No secrets in era of ongoing Pompey transparency
As Priestfield Stadium's Tannoy crackled into life, the boorish intrusion commenced.
The likes of Primal Scream, Akon and The Stone Roses stomped around conversational exchanges, barging between words with brutish disregard.
The Medway Stand served as an impromptu stage for Andy Redman’s maiden interview with The News.
Plans to conduct the pre-match meeting in more serene surrounds of Gillingham’s boardroom had been scrapped upon the discovery the entrance from the press side was under lock and keycard.
Instead, it was relocated to seats in the main stand – an able stand-in until halfway through the stadium’s play-list was cranked into ear-splitting action. Yet talk was unhindered.
There was nothing slick about the setting, it was raw and reassuringly natural in the absence of PR chiefs and press officers.
Redman never sought back-up muscle to flank his words, ensuring the two-way conversation represented communication in the purist sense.
Little more than two months into the Tornante tenure and the pledge to uphold openness and accessibility continues to be maintained. Early days, granted, yet unequivocally encouraging.
What transpired was 43 minutes in which a Pompey board member and Tornante’s president dealt with a collection of questions with transparency and clarity, unflinchingly addressing all content.
Not even the vociferous Tannoy could disrupt the negotiation of issues ranging from Fratton Park’s future and a copyright-dictated badge to Kenny Jackett’s budget and the effectiveness of the Heritage & Advisory Board.
From Redman there was an absence of spin, no penchant for fantasy and, most crucial of all to the Fratton faithful, a stream of honesty.
Upon the arrival of fan ownership in April 2013, the club not merely constructed foundations for a proud football club’s recovery, it also established the concept of sincerity with its supporters.
The gregarious Iain McInnes, as generous with his time as he is at the dining table or bar, was the driving force as chairman, aided by democratically-elected members of the Pompey Supporters’ Trust.
All were bound by Pompey passion and the desire to reconstruct a club subsiding into ruins following wrecking-ball devastation hurtled by a procession of previous owners.
For little more than four years, it was an era of openness, transparency and accessibility, largely unheard of in modern-day football.
Michael Eisner & Co have been challenged to not only build on their predecessors’ achievements of stability and sustainability, but also maintain magnificent supporter engagement.
Of course, many of us still wince at the days when owners and chairmen played British Bulldog with Blues fans and the local media.
Balram Chainrai was an elusive character for The News, irrespective of possessing a variety of phone numbers. Occasionally, a game of roulette would throw up a sketchy answer or two before he hurriedly departed.
The News’ then-business editor, Emma Judd, struck it lucky more than most. However, his promises to grant an interview over dinner never materialised.
In September 2012, he hired Tavistock Communications to serve as his PR voice. Sadly, they declined to speak to me on account of I wasn’t on the ‘business/news side’ of the paper.
In fact, during Chainrai’s various Fratton Park residencies, nobody from the sports desk was ever given an interview.
Admittedly, there was history. Following the 2010 FA Cup final, The News received a letter from his lawyers threatening to sue for defamation over my match report. It remains offline to this day.
The menace lingered until a year from publication had subsided, ensuring action could no longer be taken.
Similarly, Convers Sports Initiatives proved frustratingly elusive to The News’ sports desk.
We were not alone, of course. They also dodged meeting supporters, despite Roman Dubov issuing a June 2011 letter to the fans’ conference promising to meet in the future.
In September 2011, local media consisting of Radio Solent, Wave FM, Express FM and BBC South were invited to CSI’s London premises. The News were not included.
Chief executive David Lampitt was angry over my article on high ticket pricing and falling attendances, containing quotes from Pompey Independent Supporters’ Association’s Tony Goodall and Trust spokesman Scott Mclachlan.
Those clutching golden tickets had the prized opportunity to speak to chairman Vladimir Antonov – and were sent home with bulging content as well as a CSI goody bag containing sweets, a pen, a pad and a key ring.
At least Sacha Gaydamak spoke upon his coronation as joint-owner in January 2006. Yet we never heard from him again.
Sulaiman Al Fahim’s calamitous 41-day spell in charge didn’t extend to an interview, while Ali Al Faraj never ventured to England, although I did meet his brother, Ahmed, in London in January 2010.
Now we have Tornante.
‘The emotion from historical, unfortunate ownership means that we need to be open and transparent,’ said Redman last Sunday.
‘But we would have done that anyway. We believe what we are doing in terms of engaging with the community is exactly the right thing for every club to do.
‘Obviously, it is not our prerogative to tell other clubs how to run themselves, but I think 10 years from now people will see us as a model of how to engage with fans.’
Time will be the judge of that – but early indications are heartening.