Stevens: Why I quit Pompey

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It was Mr Justice Peter Smith who delivered the damning words.

Of course, Keith Harris’ consortium’s bid was effectively rendered lifeless long before that High Court moment.

Then the stage was set for Sir Peter to comment.

‘I asked the question about whether it (the Harris bid) was subject to Football League approval and if the answer is yes then that’s probably the end of the Harris offer,’ he stated.

‘...they’re dead in the water because the Football League is not compellable by anybody, there’s no sanction that can be applied as I understand it against the Football League, even if they choose capriciously to refuse to register a share transfer.’

While Leeds United await Football League approval for Massimo Cellino to complete his proposed takeover, little over a year ago the same people stepped in to deny Harris.

Previously, Portpin were deemed not to have supplied all the required documentation for ownership approval – then along came Harris.

On February 7, 2013, the board of the Football League agreed to the Pompey Supporters’ Trust’s application to take the club out of administration.

It came within 24 hours of the shock emergence of Harris’ three-man consortium’s bid to remove the Fratton Park charge – following prior agreement with Portpin.

Not that they accepted such a defeat, remaining defiant right until that fateful date at the Rolls Building of the High Court on April 10, 2013, presided by Sir Peter.

As Cellino is finding out, however, the Football League are these days highly cautious when it comes to vetting potential owners.

It was on the evening of February 6 when Sky Sports News broke details of Harris’ bid, in the process setting off a chain of events which would end up in court and result in the Trust taking complete ownership.

Curiously, considering Harris’ determined drive to own Pompey, since his failure he has not been publicly linked with the purchase of any other football club.

His group oft-repeated their bid had nothing to do with Portpin – but suspicion remained among so many Blues fans.

After all, as chairman of Seymour Pierce, Harris was employed by Portpin and brought Convers Sports Initiatives (CSI) to the table for their ill-fated June 2011 Pompey takeover.

Upon CSI’s administration, Andrew Andronikou instructed Harris to find another new buyer for the club.

The consortium’s PR arm was the refreshingly accessible David Bick and on February 16 he revealed in The News the agreed Portpin deal involved leasing Fratton Park with a view to buy.

Bick said: ‘In terms of Keith buying it, they (Portpin) do not want to do it that way at the moment.

‘The sellers want to take rent for a period of time.’

Considering Portpin had been pushing for the Trust to pay £1.2m a year to rent Fratton, news they still didn’t want to relinquish that charge under Harris was a wrecking ball to public perception of the deal.

It was two days later when Harris rang me and revealed the offer had been revised and now a deal was in place to remove the charge rather than rent – albeit within 12 months.

This also included a fans’ representative elected to the board and the Trust to receive a free 15-per-cent stake in the club.

As Trust spokesman Colin Farmery said: ‘Why would we be interested in 15 per cent when we are just about to take a 100-per-cent stake in the club?’

Regardless, on February 21 this latest bid was formally sent to the Football League.

Ex-Football League chairman Harris, though, never received a response.

Not to be deterred, Harris attempted to scupper the Portsmouth City Council £1.45m loan to the Trust, so essential in reclaiming Fratton.

On the day a cabinet meeting was being held to finalise such an agreement, a letter was sent to council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson.

Signed ‘The Keith Harris Consortium’, the document stated ‘...we do not believe Portsmouth City Council is in a position to be able to grant this loan and if it does we would expect the City Council to extend a similar loan to our consortium to represent a level playing field.’

It wasn’t seen by councillors until after the meeting, by which time there had been a vote in favour of supporting the loan to the Trust.

Incidentally, that loan was repaid in full – and with interest – in September.

In the months before court beckoned, the ownership fight wasn’t merely restricted to media sound-bites and council letters.

Within a week of Harris’ emergence, one seemingly well-informed character called ‘Metchick’ suddenly appeared on the truebluearmy.com message board.

His contributions, often late night, centred on ridiculing both the Trust bid and Micah Hall’s blogs.

On March 3, after 30 posts, Metchick was banned by site administrator Farmery, who judged the character had stepped into the icy waters of defamation.

Ironically, Truebluearmy themselves received a libel lawsuit issued by Harris consortium member, Pascal Najadi, on February 25, 2013.

Najadi claimed a Hall blog published by fansnetwork.co.uk on February 13 about him and his 
father, Hussein, was ‘highly inflammatory’.

The case never made it into court and Hall has been involved in an ongoing battle for Najadi to pay hefty legal costs incurred.

Such antics, however, were white noise – Harris’ bid had already fallen apart at 5.45pm on February 7 when the Football League’s statement made clear it really was Trust or bust.

‘....in the event the PST bid does not succeed and Portsmouth do not exit administration before the end of the current playing season, the Club will lose its membership of The Football League,’ it announced.

With an April 27 deadline looming, it believed no other party could complete a club-saving deal in time.

Harris’ final card was played in court, his £6.3m offer for the Portpin charge presented by Balram Chainrai & Co’s legal team. In contrast, the Trust tabled £3m.

Katherine Holland QC, representing BDO (formerly PKF), labelled it ‘...a rogue offer. It’s a freak offer which doesn’t fall within the definition of market value.’

Meanwhile, Sir Peter commented on Harris’ proof of funds.

He said: ‘Is it just a snapshot of a bank statement?

‘You’ll find in a judgement I am about to deliver in the next four weeks what worth I attach to one.

‘They’re not worth the paper they are written on.’

But in the end the only judgement which truly mattered was the Football League’s.

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