AS I write this, it seems to be up and running again, but Portsmouth’s official website shut down for a few hours today – another instalment in the saga of their financial crisis.
Pompey explained this afternoon that they had failed to keep up their payments to Juicy, the Bournemouth-based digital agency which runs Pompey’s website. This morning, anyone attempting to visit the site was confronted with the blunt message “Website unavailable”. As of about 2.30pm, though, it was possible to log on to the site again, so Pompey must have settled the bill to Juicy’s satisfaction.
In its own right, this would have been an embarrassing story – a Premier League club failing to pay its bills on time. But on top of all the other problems to have befallen Portsmouth in recent months, it does raise the question as to how much longer the club can stagger on.
There was last summer’s bizarre double takeover, which saw Sulaiman Al-Fahim selling most of his stake almost as soon as he’d bought it, and Ali Al-Faraj stepping in to buy 90 per cent of the club. The players’ wages have been paid late three times this season, they owe £9million to former owner Sacha Gaydamak by midnight on Sunday, and HM Revenue and Customs have served them with a winding-up order (a hearing is due on February 10).
And then there’s been the farce surrounding Aruna Dindane, the Ivory Coast international striker brought in on loan from Lens in August, with a view to a permanent deal. The French club claimed that Pompey were obliged to pay upwards of £4m to sign Dindane once he had played 11 games for them – he has played 14. Pompey can’t pay £4m for anyone right now, and so the striker has been recalled to Lens to await his next move.
Pompey have, at least, had a transfer embargo lifted, allowing Avram Grant to bring in Quincy Owusu-Abeyie on loan from Spartak Moscow for an increasingly desperate relegation fight. But Grant is still not allowed to buy players – it’s loan deals and free signings only – and he can expect to have to sell to bring in a bit of cash. Defender Younes Kaboul looks set to rejoin Tottenham as I write this; while David James will surely move on before Monday’s transfer deadline. Others will surely leave too.
Amid all of this, the failure to settle a website bill on time seems relatively trivial. And that’s the point. Struggling to find the cash to pay the playing squad’s £1.8m monthly wage bill is one thing. But how much can it possibly cost to pay a company to run a website? We can’t be talking fortunes here.
To their great credit, some Pompey fans have managed to maintain a sense of gallows humour through troubling times. The online fanzine E-Frattonise has written a spoof news story about the club signing a co-operation deal with Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) – the joke being that the indigenous populations of Uganda, Ghana and Rwanda have volunteered to come to Portsmouth to help the poverty-stricken club.
And yet the extraordinary thing is that despite all of this – possibly even because of it – Pompey are not playing that badly. They beat Liverpool just before Christmas, and they’re in the fifth round of the FA Cup, with a tasty derby at Southampton to look forward to. They’ll need a miracle to avoid relegation, but they look like putting up a decent fight.
Last night’s final match: Portsmouth 1 West Ham 1
Reporter: Ivan Gaskell
And there is one competition that Portsmouth have a great chance of winning – the Gubbometer. As usual for a midweek Match of the Day, the show started with extended highlights of Wednesday’s Premier League games – throwing in a very entertaining Carling Cup semi-final too – and finished by rounding up Tuesday’s action.
Pompey’s 1-1 draw with West Ham, a significant clash in the relegation battle, brought up the rear. Matthew Upson rather scruffy finish looked set to give West Ham their first win since, er, the last time they played Portsmouth (a month ago). But Danny Webber’s smartly-taken equaliser 14 minutes from the end earned a draw in Pompey’s first Premier League game of 2010.
Webber started out at Manchester United – a club with their own financial concerns – but his only previous crack at the Premier League came with Sheffield United three seasons ago. That didn’t end well, as the Blades were relegated on the final day of the season, thanks to a home defeat by Wigan and a whole load of kerfuffle surrounding Carlos Tevez and West Ham.
But he knows the ropes when it comes to a relegation fight, and he’s remarkably positive about it all.
“There are a few characters and a lot of enthusiasm in the dressing room – and a lot of belief,” said Webber after Tuesday’s match. “Everybody seems to have written us off already, but we believe we can get out of the situation.”
Not that events off the field look like picking up just yet – the Guardian reports today that Pompey’s wages may be late again at the end of this month. Cash is still the question at Fratton Park, even if the club’s website is online again.
1. Blackburn: 5 (GD: 1. 2L: 3.)
2=. Everton: 5 (GD: 1. 2L: 0.)
2=. Portsmouth: 5 (GD: 1. 2L: 0.)
4. West Ham: 4 (GD: 1. 2L: 1.)
5. Hull: 4 (GD: 0. 2L: 4.)
6. Stoke: 4 (GD: 0. 2L: 2.)
7. Wigan: 3 (GD: 0. 2L: 2.)
8. Aston Villa: 3 (GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
9. Gubba: 2 (GD: 2. 2L: 3.)
10. Bolton: 2 (GD: 0. 2L: 6.)
11. Burnley: 2 (GD: 0. 2L: 5.)
12=. Fulham: 2 (GD: 0. 2L: 4.)
12=. Wolves: 2 (GD: 0. 2L: 4.)
14. Tottenham: 2 (GD: 0. 2L: 2.)
15. Birmingham: 1 (GD: 0. 2L: 5.)
16. Arsenal: 1 (GD: 0. 2L: 1.)
17. Liverpool: 1 (GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
18. Sunderland: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 5.)
19=. Chelsea: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 1.)
19=. Manchester United: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 1.)
21. Manchester City: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
GD = Gubba difference
2L = On second last (Last night’s penultimate match was: Bolton 1 Burnley 0. And that means Bolton have now been next-to-last on MOTD a whopping six times this season.)
(NB. Teams will receive one point for every time they appear last on MOTD. Appearances on MOTD2 are not included. Teams level on points will be separated by Gubba difference – the number of times a team is on last with Tony Gubba commentating. Teams still level will then be separated by the number of times they appear second last on MOTD.)