Reminders of Portsmouth’s past remain for Mark Catlin but Wembley is proof of Blues’ ongoing ascension

On Sunday, Mark Catlin will embrace the present and gaze with confidence at the future, yet there is no fleeing the past.

Saturday, 30th March 2019, 3:52 pm
Updated Saturday, 30th March 2019, 3:56 pm
Pompey chief executive Mark Catlin

Wembley will stage Pompey’s Checkatrade Trophy final with Sunderland, an occasion attracting more than 80,000 supporters.

It represents the latest juncture in ongoing ascension to the higher ground they used to inhabit.

A second season at League One level offers play-off qualification at the minimum, perhaps even automatic promotion should late drama occur.

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Pompey will play Sunderland in the Checkatrade Trophy final

Reminders remain, of course, of the club Catlin first set foot in during September 2012.

Entrenched in administration, effectively condemned to League Two following a 10-point deduction, it signified the lowest point in the club’s history.

Now Wembley beckons - but Catlin remembers. He always will.

Pompey’s chief executive said: ‘I couldn’t believe how bad the club was when I arrived.

Mark Catlin, right, with, from left, Andy Redman, Eric Eisner, Michael Eisner Photography by Habibur Rahman

‘The morale was through the floor, we had no training ground, no kit deal, our sponsors weren't paying, it was still losing money hand over fist and every day was a different crisis.

‘Today we are third in League One and at Wembley in the Checkatrade Trophy.

‘I keep harking on that we are in an amazing position as a football club. With the speed of how we have done it over that six-year period, some people think it should have been quicker and I am sure some believe we should be further advanced.

‘But you have to remember, everything we’ve done has been self-sustainable, we are debt-free.

The Pompey players look dejected during their trip to Rochdale in March 2014

‘We inherited a club with huge debts needing restructuring from top to bottom, a club rapidly looking like it was going out of the Football League.

‘Thankfully, I feel with have got it right, we are in a great position.

‘We have some exciting projects going on at Fratton Park. There’s the training ground, our links now with the navy and city, these are all elements we should be really proud of.’

Catlin offered his services to Pompey administrator Trevor Birch in September 2012.

Formerly a director at Bury, he initially worked alongside ex-Brighton managing director Ken Brown at Fratton Park.

Once the Pompey Supporters’ Trust bid was declared successful through the High Courts, he was installed as chief executive in April 2013.

And the Blues are unrecognisable.

Catlin added: ‘I was around for nearly a year as a volunteer behind the scenes because I had football experience and just love clubs with a passionate fanbase.

‘One Sunday morning, I read how Pompey were on the verge of being liquidated and it just struck a chord. I wanted to get involved and help, I saw it as a massive challenge.

‘Initially I spoke to Iain McInnes and asked if he wanted some help, then talked to Trevor Birch because I knew him previously.

‘Luckily I had the trust of Trevor and Ken Brown at that time, they allowed me to work at the football club while, at the same time, my allegiances were to the Pompey Supporters’ Trust and the presidents.

‘Pretty much within a few days I was down here, rolling up my sleeves with everyone else, trying to save the club. We have come a long way.

‘My lowest point was probably coming home from losing 3-0 at Rochdale in March 2014, where it looked like we could actually go out of the Football League.

‘I would say it runs close with the visit to Plymouth in the League Two play-offs in May 2016, where we ran out of players.

‘To concede that goal in injury time, then waiting around in the Home Park boardroom to hear everyone celebrating, that was really, really tough to take.

‘Today, though, our plans are for the future, we learn from errors of the past and will keep moving on.

‘I did say during those early years that people had to be patient and we needed to build foundations. Those foundations are now very, very strong and we can take the club as high as we want.

‘It’s just being patient, doing it self-sustainably, learning from the lessons of the past. But also aligning that with the ambitions of our fan base, ourselves individually and our board of directors.’

Catlin will tomorrow sit in the Royal Box along with various dignitaries from the city, in addition to the club’s presidents, members of the Heritage & Advisory Board and former chairman Iain McInnes.

The Eisner family will also be present, although have lodged a preference to let others occupy the front row’s eight seats.

Catlin said: ‘Michael and his family have been absolutely fantastic.

‘They have vacated their seats on the front row of the Royal Box and basically said “This is a Portsmouth day and it’s not about us”.

‘They are going to be sat further back in the box, so it’s going to be Portsmouth-centric people on the front row, which I thought was an amazing gesture.

‘So those eight seats will contain key politicians, key executives and some key sponsors.

‘I have never known it before, but Michael and his family were absolutely adamant. They wanted to vacate it for what they believe to be more deserving people.

‘It sums them up, they don’t really want the publicity of it all, they are in this for the right reasons, they get their buzz from coming to the game and being part of rebuilding the club.

‘I think that's amazing gesture, but doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.

‘It’s how they are, there’s no egos with any of them, they care passionately about the club and were absolutely adamant.’

Wembley awaits - as more distance is generated away from that dark, dark past.