A heron glides lazily past Mike Dyer’s office window and lands in the shallows on the edge of a lake. A low winter sun streams through the window. All is calm.
Twelve months ago he would not have noticed if a pterodactyl had swooped past, skidded to a halt on the lawn beyond that window and blotted out all light.
For this time last year Mike was in the middle of a maelstrom, a blizzard of work which saw him working almost 24 hours a day, seven days a week for nine months. He is a modest man so when he admits to those hours you tend to believe him.
It was so bad that last Christmas he booked a trip to Dubai as his wife’s Christmas present. He cancelled it at the last minute. Pressure of work.
Mike is a solicitor. Not much sympathy? Have another ponder. For Mike is the lawyer whose tenacity, endurance and passion saved Portsmouth Football Club.
Without him those 15,000 or so of you heading for Fratton Park this afternoon to sample the delights of Bury might well have been spending your time in Tesco or Ikea.
Overstatement? Not according to The Law Society which has shortlisted him as its Solicitor of the Year.
He is the only nominee from the south of England and he will discover next Tuesday if the ground-breaking work he sweated over for so long will bring him the coveted award. For it was his work for Pompey, in the murky world of football club insolvency, which won him the nomination.
Mike, 61, is the senior director of Verisona [it means ‘to speak the truth’] Law at 1000 Lakeside, North Harbour. Until 2008 he ran the Dyer Burdett firm based at Havant.
For him, becoming involved with the supporters’ trust’s attempt to pull off the biggest fan takeover of an English club was a double-edged sword.
He is a fan. A passionate one of about 50 years in true Blues’s fashion. Born and bred at Gosport he was taken by his grandfather to see his first game at the Park when he was 10. ‘I was still in short trousers, but I loved it from the first minute I walked into the ground,’ he recalls.
But that little boy could never have dreamed that one day he would become the leader of the legal support team for the new owners of his beloved club. Or that he would be fighting their corner in the High Court; or that he would end up with a non-executive seat on the board of the new club – reward for those months of nail-biting work.
‘It was a completely mad period, but as a fan I was passionate about saving the club even though it meant if I failed I would have had thousands of...’ he trails off. ‘Let’s just say I put my head above the parapet.’
So how did he get involved? ‘Members of the trust approached my colleague Ian Peach. They all sat in the South Stand and they knew he was a lawyer so they bounced things off him informally.
‘But as their ambition grew they said they wanted to talk to us formally and my first involvement was giving them insolvency advice; telling them what to expect from the insolvency process and how it works.’
Did he take them seriously? ‘They had this crazy, but deadly serious idea of the fans buying the club.
‘At the time, if I’m truthful, I thought ‘‘how the hell are you going to do that?’’. I had no idea how we would go about it. But I had to work out a way of doing it.’
Was there a point at which he thought it would never work. Mike laughs. ‘Absolutely. Several times a week. Seriously. You could come in on a Tuesday morning at 10am thinking ‘‘we’re nearly there’’. You could feel it, almost touch it it was so close. Then by midday it was off.’
Mike continues: ‘You have to remember that the sale of the club was being conducted in a very hostile environment by the administrators who were themselves facing quite considerable pressure from the previous owner [Balram Chainrai] who had a charge on the ground.
‘He refused to remove his charge to allow the administrators to accept the offer from the trust because he said Fratton Park was worth X and the trust said ‘‘no, it’s worth Y’’.
‘An enormous amount of the battle was on that point alone. That’s what the court proceedings were all about – an application by the administrators to persuade the judge to order that the charge be released to allow them to sell the ground for the price we had offered on the basis that price was reasonable.
‘Many thousands of pounds were spent by both sides on valuations and their valuer was about to go into the witness box and start giving evidence when we finally got the deal done.
‘And, you know what,’ he adds, ‘to this day I do not know why.’
Mike continues: ‘On one hand we had the argument with Chainrai and the administrators about whether or not we could buy the ground because of his charge and on the other we were facing enormous amounts of football debt and didn’t have the money to pay it.
‘So we had to construct a scheme which had to satisfy the players, represented by their agents and the Professional Footballers’ Association, the Premier League which was sitting on top of this huge amount of money – the parachute money, and the Football League which said its rules required all football creditors to be paid in full before they could be satisfied with our scheme.
‘The Premier League said the parachute money should be used to pay off the football debt and I remember them saying ‘‘are you really saying you want to use part of it to buy the ground?’’
‘I said, ‘‘yep, that’s right’’. They said: ‘‘But that’s not what it’s for’’.’
At which point Mike told them: ‘I don’t care what it’s meant to be for, that’s what we want to do with it and if you want this club to survive that’s what you must let us do with it. ‘In the end they said ‘‘oh, go on then’’.
‘The alternative was that the club would go out of business and they didn’t want that. It was in nobody’s interest.
It wasn’t in the players’ interest for the club to go into liquidation because if that had happened there wouldn’t have been any money in the pot at all apart from a couple of million for Fratton Park which would have disappeared into a vast pot of debt.’
It all took its toll on Mike. ‘There were an enormous range of emotions. I would get quite excited at times thinking we were nearly there.
‘But there were dreadful lows when it was snatched away from you and you had to pick yourself up and start fighting all over again. Of course, like most fans, there were times when I was sitting at Fratton Park thinking that match might well be the last I’d ever see there.’
Today Mike Dyer was back at the ground in which he grew up, watching a league game which a few years he probably thought he’d never see: Pompey v Bury.
But the amazing thing is: it’s still professional football. At Fratton Park. And it’s largely down to him.
Deep down Mike Dyer, along with thousands of others, knew there was something very special about Fratton Park and Pompey’s legion of fans.
But he was never certain that it was no more than home town bluster... until he sat down with Dennis Wise and Theo Paphitis.
The former England and Chelsea player and his Dragons’ Den friend were watching a game at Fratton Park.
Mike says: ‘I was able to have a proper conversation with them, not just a passing chat.
‘What I really wanted to know from Dennis was what it was like to play here. Was the atmosphere, which everybody bigs up, really that special from a player’s point of view?
‘And Dennis said ‘‘absolutely – it was always one of my favourite places to play because of that atmosphere and most players feel the same’’.
‘That did it for me. To hear that from someone who has played in so many big games. I knew then we just had to save the club.’
Looking back on those extraordinary nine months which culminated with the fans’ takeover, Mike says he would not have done anything differently.
‘It’s all downhill from here,’ he laughs. ‘Without question it was the biggest job of my career and the biggest one I’m likely ever to have.’