'Portsmouth's owner wanted to compete with Roman Abramovich's Chelsea': Peter Storrie on the rise and fall of the only Premier League club to enter administration
and live on Freeview channel 276
Pleas from jubilant Pompey players to take the famous old trophy on a tour of London nightclubs had convinced Peter Storrie to hand his hotel room key over to a security guard and instruct safe keeping.
Having won the 2008 FA Cup final against Cardiff at Wembley, the Blues’ prized capture spent that May evening in the room of their chief executive at Oakley Court in Windsor.
A first FA Cup triumph in 69 years would cap a season which reaped eighth spot in the Premier League – and the ambitious club’s highest top-flight placing since 1955.
During seven seasons among football’s elite, names like David James, Sol Campbell, Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe and Glen Johnson all represented England while Blues players.
Then, in February 2010 – 13 years ago this week – Pompey became the only Premier League club to enter administration, with debts of £129m.
‘They were the best, best times I had in my life in football, without a shadow of a doubt,’ Storrie told The News.
‘Winning the Division One title, being successful in the Premier League and, the ultimate, winning the FA Cup. I don’t think I can ever forget that Wembley day, it was a very, very special moment.
‘In that run we beat Manchester United at Old Trafford, a team which would later win the Champions League. Sir Alex Ferguson was ranting and raving in his room afterwards, giving us no credit. We got a glass of his famous red wine, grudgingly!
‘People could only have dreamed of Pompey bringing in the quality of players that we did. I never thought we’d have that talent, just amazing.
‘Pompey get unfair criticism, it’s nonsense about us “buying” the FA Cup. Doesn’t anyone who wins it? Look at how much money big teams spend to win titles.
‘People tend to forget those great times and focus on that last 18 months, but administration and the circumstances behind it could have happened anywhere.’
It was February 2002 when Storrie, a former West Ham managing director, was appointed as Pompey chief executive, replacing Martin Murphy.
Owner Milan Mandaric had lavished millions and three times broken the club’s transfer record, yet the team were languishing 16th in Division One under his third manager, Graham Rix.
One of Storrie’s first acts was to replace Rix with the Blues’ director of football Harry Redknapp – and that summer the likes of Paul Merson, Shaka Hislop and Arjan de Zeeuw arrived on free transfers.
Pompey subsequently claimed the Division One title in 2002-03 to return to the top flight after 15 years away – then remained there for seven eventful seasons.
Storrie added: ‘We owe Peter Crouch an awful lot, his sale to Aston Villa gave us the actual finances at the time. Instead of transfers, that was used on wages for people like Paul Merson.
‘Graham Taylor had just gone in at Villa, so I knew straight away he’d want a big 6ft 7in centre-forward – and I knew he would pay big money for it.
‘I was at Portsmouth Marriott with Milan and Terry Brady, with Villa chairman Doug Ellis on the phone negotiating the transfer, he did them all, he wouldn’t let anyone play around with his money.
‘He started around £3m. I didn’t have any paper with me, so was writing his offers on a napkin. Milan was looking over my shoulder and I went “Wait, wait a bit more” – we got it up to £5m, a club record.
‘Ahead of that 2002-03 season, the idea was to build a squad with a chance of getting into the play-offs. There’s no explanation in football why, but everything clicked, almost from the first game, and we actually won it.
‘It was fantastic working with Harry and Milan. They loved each other – well, 90 per cent of the time!
‘My wife doesn’t watch Sky Sports News very much and one day I was in my study, she must have been flicking through the channels before shouting “Look at this”.
‘It was Milan saying something about Harry and then, two minutes later, Harry saying something back! So I rang them both: “We can’t sort this out on TV, let’s meet together at Milan's apartment”.
‘I was often the peacemaker, but it’s football, people have disagreements. They had such passion for the club, both wanted to win every game – and were pains in the neck when we lost!’
In January 2006, Sacha Gaydamak, a French businessman whose father, Arkadi, owned Beitar Jerusalem, invested around £15m to become Pompey co-owner with Mandaric.
With the Blues labouring in the Premier League’s relegation zone, that timely financial muscle brought in Benjani Mwaruwari for a club record £4m, along with Pedro Mendes, Sean Davis, Dean Kiely, Noe Pamarot and Andres D’Alessandro.
It worked, with Redknapp, in his second spell, masterminding the Great Escape by taking 20 points from a possible 27 to stay up with a game to spare.
With Gaydamak taking sole ownership in the summer of 2006, he cranked up his spending, with the Blues subsequently claiming the 2008 FA Cup and reaching Europe for the first time in their history, hosting AC Milan at Fratton Park.
‘Milan had made it known that probably he had done all he could for the club, he’d achieved his aims and perhaps it was time to move on,’ said Storrie.
‘I spoke to a few people, including Pini Zahavi, who had brokered several deals when buying clubs and knew Sacha. Me and Milan travelled to Israel a few days before Christmas and the deal was done that evening.
‘Sacha wanted it in place for the January transfer window, only for his lawyers to insist they wouldn’t work over Christmas – so he got rid of them and appointed another firm!
‘That financial input was important for keeping us in the Premier League, with Pedro, Sean and Noe coming from Spurs.
‘The thing about Daniel Levy is whenever we rang him about players, you could never sign one, you had to take two! It was one we wanted and one we didn’t particularly want. That was Daniel.
‘This time it was different. We wanted Mendes and Davis and got them. Then Harry said to me “I don’t suppose they’d give us Pamarot as well?”. So I went back and we did. That was some deal.
‘After staying up, that 2006 summer we signed Sol Campbell, David James, Kanu, Niko Kranjcar and Andy Cole.
‘Sol had a running dispute with Arsenal. I rang Arsene Wenger about the situation and whether he would let him go, he was very good about it and agreed.
‘However, there were one or two difficult things in his Arsenal contract which he wanted pulled over into his Pompey deal, such as image rights. There weren’t many players at Fratton Park that would have ever had image rights!
‘I remember ahead of AC Milan, their officials came over for two days beforehand to inspect the ground. You then had to host a dinner for the visiting club in the evening.
‘One of their officials came over to me and said “Is this right, you have Kanu?”. Then he asked how old our striker was.
‘When I told him, he replied: “I remember refereeing an under-18 game and am pretty sure he played – that would now make him about 50!”.
‘Who really knew his age? Kanu had three different passports and no-one ever knew how old he was. But what a player and a lovely man.’
Gaydamak put Pompey up for sale in the summer of 2008 and, aware of the impending financial implosion, Redknapp left for Spurs.
In August 2009, the club was sold to Sulaiman Al Fahim, who spent a chaotic 41 days at Fratton Park before ownership was handed to the mysterious Ali Al Faraj.
Subsequently, having defaulted on an £18.5m loan taken out with Portpin, Balram Chainrai took over Pompey and, within a month, put them into administration with debts of £129m.
Storrie added: ‘I didn’t see a great deal of Sacha, he was a young man who had other businesses to focus on.
‘He knew Roman Abramovich quite well and attended games whenever he could, although, while he loved football, you wouldn't call him a fanatic.
‘I don’t know if his dad actually owned Pompey, I never met him. Was it his dad’s money? Who knows. I certainly don’t know.
‘Sacha generally ran Pompey by not physically putting cash into the club. Instead he’d allow the club to have overdraft facilities, for which he would guarantee the money. We didn’t get involved in how that was guaranteed, that’s Sacha’s business.
‘It was almost like he wanted to compete with Chelsea. There’s no way the club could afford these sorts of big, big wages, they had to be supported by him to do so, which, at the time, he was happy to do.
‘Our wage bill went up by a colossal amount, but that’s what Sacha wanted to do, he was the owner, I was the employee. This was an ambitious owner, wanting the best for the club and supporting it with his money and these guarantees.
‘Such a method is quite common in clubs. On the face of it, it’s good, but should circumstances change then suddenly you have this huge cost – and the banks want the money back.
‘With Sacha, circumstances altered following the downfall in stocks and shares, along with market change at that time. He had to try to sell and all investment stopped – yet we still had these expensive players with no income to cover it.
‘Administration wasn’t inevitable, if these banks had been taken out and new banks brought in by other owners then Pompey would have had a chance. It needed a complete refinancing.
‘Al Fahim was passionate about the club, an unbelievable character who was on Piers Morgan’s Piers On Dubai programme, but fooled everybody in terms of having all this money and who he was over there. He wasn’t anything like it.
‘For me, there was something which never sat right about him. He initially put in £5m and was then going to fund another £21m, but his money was coming through some organisation in America – and no-one gives you £21m without some sort of guarantee.
‘I never met Al Faraj, instead he had representatives at Pompey such as Daniel Azougy and Mark Jacob. Once they took over, although I was CEO, they were running the club.
‘I spoke to Al Faraj on the phone a couple of times, it was only a polite “Hello” introductory conversation, such as “How are you?”. If that even was him!
‘He passed the Premier League’s fit and proper person test – so everyone was once again fooled.
‘I liked Chainrai but never quite knew what the whole involvement was. He had some arguments with the group that he lent money to and, to try to sort out the mess, decided the only way forward was to put Pompey into administration.’
Having left Pompey in March 2010, Storrie has spent the last decade as chairman of Hampshire Premier League club Liss Athletic, while served three years as vice-chairman of New South Wales-based side Central Coast Mariners, helping rebuild the A-League club.
Then, two weeks ago, he joined Charlton on a consultancy basis, with the club tapping into his experience following the collapse of a recent ownership bid.
He added: ‘The people investing in the Premier League these days are completely different to 2010.
‘Should Sacha be selling Pompey now, I’m pretty certain you’d have Americans or Saudi Arabians, people who could have invested in the club and the stadium.
‘Do I have any regrets? I wish I could have found a proper owner when Sacha wanted to sell. I tried everywhere, but it was at a time of the financial crash, people weren’t looking to buy football clubs.
‘I would have very happily stayed at Pompey for the rest of my football career, but obviously circumstances changed in terms of ownerships and owners.
‘As the chief executive, you are there to take the credit – and also the blame.’