10 years ago Portsmouth were hosting European football at Fratton Park. Their victory in the 2008 FA Cup meant they would play in the 2008/09 UEFA Cup (now known as the Europa League). It has been just over a decade since Portsmouth played their most famous match to date - a 2-2 draw against AC Milan which featured Kaka, Filippo Inzaghi, Andriy Shevchenko and Ronaldinho.
For the club though, this was the start of a rollercoaster ride, as financial difficulties turned the club from a top half Premier League team to a Football League basement dweller. Events off the field led to the near extinction of the club on two occasions.
Financial struggles became a real issue in the 2009/10 season. However, there were some positives, as the club managed to defeat arch rivals Southampton 4-1 at St Mary’s in the fifth round of the FA Cup en-route to the final, where they lost to Premier League champions Chelsea. It was during their FA Cup run that the club became the first Premier League club to enter administration.
Although the club survived the threat of liquidation and were taken over by Balram Chainrai, who was the man who originally placed them into administration, the future of the club was bleak.
Play Down Pompey
They survived their first season back in the Championship and, the following summer, were taken over by Convers Sports Initiative, headed by Vladimir Antonov. Following the takeover the club invested in the playing squad, bringing in the likes of Erik Huseklepp, Marko Futacs, Jason Pearce and David Norris.
Less than six months under the new ownership and Portsmouth were once again facing financial difficulties, this time as a result of their owners, CSI, being put into administration themselves. Vladimir Antonov, owner of both Portsmouth and CSI was wanted in connection with alleged asset stripping of a Lithuanian bank.
With CSI in administration, there were further financial problems for the club and in February 2012, the club entered administration for the second time in three seasons. The club were handed a 10-point deduction and were relegated and would play in League One for the first time in 30 years, but, more worryingly, the club were perilously close to liquidation.
When the League One season kicked off, the club were still in administration and it was confirmed by the league that Portsmouth would be docked 10 points when a new owner was found. It took 14 months for the club to come out of administration, after the Portsmouth Supporters’ Trust had its bid accepted by the administrators.
Phoenix from The Ashes
Under new ownership and in English football’s basement league, Portsmouth began to rebuild in the 2013/14 season.
Even though they were playing in League Two, Portsmouth were still able to achieve over 80% capacity at Fratton Park, which at the time had a capacity of 18,931 due to safety concerns. The fans stuck by the club during the darkest of times and, after helping to buy the club, were crucial in its revival.
Their first season in League Two very nearly ended in relegation to the Conference. However, thanks to Andy Awford, who took over as caretaker manager in March following the sacking of Richie Barker, the club survived after winning five of the final six games of the season consecutively and drawing the other. Andy Awford guided the club to a mid-table finish the following season before being replaced by Chesterfield boss Paul Cook.
Portsmouth reached the play-offs in Cook’s first season in charge, but narrowly lost out in the semi-finals to Plymouth. In his second season in charge, Cook guided them to the League Two championship, winning the title on the final day of the season, the first time all season Portsmouth were top.
A New Era Dawns
While Paul Cook left for Wigan Athletic, Portsmouth installed Kenny Jackett as manager before the club was sold to the Tornante Group, led by former Disney CEO Michael Eisner.
Since the takeover the owners have gone about their business in a careful and measured approach. They have stressed that despite having ambitions of reaching the Championship and beyond, they are first looking to build solid foundations.
They’ve already introduced a new logo for the start of the 2018/19 season, but the biggest investment for the club will be Fratton Park. In January 2017, the club were advised that £5 million would be required in order to improve the stadium so that it meets all the requirements from a health and safety stand point.
The last time there were talks of Portsmouth moving to a new stadium was in 2007 when the club was in talks to build a £600 million Docklands Stadium. Fratton Park has been the club’s home since 1899 and Michael Eisner has admitted that for the foreseeable future at least, the club will remain at Fratton Park.
In a recent tweet from Eisner, which contains an image of a recent meeting at the club, they are discussing the future of the club and fans suspect that some of the paperwork on the desk is regarding plans for the stadium.
But as the club continues up the leagues, the time could come when Portsmouth wave goodbye to Fratton Park and move into a new home. With ambitions of Premier League and Champions League football, it is hardly feasible for the club to remain at a stadium that’s capacity will only ever reach the mid-20 thousands.
There is a feel good factor at Portsmouth right now and Eisner’s vision for the club is something that excites the fans. But before any of the ambitions can be achieved, Portsmouth will have to secure promotion from League One, and they are currently the 2nd favourites, priced at 2/1, just behind Sunderland. Should they reach the Premier League, they had better hope that they strengthen their squad enough to not be the favourites in the Premier League relegation odds.
It truly is the time to ‘Play up Pompey, Pompey play up’!
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