Time has stood still for Pompey’s unfulfilled ambition

Former Pompey chief executive Peter Storrie, left, and Harry Redknapp at the unveiling of ambitious new plans for a state-of-the-art training ground at At Alver Valley in Gosport in 2008
Former Pompey chief executive Peter Storrie, left, and Harry Redknapp at the unveiling of ambitious new plans for a state-of-the-art training ground at At Alver Valley in Gosport in 2008
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The blackberry bushes and rampant overgrowth should not be there.

Neither should the make-shift paths carved out by the footsteps of locals being faithfully flanked by their dogs.

As far as the eye can see, 35 acres of untouched land situated on the Cherque Farm estate in Lee-on-the-Solent.

To some, an area of natural beauty, an environment inhabited by wildlife and untainted by the modern day.

To me, the glorious border to my parents’ new home after last weekend moving into the area from Aylesbury.

Yet, the stark reality is that it serves as a permanent reminder of unfulfilled ambition for Portsmouth Football Club.

Back on April 22, 2008, Alver Valley was unveiled as the destination for the Blues’ new training ground.

It was to be a multi-million pound complex dreamt up by Richard Marshall – the architect behind Arsenal’s Hertfordshire-base training facilities.

This would have included 15 sports pitches, changing rooms, medical facilities and a gym.

In addition, two full-size pitches would have also been made available for use by the community.

The pride of Hampshire, the envy of the Premier League, the development represented the future of the club.

Some three-and-a-half years on, not a sod has been dug.

Nor will it be. At least not on that site anyway.

At the time, Peter Storrie and Harry Redknapp were wheeled out to wax lyrical about Sacha Gaydamak’s bold Pompey vision.

A select group of media were initially invited to gather at the nearby Lee-on-the-Solent Golf Club.

As the representative of The News, I remember it well. Too well, perhaps.

We purred over plans for this state-of-the-art construction.

Finally, this was tangible investment into the infrastructure of the club.

The white elephant was still marching noisily around its Titchfield home. The Tithe Barn remains uninhabited.

An ill-informed and downright ridiculous purchase if ever there was one.

Still, there a handful of us were proudly fed details of an £8m facility to be completed before the 2009-2010 season.

A number of Gosport councillors were also present, understandably delighted having captured such a contract.

The agreement between Gosport Borough Council and Miland Development 2004 had been struck, the area would proudly be the home to a Premier League football club for some four days a week.

Then we were ushered onto the actual site itself.

To the uneducated, it was a barren wasteland.

To those with eyes opened by Gaydamak’s words, it was a wondrous project.

Granted, the rocks bit hard under our feet, the occasional tin can suckled the ground, plastic tubing fought through the floor from deep, deep down, the bushes marched erratically into the distance.

Nonetheless, in barely a few years time that very ground was going to be host to Pompey’s multi-million-pound training venue.

So it was three years and five months later I was back treading that same familiar turf.

Visiting my parents for the first time in their new home, I found time to pop over to survey every Fratton fans’ shattered dream.

Time had indeed stood still.

The cans were a little bit more rusty, the shrubbery rather more developed, the blackberry bushes considerably more prolific.

It was a sobering reacquaintance with an area which once offered so much hope.

So what did happen to the Alver Valley project, the true legacy of Gaydamak?

Sadly, it imploded just like the football club as the owner ran out of funds and opted to cash in on playing assets rather than developing his existing ones.

Pompey were put up for sale, then one-by-one the likes of Sulley Muntari, Pedro Mendes, Lassana Diarra, Jermain Defoe, Glen Johnson, Sylvain Distin and Peter Crouch were sold off.

Their exits were designed to fill the money pit debt as Standard Bank called in its loans.

The firesale had begun and the training ground dream went up in flames.

That marked the final chance for Gaydamak to leave behind a legacy following seven Premier League seasons.

Then came the sale to Sulaiman Al Fahim – and the club’s eventual plummet into administration.

Not that the issue of a Pompey training ground has died away. Particularly for Gaydamak.

Back in July, Gaydamak was ordered to pay back £330,000 to Gosport Borough Council over his failure to follow through with his training ground plans.

According to a contract drawn up in December 2008, Miland Development 2004 agreed to such a figure if it did not go ahead and build the facilities.

Earlier, Gosport council had handed back the precise same sum of £330,000 to Cherque Farm builders, Persimmon Homes.

The developer had been required to give the cash as part of a legal agreement to provide leisure amenities in the area.

But Pompey’s plan meant this was no longer needed.

To ensure the money could be recovered if required, an indemnity agreement was drawn up if the club didn’t go ahead with the underlease on the land.

Despite this, Gosport council had to go through the courts to get Miland Development 2004 to pay up.

It succeeded in July, with the company also instructed to pay the council’s £10,399 legal bill and £13,937 in interest.

The money must be paid within 18 months, with Gaydamak giving a personal assurance it will be honoured.

That chapter is now almost at an end.

As for the Titchfield site, that is still owned by Miland Developments and remains up for sale.

There is now a new era at Fratton Park, one in which Convers Sports Initiatives have given absolutely no indication whether it includes a fresh training ground.

Mind you, they have yet to reveal the future of Fratton Park, which surely must remain the priority.

In the meantime, investment in two pitches at their current Eastleigh training base took part during the summer.

The subject of Roko has been mentioned, Roman Dubov himself observed walking round the site within weeks of that July 1 takeover.

Whatever the future holds, it will not involve the Alver Valley.

And come next year, expect more succulent blackberries to pluck and even bigger overgrowth to negotiate.