Pompey might be facing one of their biggest battles for survival – but fans are determined not to let the club they love die.
Thousands of supporters have shown unity in the face of adversity by signing up to a campaign called Pompey’s 12th Man.
It’s an initiative looking at a model of ownership that would allow fans to help safeguard the club’s future.
Fan-backed campaigns to save clubs are not a new phenomenon.
AFC Wimbledon, Brentford and Swansea – now a Premier League club – have all enjoyed revivals thanks to fans’ initiatives. Beleaguered Darlington were also given a stay of execution after fans came up with £50,000 and the promise of another £110,000 on the way.
Tom Dearie, vice-chairman of the Pompey Supporters’ Trust, helped set up the Pompey’s 12th Man campaign and has been encouraged by the amount of fans who have pledged their support.
The campaign was launched after it emerged Pompey missed two tax bills totalling £800,000.
The club was subsequently issued with a winding-up petition by HMRC, with a hearing at the High Court scheduled for February 20.
Tom explains: ‘The 12th Man campaign has been done under a guise that fans at a few clubs have already used.’
Members of the Pompey Supporters’ Trust have already looked at the possibility of a fan-backed bid to take over the club and have explored the viability of setting up a new Pompey –a worst-case scenario labelled Plan B – should the club go out of existence.
Tom adds: ‘We invited Supporters Direct (a campaign group) to speak to us about what we could do.
‘They suggested starting up a database, and the idea is to try to unite Pompey supporters in one place and show unity.
‘So, if we’re talking to anyone about ownership issues or fan involvement, we can say there’s a database with all those supporters who want to support the club and do their bit.
‘Another part of it is, come the weekend, we could have 6,000-7,000 people signed up and it gives us a bit more strength to talk to the administrator.
‘If the worst should happen and the club gets liquidated, there will be a “call to arms” e-mail sent around to the members saying the trust has looked at Plan B.
‘Rather than having to go through supporters’ groups and different people, we could send an e-mail out. We could pretty much do it as soon as anything is decided.’
Tom says fans of Leicester, Arsenal, Derby, Spurs, Manchester City and Manchester United, West Ham United, Wolves and Wycombe Wanderers have signed up.
There is a strong feeling that Pompey is much more than a football club – it’s an integral part of the community.
Tom says: ‘This city would be a poorer place if the club wasn’t around.’
Barry Kewell, landlord of the Northcote Hotel in Southsea, also stresses the importance of Pompey to the city.
He says there has been a knock-on effect on his business since Pompey were relegated from the Premier League.
‘A football game does give me a considerable amount of trade.
‘If you have a successful football club, there’s a better feeling around the town,’ he says.
‘It would be devastating if the club goes out of business.’
He adds: ‘All right, we could start again as other clubs have done, but it’s a long, hard struggle.
‘As far as the community is concerned, the club is a very big thing. We have some of the most loyal and vocal fans in the country.’
Mike Hancock, MP for Portsmouth South, says that going to watch Pompey at Fratton Park is a tradition for many families in the city.
He has given the supporters’ campaign his backing.
Portsmouth City Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson has praised the community work Pompey carry out in the city.
The successful Pompey Sports and Education Foundation, which changed its name from Pompey in the Community in 2009, aims to provide football coaching to children and educate children and adults to lead a healthier lifestyle.
Thousands of people walk through the doors of the Pompey Study Centre each year to take part in a variety of projects, such as the Anim8 campaign, which saw children create short animated films to promote road safety, and Off the Rails – a project funded by South West Trains teaching year six pupils the importance of safety at railway stations.
The Respect programme encourages social and personal development in the community by promoting physical activity and learning in young people.
The scheme has received support from the Home Office, the Football Foundation, Portsmouth City Council and the University of Portsmouth.
Cllr Vernon-Jackson says: ‘I think the club do an amazing amount of community work. I have heard it said that if there was an FA Cup for community work, Pompey would win every year.’
He adds: ‘The project they do at Bransbury Park is hugely successful.
‘I have also been talking to youngsters who are in care and asked the club if they could give birthday presents to see Pompey. They said yes in 10 seconds.
‘The football club is really important for the community.
‘It’s not just the football - it’s the coverage we get and the pride it gives people who live in Portsmouth.’
Pompey have formed close links with construction group Warings through the community work.
The firm worked with Pompey during October’s Portsmouth Opportunities Fair for young people and signed up to the Respect programme.
Lindsay Moger, community initiative worker at Warings, says: ‘Respect is a core value of ours and we support them as much as we can.
‘Pompey have had a vast impact with young people in Portsmouth.
‘It’s not just football. They have done so much at the sports and education centre and it’s inspiring.’
It was a decade ago last week that Swansea City FC was taken over by a consortium of local business people and fans.
Days after Tony Petty had become the new owner and begun slashing wages and attempting to sack players, a consortium was formed to oust him.
It was headed up by former Swans player Mel Nurse, who says the city rallied together against the hate figure that Mr Petty had become.
Hotelier Martin Morgan describes the final days of Mr Petty’s tenure with a striking similarity to Pompey’s own troubles, should the tax man triumph in court later this month.
He says: ‘The taxman was due to come into the Vetch the next day to seize assets, so Petty’s hands were tied.
‘He either got something for the club by selling to us, or he ended up with nothing. A phone call came through to me and all he said was something like ‘‘do you want to buy a football club?’’.’
Solicitor Steve Penny, who is also part of the consortium, adds: ‘It was a team effort, and thankfully we were able to keep professional football alive in Swansea.’
Chairman Huw Jenkins adds: ‘Nobody was ploughing in millions of pounds to start us moving forward. All we had was hard work, commitment and belief in our club.
‘We brought a bit of common sense into the way the club was run.
‘We realised that everything had to pay for itself and that started us on the path to where we are now.’
This season the Swans are in the Premier League.
When Brentford FC found itself saddled with a £5m debt to its bank, supporters mobilised to take over the club.
Umbrella group Bees United bought 60 per cent of three operating companies and became majority shareholders in the club.
Working with wealthy fan Matthew Benham, the debts were refinanced twice, using the club’s ground at Griffin Park as security.
In 2010 the fans saw what happened at Pompey and decided it was time to move to a more secure financial future – with Mr Benham buying 35 per cent of the club from Bees United and having the option of becoming a 75 per cent owner by 2014.
Bees United are working with campaign group Supporters Direct on the issue of football governance.
Fans saved Darlington FC just hours after the club’s administrator told the remaining members of the first team that he was tearing up their contracts.
The fans rallied and managed to find £50,000 in cash, with a promise of another £110,000 on the way.
It was enough to convince Harvey Madden to give the club a stay of execution, allowing 10 more days to find a buyer and, crucially, enabling the team to keep playing.
That was on January 19. Yesterday it was revealed that Paul Wildes, the frontrunner to take the club on, had pulled out of the deal to save the Quakers after being unable to reach a settlement with outgoing chairman Raj Singh.
It is believed two other buyers are interested.
AFC Wimbledon is wholly owned by fans.
It was conceived in 2002 by Ivor Heller, Kris Stewart, Trevor Williams and Marc Jones.
While fellow campaigners were protesting in London’s Soho Square about the decision to move Wimbledon FC to Milton Keynes and rename it the MK Dons - and waiting to hear whether the relocation of the club would be sanctioned - the quartet were looking at how they could start anew.
Ivor says: ‘We all felt that if the vote went against us we would have to start another club,’
In 2010 the decision was taken to make the team full-time again. Now, just shy of 10 years later, the club is back in the Football League in Division Two - only one league behind the MK Dons.