McInnes savours Gosport Borough and Pompey’s great season – and says Eisners are ‘worthy and caring’ custodians

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As the chairman of Gosport Borough and former chairman of Pompey, it’s been a rather decent season for Iain McInnes. And the parallels between the success enjoyed by the club he runs and the one he used to run are not lost on him.

Borough have reached the Southern League Premier South play-offs after taking something of a gamble and appointing inexperienced management duo Joe Lea and Pat Suraci. Pompey, of course, have won the League One title… after taking something of a gamble and appointing an inexperienced manager.

McInnes’ focus has been on all things Privett Park – and it still is, as they gear up for a play-off semi-final away to Salisbury tonight, rich reward for coming through testing times in which McInnes believes the club was effectively saved by the pandemic and how they responded to it.

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But he has also managed to get to a handful of games at Fratton Park in 2023-24 as the Blues marched towards the title.

Iain McInnes has owned Gosport Borough since December 2017 | Picture: Colin FarmeryIain McInnes has owned Gosport Borough since December 2017 | Picture: Colin Farmery
Iain McInnes has owned Gosport Borough since December 2017 | Picture: Colin Farmery

McInnes has been in charge at Privett Park since December 2017 and success has not been immediate. But after some bumpy campaigns, this has been one that even many fans have been surprised by.

They finished the regular league season on Saturday with a come-from-behind 4-2 win over champions Chesham – not quite enough to finish third, ahead of Salisbury, which means they’re on the road tonight.

“Clearly it’s pleasing to have qualified for a play-off place,” said McInnes. “We put together a squad with a clear ambition to aim for a top-five finish which, as always, is a blend of budgetary spend and of course quality of coaching.

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“Pat and Joe were ‘loaned’ to Petersfield to cut their teeth in men’s football having earlier established their credentials at Gosport with the formation of successful academy U18 and U23 sides.

Iain McInnes in his Fratton Park chairman's days | Picture: Joe PeplerIain McInnes in his Fratton Park chairman's days | Picture: Joe Pepler
Iain McInnes in his Fratton Park chairman's days | Picture: Joe Pepler

“They took over a Petersfield side that had been perennial strugglers in Wessex Division 1 and transformed their fortunes, culminating in promotion via the play-offs in their first season. Noteworthy was the style of football they played based upon an attention to detail and upscaling in skill fitness and organisation of a previously failing squad.

“I was keen to try something new – and the confidence I had in Pat and Joe, which perhaps paled a little in comparison to the confidence they had in themselves, more than suggested this was an opportunity worth a shot, and so it has proven to be.

“Their total commitment to all things coaching, allied to their ability to convince our senior players in particular that ‘old heads on young shoulders’ can work, has led us to Gosport’s best league position in over a decade. They deserve whatever credit is applicable.”

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McInnes recalls his purchase of GBFC as ‘quite a Christmas present I bought myself’ and added: “There have been far more days than not where the phrase ‘what have I done?’ plagued me to be honest.

“Indeed, were it not for the pandemic, bizarrely, and the spark it lit to somehow serve the community, which we did with our nationally-acknowledged ‘feed the family’ initiative, where we shipped nearly 10,000 food parcels over the period into a needy community, I’m not sure we’d still be here as a club today.

“It bred a togetherness and a common objective that had been lacking for sometime. From that a new determination and realisation that here was a community that needed a club and vice versa was realised anew. Of course this current season and finally some much-needed on-field success has cemented the feelgood factor.

“My first home match at Privett Park was an evening fixture, in fact a 0-0 draw v Salisbury that drew a crowd of 127 paying customers, of which 50-plus came from Salisbury.

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“My acknowledged penchant for a tipple or two reached new heights/depths that night, I can assure you!

“Our average attendances have been steadily rising since Covid and all it meant to the club and community ties and are now 850-plus.

“The club has attained National League South status in the past and had some limited success until hit by a financial crisis in 2016-17 leading to relegation.

“Attendance figures for that period are sketchy to non-existent and so a prime measurement for potential in this area remains unknown. Anecdotal evidence suggests they were lower on average than current levels.

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“Having a firm structure operationally and financially is imperative in a league like National South which boasts an increasing number of Football League ‘drop-outs’, and so that particular challenge should rightly be approached with eyes wide open.”

While Borough’s future is occupying plenty of his time, he has still been able to enjoy Pompey’s League On title-winning season – and he can see comparisons between certain ways both outfits are working.

‘It’s impossible for a lifelong fan like me (since 1959/60) not to be elated by the continued progress of my football first love,’ he said.

‘I get to as many games as possible this year, about seven in all, but I’ve retained (throughout my chairmanship also) a table in what is now the Legends Lounge, where on some occasions three generations of the McInnes clan are in attendance, mostly asking ‘why isn’t my husband/father/granddad here??

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‘The Eisner takeover happened quickly during which for the most part we still had things to achieve on the pitch culminating of course in the Div 2 championship.

‘Their credibility and integrity was never in doubt but of course it was simply natural indeed maybe obligatory for me/us to have some doubts about capability of running ‘our club’ successfully. Indeed there was some credence in feeling the existing ownership model had potential left within it which I guess lends itself in some ways to a level of parochial mindset.

‘I think it’s fair to say it’s been a tough ride sometimes a hard watch but having stuck the course we’ve found worthy and caring custodians. All credit to Micheal and his team.

‘It was impossible on the Tuesday evening against Barnsley not to reflect back on the really dark times between 2010 and 2013 – indeed many supporters approached me with exactly that thought. I think particularly of a handful of particularly stressful moments where it very nearly fell apart…. perish the thought!

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‘And now, they go into the Championship. And in so many ways, previously mentioned criteria that apply to Boro and Conference South are at play with Pompey and the Championship.

‘Every season three Premier League clubs drop into that division and they come bolstered by huge parachute payments. Of course some have residual PL salaries and overheads to wrestle with but not all.

‘Indeed next season clubs like Norwich, WBA and hopefully Saints could still be in the Championship. That still leaves powerful adversaries like Middlesboro Watford, Coventry and Sunderland in the mix so it’s really ‘game on’.

‘I read somewhere the average weekly loss of a Championship side is close to £80k per week and if so there’s pause for thought right there – especially for an owner who has pledged a ’no losses’ manifesto and, from what I’ve seen, has stuck to it. So the challenge is clear and present it’s financial husbandry v competitive challenge v supporter expectation… good luck with that!

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‘There are models like Luton Town, Burnley, Brentford and Ipswich who have avoided carnage to be successful with differing models but common among them has been canny recruitment of both coaching and playing staff.

‘I have to say if anything stands out among other strengths this term it’s been that particular strength at Pompey. I’ve seen at first hand the relationship that exists between the recruitment and coaching staff – in particular a firm handshake between John Mousinho and Richard Hughes – and that’s a pivotal and critical axis.

‘John’s appointment has been pure alchemy, obviously motivated by Richard and bravely supported by Michael & Co.

‘I’d like to think that’s another ‘ve had with level of symmetry between Pompey and Boro. Indeed via the success with Toby Steward this season there’s been much contact between Pat and Joe and the club coaching staff, who have a mutual respect and common ideology.’

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