The High Court battleground which will decide a city’s football club’s future

It is hoped that this week's court case will provide a final decision over the valuation of Fratton Park
It is hoped that this week's court case will provide a final decision over the valuation of Fratton Park

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A city awaits the verdict of a High Court case to discover whether its club will have a future in its existing form.

English football will look on in ghoulish fascination to glimpse the outcome before quickly forgetting and hurrying along to proclaim its next foreign visionary owner.

And insolvency practitioners will observe with interest the conclusion of a landmark case which will have massive ramifications within its own circles.

More than Pompey’s existence rides on next week’s valuation hearing – the tentacles reach much, much further than that.

An inspiration, a case study or an epitaph -–regardless, history will be created in the setting of the Rolls Building in London.

PKF may have changed their name to BDO following last week’s merger, nonetheless the line-up will be unaltered as they take on Portpin and their charge over Fratton Park.

Katherine Holland QC from Landmark Chambers will continue to represent them and Trevor Birch will remain at the forefront and in attendance.

Sitting behind the administrators will be the Pompey Supporters’ Trust, hoping a judge will look favourably on their £3m bid for Fratton Park.

Their own lawyers, Verisona, will also be present but not party to the hearing.

At the heart of Portpin’s own presentation will be Keith Harris’ consortium, who have already negotiated £6.3m to purchase the charge on the ground. Not the club.

The case serves as the most high-profile Paragraph 71 application there has been in this country.

In accordance with the Insolvency Act 1986, in the instance of someone who has a fixed charge over an asset, the court can order that charge to be removed against the will of the charge holder.

It terms of precedence for such a case, there isn’t a lot. Only a handful of such cases have ever been heard before.

Justice Sales sat in December the last time the hearing opened in court. The identity of the judge this time around will not be finalised until on the day.

Irrespective of that, the judge will be aware his verdict will be scrutinised intently by the insolvency world. A landmark in the eyes of the court, as well as those warring parties outside of it.

As a direct result, there is every possibility the outcome may not be ruled upon next week, despite the ever-growing belief among Blues fans they could own their club before the trip to Brentford on April 13.

Instead it could be considerably closer to the April 19 ‘backstop’ date which has been previously recognised by the courts as a deadline.

They are fully aware anything beyond that could cause problems with the Football League, who need to grant membership and rubber-stamp Pompey’s emergence from administration.

Of course, at this stage even the starting date of this eagerly-anticipated hearing remains uncertain. As a ‘floating’ case, proceedings in the scheduled two-day event may not necessarily start on Wednesday, April 10.

That will be fixed on the morning when the court will assess its order of business in accordance with its list of current cases.

It means the BDO v Portpin case will discover on the Wednesday morning whether the hearing will start that day or the following (April 11). Certainly that could mean a wasted journey for any fans attending.

On to the make-up of the case itself and the court must balance the interests of the creditors with looking at the interests of the secured charge holder.

Speaking specifically, it will come down to whether the offer being made by the purchaser (the Trust) is a fairer offer given the value of the asset.

With Harris’ consortium having bid £6.3m for Fratton Park as opposed to the Trust’s £3m, the judge must evaluate which fulfils such criteria.

In addition, the community bid has five independent valuations for Pompey’s home, none of which reach the £3m currently tabled.

Of course, up until February 6, the Trust’s bid was the only one on the table and had been since Portpin failed to satisfy the Football League following negotiations back in October 2012.

The emergence of Harris with backers Pascal Najadi and Alan Hitchins altered the battlefield dramatically.

Then came the Football League’s stipulation that, in terms of awarding League membership, no other bidders would be considered at that late stage and it was either the Trust or nothing.

Since then, Harris has altered a bid which initially centred on renting the ground from Portpin and buying the club out of administration.

That is now in the form of an unconditional £6.3m bid for the Fratton Park charge – a bid that does not include the acquisition of the football club from the administrators.

Crucially, in respect of the creditors, that would bypass the agreed Company Voluntary Arrangement.

By forming an agreement solely with Portpin for their charge, Balram Chainrai, Levi Kushnir and Co will be the only creditors to benefit from the situation.

As the main secured creditors – to the tune of £18.6m – Portpin could also argue the interests of creditors are being met with this deal.

Then it is all eyes on the judge and the decision of which valuation fulfils the point of law he is presiding over.

It is also in his hands to decide whether an appeal can be made. If required.

It would be downright folly and recklessly irresponsible to predict what the outcome of next week’s Rolls Building meeting will be.

We watch with bated breath.