There are many points in time that this story could start to be told of the men who have all played their part in the much documented off the field troubles of Portsmouth FC. Whilst most clubs go through the occasional problems, Pompey has long been a magnet for attracting people to the club who have attempted to hammer another nail into our coffin. Since November 1976 the club has been beset by off the field financial difficulties. We’ve been drinking in the last chance saloon for so many years it’s a wonder quite how we have managed to survive for as long as we have done and still live and breathe to fight another day. Sure as fans we’ve toasted success since 1976, it hasn’t all been doom and gloom; twice we’ve managed promotion back to the top flight and even won the FA Cup but one problem keeps blighting our club and that’s financial mismanagement. There can’t be a club who’s managed to attract more shady characters than our own and in truth as you look back at the course of history it reads more like a script from a Guy Ritchie movie than it does a tale of men who have been associated with our football club. So where better to start than with a man who has been dubbed a bigger East End crook than the Kray Twins could have ever have wished to have been.
In February 1997, the ex Barcelona and England manager Terry Venables purchased a 51% controlling interest in Pompey for the knock down fee of just £1. Once again in financial turmoil the club’s fans hoped that the arrival of Venables would bring in some much needed investment into the club. In the summer previous ‘El Tel’ had taken his England team to the semi-finals of Euro ’96 before being cruelly knocked out by Germany on penalties. These were meant to be exciting times ahead.
Venables used his position as Manager of the Australian nation side to bring in a host of players to the club; John Aloisi (£300,000), Craig Foster (£210,000), Robert Enes (£175,000) and Hamilton Thorp (£75,000) all joined the squad in the summer of 1997. Enes and Thorp didn’t even make it into double appearances for the club. Foster showed brief glimpses of his potential most notably in the 2-2 draw against Premier League opponents Aston Villa in an FA Cup tie. Only Aloisi made any real impact during his time with the club before being sold to Coventry for a fee of £650,000. Worse still was the claim that manager Alan Ball had agreed a fee of £1.5 million for the player with Gordon Strachan. No monies were recuperated for the original £460,000 outlay on the other three players.
Venables arrival had brought hope that investment would be brought to the club, what occurred in his eleven months was another total disaster. Through his company Vencorp he received a bonus of £300,000 in the summer of 1997. When he left the club, Pompey were sat bottom of Division One with their financial situation even worse than when he took over the club and Pompey were left staring bankruptcy in the face, yet he still walked away with another £250,000 in his pocket from the sale of the club after Martin Gregory retook control with a 96% shareholding. Pompey at that stage were believed to be losing around £150,000 per month.
Despite Pompey managing to offload strikers Lee Bradbury and Deon Burton which brought in a combined fee of £4 million, with Venables gone some £549,999 better off; Pompey were once again staring into the financial abyss with debts of £5 million.
In January 1998 Venables was banned from holding company directorships for a period of seven years by the High Courts. Venables pleaded guilty to the alleged mismanagement of four companies; Scribes West Ltd, Edenote Plc, Tottenham Hotspur Plc and Tottenham Hotspur Football and Athletic Company Ltd.
Whilst much is known about Venables time at Pompey, less is documented about the role of his once former financial advisor Eddie Ashby whose involvement with Pompey sparked the FA’s investigation into the club at the time. Ashby had been banned from holding company directorships already for a period of seven years. He was given no official job title with the club yet was believed to handling the day to day running of financial affairs on behalf of Venables. It was Ashby’s appointment that led to the resignation of Director Vic Jenner who said "There are certain individuals in the club taking responsibilities which they should not be given. I was used to certain standards and they weren't being met."
Ashby was employed by Venables at Tottenham, Kensington drinking club Scribes West and several of Venables' other companies, even though, as an undischarged bankrupt, he should not have held management positions. Ashby was subsequently jailed for violating bankruptcy laws.
With Venables paid off Martin Gregory the son of former owner Jim, was back in charge of the ailing club with a 96% shareholding. In May 1995 Gregory had used the club to prop up his own families failing business Blue Star Garages. Gregory had mortgaged a 97% shareholding in the club to Barclays Bank and subsequently charged the club 3% above the bank rate of loans made to the club.
With mounting unpaid bills the club was issued with a winding up petition by Try Build who had constructed the new 4,500 seater stand which replaced the old Fratton End. Completion of the stand had been made in October of 1997. The outstanding payment was finally settled in January 1999 when the £430,000 they were owed was finally paid.
In December 1998 the club was officially placed into administration and with no new owners on the horizon it looked like the club’s 100 year would be its last. Martin Gregory resigned his position as Chairman though the club was still owned by Blue Star Garages.
In the summer of 1999 with the club asking to borrow some nails to put up the shut signs, Serbian business man Milan Mandaric became Pompey’s new owner and took the club out of administration. Whilst claims are made that Mandaric was introduced by ex-player Preki to the club, he had actually attempted to buy Pompey sometime before but had failed. The approach had been made by David Deacon a former Director of the club and son of former owner John Deacon. Neither man it’s fair to say had been the most popular of characters during their time with the club. In the late 1970s it was under the ownership of John Deacon that Pompey had nearly gone under for the first time. In November 1976 Pompey were struggling to meet debts of £25,000 and were in serious danger of going into bankruptcy. A story that is much repeated from 1976 to the current day. How ironic that it should be David Deacon who brought Mandaric back to the table to buy the club. The news of the Serbs arrival and Deacon’s involvement in the deal was heralded with much derision from Portsmouth United; a fans group who had attempted to buy the club with no success. Despite their protests the deal went through and the rest is history as they say.
Under Mandaric, Pompey rose from the depths of despair to the English Premier League and became FA Cup winners for a second time when they beat Cardiff in a 1-0 win in the May of 1998.
Mandaric is at the time of writing in court facing charges of tax evasion alongside ex Pompey boss Harry Redknapp. A decision on the case is expected to be announced next Tuesday lunchtime.
Part two will look at some of the names that make those already mentioned seem tame in comparison. You really couldn’t have made any of this up.