Al Fahim’s disastrous fan mistake for Eisner to heed

Sulaiman Al Fahim goes walkabout around Fratton Park in 2009 as he meets the Pompey fans
Sulaiman Al Fahim goes walkabout around Fratton Park in 2009 as he meets the Pompey fans
Pompey's Jamal Lowe cuts a frustrated figure after Bradford's smash-and-grab raid. Picture: Joe Pepler

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The microphone was handed over to serenade supporters with captivating song.

Instead, Sulaiman Al Fahim alienated swathes of his audience to such a demoralising extent that any lingering goodwill was forfeited.

Michael Eisner

Michael Eisner

Meanwhile, one outraged fan of 50 years motioned to deliver a punch upon him.

It’s the cautionary tale of the last foreign owner to address members of the Fratton faithful in person.

Michael Eisner will be required to convince shareholders of his suitability for taking by the hand a football club they nurtured back to fine health from its death bed.

A successful pursuit hinges on obtaining the majority vote among the Pompey Supporters’ Trust at a meeting on a date not yet declared.

Certainly, he will need to perform considerably more effectively than Al Fahim on his September 25, 2009, appearance as his 41-day spell careered towards disintegration.

‘Al Fahim didn’t have a clue, bless him,’ said Vern Rickman, among those present in Fratton Park’s Alliance Lounge.

‘He turned round and said “you should support your club and not worry what I am doing”.

‘Support my club? Days earlier I’d been at Carlisle on a minibus and got back at stupid o’clock – he had been watching a chess match in Spain.

‘I jumped up and nearly hit him to be honest, then remembered where I was and controlled myself.

‘My son-in-law grabbed hold of me and said I should sit down.

‘His advisor, Ivo Ilic Gabara, tapped him on the shoulder and said “I think you have overstepped the mark a little bit” and from then every question went through him before answered.

‘If I had been anywhere else I would definitely have smashed him, but was in a room full of people.

‘He was saying he was giving us the world, but it was nothing. We were in the Premier League and claims of £50m investment was nothing.

‘He had come to this club, putting on a Pompey shirt which didn’t fit and making us look stupid.

‘We don’t need owners turning up with hard hats on, wearing Pompey scarves and saying “this is my birthplace” and all that.

‘You just need someone with a plan, who is willing to talk and listen to fans about the plan.

‘He was talking to a load of idiots like me thinking we were going to be impressed. Not a chance.’

During the meeting, Al Fahim paraded a letter of credit, claiming £50m would be activated by the end of the following month.

A mere 11 days later he relinquished the club to Ali Al Faraj, having been unable to fulfil September’s wages.

It wasn’t the first time Al Fahim met the fans, yet most memorable.

In June 2009, while regarded as a would-be owner, several supporters’ groups were invited to meet him at the club’s former Rodney Road offices,

Having waited in a sweltering room for some three-and-a-half hours, their guest of honour eventually arrived for a 30-minute stint.

Around three-and-a-half months later, Colin Farmery formulated that fateful second meeting on behalf of the Pompey Virtual Alliance – a group of various supporter websites.

‘That meeting was a surreal experience,’ said Farmery.

‘Sulaiman agreed to meet us the night before a televised game against Everton – then pulled out on the Thursday evening saying it was no longer taking place because Pompey needed to focus on the game.

‘I got a message to him that he should attend this meeting with supporters otherwise, effectively, he was toast.

‘The following morning he’d changed his mind.

‘So I was chairing this meeting with Sulaiman sitting to my left, a couple of his PR flunkies either side of him and I, and Pompey senior management, Peter Storrie and Lucius Peart, at the back looking daggers at what was going on.

‘To be fair to him, that evening he was batting on a sticky wicket – and managed not to get out.’

Bob Beech, a ringleader of SOS Pompey, was also present and among those left cold by the owner.

He said: ‘My overriding memory is of Vern wanting to throttle him!

‘Al Fahim clearly didn’t have a clue. A few of us looked at each other and thought “we’re in trouble, deep trouble”.

‘He seemed to have no grasp of the club. There were big promises but no substance to any of his ideas, no meat to any of the bones.

‘There were some happy clappers believing this guy was going to do wonderful things, but most of us were completely underwhelmed.

‘A few years later he wanted to buy the club again – but couldn’t open a bank account in this country.

‘Al Fahim ended up blocking me on Twitter because I kept asking if he was still in the post office queue!’

In September 2012, Al Fahim re-emerged as a member of a Middle East consortium intent on taking Pompey out of administration.

Administrator Trevor Birch challenged him to open a bank account in the UK to contain proof of funds, although, at one stage, Al Fahim tweeted he couldn’t meet the deadline as he was on safari in Tanzania.

It never materialised and community ownership saved the club from liquidation in April 2013.

Now Eisner is bidding to persuade supporters of his ownership worth.

In the meantime, Al Fahim continues to watch from afar.

Farmery added: ‘Sulaiman genuinely deserves some credit for fronting up in that meeting. Of all the fly-by-nights we had, he is probably the only one that did.

‘I still occasionally hear from him, he pings me messages every now and again to ask about Pompey.

‘He understands his bridges are probably relatively burnt with Pompey, but on the other hand I think he’s put it down as a life experience.’