Detailed: Portsmouth fans can forget big signings - this is the extent of the plight their club today faces

The good news is Pompey are not in danger of going to the wall.

Wednesday, 29th April 2020, 5:09 pm
Updated Wednesday, 29th April 2020, 5:44 pm

But the outlook doesn’t look quite so secure for many of their peers across League One, the EFL and, indeed, the football world in the face of the coronavirus crisis.

Its impact was being seen today at Fratton Park as chief executive Mark Catlin gave his thoughts on his club - one in robust financial health - having to fill a gaping hole in their budget, with the game seemingly headed behind closed doors.

Talk of football facing an uncertain future falls short of where things now stand. Make no mistake, a cataclysmic economic storm is brewing. In fact, it’s already here.

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First of all, a disclaimer. The Covid-19 pandemic is a human tragedy. In the space of a few months it’s taken hundreds of thousands of lives and wrecked millions more. This is, and will always be, our first thought.

But in recent days, for the first time, we have begun to look in the distance towards a day when we can talk about our current existence in the past tense.

Sport and football, it appears, will have a central cathartic role to play in healing society on these shores. So those who say talk of the game right now is uncouth should perhaps not be so quick to dismiss its part in the process, nor underestimate its importance as a symbol of hope and a step towards whatever ‘normality’ will look like.

There is little doubt, however, that when the moment arrives the world will be facing the biggest challenges of the majority of our lifetimes. And within that, the impact will wreak havoc on our football institutions and destroy livelihoods within it.

Pompey owner Michael Eisner

For Pompey, and the football landscape, things are going to look a lot different.

This is the toxic shock English clubs didn’t see coming. And it’s about to expose the fragility of business models of clubs up and down the country in merciless fashion.

Within less than a fortnight of the season being suspended sizeable teams were unable to pay their players, as they scrambled for their staff to accept deferrals. Such an immediate and desperate response is a revealing detail.

Now, though, it’s over seven weeks since Pompey kicked a competitive ball. Seven weeks without the matchdays which provide the bedrock of their income.

The club recently announced profits of over £2m in accounts which were quite rightly trumpeted as a beacon of sustainability for EFL sides.

But even a cursory glance at the figures contained within them make it abundantly clear of the gravity of the current situation.

The Blues’ turnover amounted to £11.57m. Far and away the biggest contributor to that figure was the £6.1m generated from ticket sales.

With football behind closed doors that’s gone. Then comes the £1.33m hospitality income. Gone.

Consider too what happens to the sponsorship money (£1.02m) and £472,000 from other football related income.

And don’t even start on the likelihood of having to repay large chunks of the Premier League solidarity money which feeds into the £1.99m EFL payment and sponsorship cash in the event of a voided campaign, like the one seen in France yesterday.

With tickets and hospitality revenue alone comprising £7.44m of turnover this leaves a well-ran business in a difficult position. What’s it going to do to the ones in the Championship which hemorrhaged a combined £361m?

Of course, as revenue streams dry the fixed costs of player wages remain. There’s also the small matter of undertaking the multi-million pound work required to allow Fratton Park to one day open its doors to the public once again.

Pompey have taken advantage of the government’s job retention scheme, but staff are receiving their full salaries and the can hasn’t been kicked down the road by asking players to defer wages.

But, even before Catlin spoke publicly on the subject, it was clear something’s got to give.

It may have not been stated explicitly, but the obvious consequence is fans can forget any significant summer recruitment. Similarly any long-term contracts being dished out.

Pompey have been in discussions to extend Christian Burgess’ five-year stay, likewise Lee Brown. Even with a desire to do so on both sides, they are negotiations now fraught with difficulty.

There’s been hope Steve Seddon’s stay could be made permanent after a barnstorming loan from Birmingham. Similarly, thoughts had turned to the futures of fellow loanees Sean Raggett, Ross McCrorie and Cameron McGeehan.

But how could a football business with a gaping chasm in its balance sheet realistically consider attempting to do those deals?

There will be those who look to Pompey’s billionaire owner to prop up such raids. Yet, Michael Eisner arrived on a ticket of organic growth for his purchase. And it’s the outfits who most recklessly took such an approach when given a glimpse of Premier League Utopia who today face the bleakest fights for their existence.

A more likely outcome will be Pompey running with the 17 first-team players they have contracted and look to utilise loans, with Catlin a vocal advocate of stretching the summer window to at least the end of January to offer clubs much-needed flexibility - a notion which has garnered strong support

Pompey fans are still holding on to the hope they could be watching Championship football, in some form, next season. It’s a prospect which will boost the club’s coffers, but not by nearly enough to offset the losses they’re facing if football takes the shape we’re anticipating.

It’s the second-tier landscape, too, which arguably faces the most seismic shift to deal with the impact of the coronavirus crisis on football on these shores.

When it comes to the world view, the experts can all agree there will be economic victims along the way, grimly the research even suggesting the greatest recession of our lifetime could claim more lives than the virus. This is a global calamity across all sectors, not just football’s.

When it comes to viewing the apocalyptic outlook through the prism of the EFL, it’s becoming increasingly apparent it’s 71 members are going to have to change drastically. It’s a move thankfully into a viable financial world Pompey already inhabits. And you can’t underestimate the significance of that in coming through the violent fiscal storm which lies ahead.