x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Pompey pay for their pomp

All that Portsmouth paid for through the years was on credit and one day this proud club were bound for a collapse.

David Maples, a Portsmouth fan, poses for the media outside the High Court on Wednesday. Premier League strugglers Portsmouth were given a stay of execution when the club were granted an extra seven days to fight a winding-up petition.
David Maples, a Portsmouth fan, poses for the media outside the High Court on Wednesday. Premier League strugglers Portsmouth were given a stay of execution when the club were granted an extra seven days to fight a winding-up petition.

It saddens me to see the situation at Portsmouth. A proud club could become history because they have spent too much and failed to pay their debts. I joined Portsmouth in 2006 from Manchester City and could see then that they were living beyond their means. Top players were joining because the money was so good - people move for money in any walk of life.

I was coming towards the end of my career and looking for a two-year contract. City were playing hardball and offering me a year, Portsmouth gave me two years straight away, no questions. It wasn't close to my home in Manchester, but they were paying the type of wages a club playing in the Champions League or clubs with double their crowds were offering. Sol Campbell, David James, Sulley Muntari, Lassana Diarra, Glen Johnson and Jermain Defoe have all played at Portsmouth in recent years; top players who were paid for on credit.

Some have earned as much as £80,000 (Dh458,287) a week. When the average gates at the club are 20,000, it doesn't take an economist to see that things didn't add up. But if a player has a choice of Bolton Wanderers or getting £15,000 more per week at Portsmouth, what is he going to do? Portsmouth have the potential to fill a much bigger ground, but there has been talk about a new home to replace the decaying Fratton Park for two decades.

They had fancy plans for a new stadium by the docks when I played there, except nobody knew who would bankroll it. In fact nobody knew where the money was coming from. Before they went through four owners this season, the chairman was Sacha Gaydamak, who funded the club by putting loans in - which he then demanded back, just like the banks and authorities are demanding money back now. The word among the players was that he was going to spend big, but that the funds were being prevented from entering the country because his father was an arms dealer - he was convicted in absentia by a French court of trafficking weapons in Angola. The cash never came. Borrowing heavily on the promise of future television revenues, it wasn't a stable model and the house of cards is now falling down. Despite the big-name players, the training facilities were what you would expect at a third division club. Without a training ground of their own, Portsmouth used to rent from the university and the changing rooms were like the ones I'd last seen in school, with little hooks for your clothes. Portsmouth paid top dollar, yet there was often no hot water after training. The gym was in a portable cabin.

The players were not happy and we said that we didn't think it was unreasonable to have hot water after training. The club bought two deluxe but temporary changing rooms, which had Jacuzzis. They cost a reputed £500,000 and even I could see that was a waste of money. Money Portsmouth didn't have, as it turned out. I know some players have not received their wages and that others, like David James, have offered to take cuts or go without payments. That's admirable, but the club should never have been allowed to live so lavishly in the first place. Portsmouth owe millions to creditors, some of them small companies. The club may argue that they are a special case, but why should it be treated like any other business and not be wound up?

You could argue because of the Portsmouth fans. They were among the most passionate that I came across in my career. It's a small working class city which sits on an island by the naval docks and the influence of the football club is everywhere. The fans are dedicated, but few of them asked serious questions about finances when they won the FA Cup in 2008. Fans love to live the dream, but someone needs to take responsibility. Despite winning the cup, Portsmouth still lost £17million that year. Was that fair on their rivals who cut their cloth accordingly? Companies and people have to pay taxes so why should Portsmouth be any different?

It's very sad that a club formed in 1898 faces a winding-up order and I have genuine sympathy with fans, but the success of Portsmouth was built on sand and it was a matter of when, and not if, the club would collapse. sports@thenational.ae Andrew Cole, a former Manchester United player, is the second all-time Premier League top-scorer with 187 goals.