x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Portsmouth are being kicked while they are down

The bad times for Portsmouth have seemed relentless in recent years, but there were happier times at Fratton Park.

The extinction of Portsmouth Football Club has become a real possibility as they are stuck in financial difficulties.
The extinction of Portsmouth Football Club has become a real possibility as they are stuck in financial difficulties.

Fun often carries a price, but some pay for it more than others in an unjust world.

A crowd of us had fun on Saturday, April 7, 2007, and on Saturday, May 17, 2008, and on numerous other days way back then, and now that crowd pays and pays and pays, much more than other crowds pay.

We are the people who love Portsmouth Football Club, although I should dispense with "we" and "us" straightaway, for I am not worthy. I interloped for a few seasons, lived in England, chose the club when I went to Fratton Park one Saturday in April 2006 and got blown away by the charming decrepitude and amazing verve.

Thereby on April 7, 2007, did I wind up at the hilt of 21st-century nervousness: the inability to text, the fingers gone jittery among fans in the urgent end of Fratton Park.

Matt Taylor - oh, the distant past! - had scored on 31 minutes, and Manchester United in bright red had tried to counter with wave upon wave of Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, all four of them or so it seemed.

What absorption. What fear. What suspense. What fun, especially when the minutes finally made their crawl all the way to 89, and Rio Ferdinand back passed to his keeper, and Edwin van der Sar misread Ferdinand's well-meaning intention, and the ball trickled ever so merrily into the net.

I still see that ball trickling, still feel goose bumps remembering how the old 20,223-seat jalopy rocked.

Portsmouth would hold on 2-1, Sir Alex Ferguson would credit "their keeper" (David James), and the Saturday night would excel.

Thirteen months later on May 17, 2008, the whole brigade would inflate to help fill Wembley with 89,874, and I would go to the outside of the great stadium just to hang out, while Portsmouth would defeat Cardiff City 1-0 for the FA Cup through a goal by the man of the match and mainstay Kanu.

By now, editorials rip Kanu for alleged selfishness.

Pay and pay and pay, in Portsmouth's entrenched 2012 identity: it's an epitome of the perils of the crazy football financial system. It's a bad-dream demise strewn across three seasons, a demotion to the Championship, a demotion to League One, a demotion to the bottom of League One at minus-10 already because of remaining in administration, an intimacy with the words "liquidation" and "extinction", even a vague happiness with the escape from the strains of big finance if only the club can survive.

There must be umpteen other clubs with financial books teetering above a chasm, but few fans have had to pay like this. Yet.

And so, on Saturday at Old Sarum, Salisbury City beat Portsmouth 2-1 in a friendly before 554, possibly 555 if somebody sneaked in. The Whites used it as final preparation for the lid-lifter this week against AFC Hornchurch in Conference South.

Visiting Pompey used it as ...

Well, one hopes the manager Michael Appleton has a full relish for the earthiness of the basics, the charm of the pure and obscure, for his XIs these days draw from the development squad and a batch of trialists, a word my vocabulary lacked until lately.

The line-up went Santiago-Magri-Ifil-Grant-Butler- Compton-Colson-Wallace-Djilali-Higgins-D. Thompson, and such anonymity figured to persist tonight for a weird League Cup opener against Plymouth Argyle.

"However, he can still sign players on loan up to three hours before the game (on Tuesday) kicks off at 7.45pm," went the remarkable and, anymore, unremarkable paragraph in the Portsmouth News. The league opener on Saturday against Bournemouth, well, Saturday might be aeons away in this saga.

The extinction cloud just subsided again over the weekend, the club wrapping up compromise farewell agreements with its last professional players. Those players faced lousy options amid all the lousiness, having signed pacts that promised continued compensation when, eventually, continued compensation would have discontinued the club.

A conciliatory open letter went from fans to high-end players and contained the passage, "The well is dry," while Kanu argued for £3 million (Dh17m) in owed money, a position hardly qualifying as harsh yet stoking some bitterness, and there went another nadir.

How unthinkable for an adored player who adored the great fans and scored at 37 minutes on May 17, 2008 at Wembley, way back then.

The ownership situation ... the gallantry of Pompey Supporters' Trust hoping to buy and save the club ... a recent snag over fee payments ...

The exhausted murkiness cannot seem to end even as a fresh season begins, the past gone blurry with those splurging days that were such excellent fun. Was it worth it? I have not been there since March 2010. I have suffered insufficiently. I happened to drop in for the mirth. I am unqualified to answer.

cculpepper@thenational.ae

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