x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Portsmouth fans welcome UAE tycoon

Supporters hope Sulaiman al Fahim will enable big-name signings and help to propel their club up football's English Premier League.

Nathan Hunt and Craig Johnston show off their Portsmouth gear at Jumeirah Beach in Dubai. Many fans said they were encouraged by Mr al Fahim's chairmanship.
Nathan Hunt and Craig Johnston show off their Portsmouth gear at Jumeirah Beach in Dubai. Many fans said they were encouraged by Mr al Fahim's chairmanship.

Fans of Portsmouth Football Club spoke of their delight yesterday at the news that the property tycoon Sulaiman al Fahim had been appointed its chairman. They hoped the arrival of the billionaire businessman would herald the signing of several big-name players.

Supporters backed the move, saying they hoped Mr al Fahim's takeover of the heavily indebted south coast club would be completed in the coming days and enable the management to prepare for the coming season. Nathan Hunt, 33, a lifelong Portsmouth fan who has been living in the UAE for six years, said he welcomed Mr al Fahim's involvement. "It's fantastic news. It sounds like he has a lot of ideas about how he wants to take the club forward," he said. "We will be expecting him to invest some of his hard-earned billions into the club."

The Premier League announced on Tuesday that Mr al Fahim had passed its new, more stringent fit-and-proper-persons test. Within minutes, the club appointed him chairman of the board of directors. A Portsmouth FC spokesman said an agreement "in principle" had been made between the current owner Alexandre Gaydamak and Mr al Fahim's firm, Al Fahim Asia Associates. Officials from Portsmouth FC, which is nicknamed Pompey or The Blues, declined to reveal the value of the purchase deal.

"Portsmouth can't go forward unless it gets some cash injected into it," Mr Hunt said. "We have lost a lot of players in the last few months but all the money we will have raised from that will likely go towards our debts. "The club needs new investment and I hope that that will come from him [Mr al Fahim]. "It is not in his interests or the club's interests to go down next season, so I am sure he will do everything he can to make sure that doesn't happen."

He added that he hoped to see a Portsmouth FC store stocking team merchandise in the UAE, similar to the Arsenal shop at the headquarters of Emirates Airline, the firm that sponsors the team. "It has taken a long time to complete the Premier League's fit-and-proper-persons test, so hopefully all the paperwork will be completed in the next couple of days and then let's start spending." Craig Johnston, 25, who is also from Portsmouth but has lived in Dubai for the last year and a half, added: "I think it is great for the club. We are desperate for a big cash investment. We need to move fast because we have sold all of our best players. We need four or five big-name signings. All the fans and the club have been in limbo for the last two months waiting to see if the deal was going to go ahead."

He expressed disappointment, however, at the decision to make the caretaker manager Paul Hart the permanent boss, saying that other, stronger candidates, such as the former England and Manchester City manager Sven-Göran Eriksson, should have been approached. Chris McIntosh, the honorary secretary of the Northern Blues, a club for Pompey fans with members across the UK, said some of the initial excitement when Mr al Fahim was first announced as the likely new owner of the club had faded, as it had taken longer than expected to deal with the fit-and-proper-persons test and other administrative hurdles.

Overall, however, he said he and most other Portsmouth fans saw Mr al Fahim's involvement as "a plus", although he warned that supporters should be realistic about the amount of money the new owner would spend. Mr McIntosh said that building a good side was not about simply spending huge amounts on star players. "He's a businessman and he's going to take this organisation and run it as a business and we have to accept that," he said.

Yvonne Seymour, a committee member of the Northern Blues, said she was very pleased that Mr al Fahim's takeover had been approved. "We need that stability," she said. "Having lost players is a worry. They've got some new players lined up and they've been waiting for the takeover to go through. We need some top-quality players if we want to stay in the Premiership." For next season, Ms Seymour said she hoped the club would retain its Premier League status and build from there.

"Probably the season after [next] we could move on," she said. Chris Pearcy, another Northern Blues committee member, said he hoped Mr al Fahim's takeover would not, like similar events in the past, lead to more disappointment for supporters. For fans to be confident that investment was being made, he said he would like to see work to expand Portsmouth's Fratton Park ground begin by the end of the year.

"We have heard promises in the past, but they've been false dawns," he said. "We know it takes time, but we would like to see some progress." Portsmouth fans in the UAE have launched a new supporters club and details can be had by writing to pompeybluedubai@live.com. chamilton @thenational.ae dbardsley@thenational.ae