17 March ~ David James will start in goal for Bristol City at Fratton Park today, with his former club Portsmouth in the same financial state as it was when he left: administration. Back in 2010, Portsmouth were relegated from the Premier League, but James and his team-mates managed to pull off a glorious triumph in adversity by reaching the FA Cup final. The semi-final victory over Harry Redknapp's Tottenham is many fans' favourite memory from those seven seasons in the sun. This time, however, the picture is far bleaker.
Portsmouth went into administration in February for the second time in two years. After a ten-point deduction they are now bottom of the Championship, six points from safety. Trevor Birch, of the accountants PKF, has assumed the role of administrator and his actions have been those of a man looking after a club that is in very real danger of running out of money.
The Football League agreed to resume Basic Awards payments of about £200,000 a month to Pompey, which will help them make it to the end of the season, but the prospect of liquidation in the summer has caused Birch to go further. His solution – in addition to making more than 30 staff redundant – has been to send some of Portsmouth's best performers out on loan to the end of the season, with the clubs concerned paying Pompey both undisclosed fees and the players' wages.
Erik Huseklepp, who has been in and out of games but scored some sumptuous goals, was the first to leave. He moved to Birmingham City on February 23. The following week, on the Friday evening before a home game against Middlesbrough, the club announced that captain Liam Lawrence was off to Cardiff City in a similar arrangement. Lawrence has not been worth his hefty wage since signing a permanent deal last January, but he was one of the few players with guile in a team that rarely looks like scoring.
Last Saturday, before the match at Brighton, rumours spread that goalkeeper Stephen Henderson and Hayden Mullins were also off, to West Ham and Reading respectively – their deals went through this week. A handful of young players have come in on loan, but they look like boys trying to do a man's job. Portsmouth have not won since a 3-0 victory at Peterborough at the end of January.
Failure to beat Bristol City would probably extinguish any lingering hopes of ending the season with Championship status intact. More pressing is the need for a buyer in the summer, the alternatives being the possible return of Balram Chainrai or liquidation. Messageboards buzzed this week with news that Canadian billionaire Mitchell Goldhar could be interested, but Birch denied this to the local paper.
The supporters' trust is busy making contingency plans for a phoenix club should the worst happen. They have launched the Pay4aPal scheme, where fan donations went towards match tickets for local youth teams and children from underprivileged areas of the city. About £3,500 was raised for the Middlesbrough game, which paid for almost 300 tickets. Dispiriting situations like administration often bring out the best in football supporters. James de Mellow