THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

19 April ~ Football fans and logic aren't often the closest of acquaintances. This explains why beating Spurs in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley last Sunday has somehow compensated for supporting Portsmouth all season. The FA Cup has been a welcome distraction from the league because – Coventry City games aside – the results have matched our performances. This is in stark contrast to the 2008 Cup-winning campaign in which we just about limped over the finishing line.

The team we had then, the supposed superstars that have allegedly caused all our current financial woes, managed to take the trophy playing deeply unattractive football. We had narrow victories against Ipswich and Plymouth; a last minute own goal helped against Preston; and sticking 10 men behind the ball saw us through at Old Trafford. A mate texted me during the semi-final against West Brom saying: "if you win the Cup playing like this it'll be a disgrace." He was right.

Our current team may be a motley crew but in an era where we question whether players care as much as supporters, the way our team celebrated against Southampton in round five is evidence that they do. We've had more than our share of luck in this year's competition: a last minute winner at the Ricoh Arena; home ties throughout the competition; and match officials getting key decisions wrong in both the quarter-final and semi-final. But the overall effort shown by the players against Sunderland, Birmingham City, and Spurs has made just getting to the final more fulfilling than winning it last time around.
 
The support from fans of other clubs and the media is also making this year's Cup run more enjoyable. Come the 2008 semi-finals we were expected to win in style, and unless you were a Pompey fan you were hoping for a Championship team to emerge victorious. In 2010 we are the epitome of "the magic of the Cup", and while the odds will be against us in the final, I am sure the majority of neutral observers will be behind Pompey as underdogs. I say 'majority' because there is an element determined to upset the party. Journalists and rival supporters have questioned why there aren't sanctions in the Cup equivalent to being docked points in the league for clubs that go into administration. This argument ignores the fact that measures of this kind only hurt the people that really count: the fans.
 
But then following Pompey this season has exposed me to just how spiteful the footballing world can be. When Birmingham City's banking dispute was revealed last week, I couldn't help thinking of the delight their fans took in mocking our plight during the quarter-final. Schadenfreude? No. But as supporters will never know what the custodians of their club are really up to, I'd advise fans of all colours to be careful what they wish for. Leon Tricker

Comments (16)
Comment by albertgoodall 2010-04-19 17:34:23

"Journalists and rival supporters have questioned why there aren't sanctions in the Cup equivalent to being docked points in the league for clubs that go into administration. This argument ignores the fact that measures of this kind only hurt the people that really count: the fans."

What about the 85 people who were made redundant by the administrators to cut costs so that the players who carried out the cup run could collect thousands of pounds a week? Do they not "really count"?

Comment by Leon Tricker 2010-04-19 18:18:08

Of course they count, as do the many small local businesses that PFC owe money to. Thank you for highlighting this because I should have. Perhaps you could also point it out to the likes of Andy Dunn at the News of the World?

Hopefully allowing the players to continue in the competition, and thus increasing our income, will ensure that further job cuts are avoided. Kicking us out of the FA Cup isn't going to help anyone working for the club or businesses in the area.

Comment by sjmaskell 2010-04-19 19:10:37

The people responsible for the job losses were neither players or fans, but a myriad of owners whose machinations need a forensic accountant to disect. In fact, players have paid the wages of some of those made redundant to keep them on. Needless to say these players were not the shameless mercenaries of that 2008 cup run, but the current collection of loanees, cheap putchases and aging pros who each play with more determination than the 2008 lot could raise between them once Harry had fled to a greener bank balance.

Pompey's cup 2010 run is about what football should be - spirit and fortitude, not what it was in 2008 - cash and image rights. If they win on May 15th we can all hope that football may be reasserting itself after all.

Comment by wearebees 2010-04-19 22:27:10

A lot of people want Pompey to win because they dislike Chelski winning everything in sight. I love all this 20:20 hindsight about the 2008 winning team, I bet there weren't many complaints about them as they paraded about on the open-top bus with the cup.

Comment by Leon Tricker 2010-04-19 22:50:11

@ wearebees - you may well be right about people supporting us as the lesser of two evils!

Of course I enjoyed the FA Cup victory and parade in 2008. I just didn't enjoy the style in which we won the competition given the money we had invested in the team - and I was vocal about this at the time.

However, I was as guilty as anyone in not questioning how we were funding the 'success', and in hindsight I don't feel that 'success' was worth the price we are now paying. I'm not too proud to admit I got caught up in the hype, and I hope other clubs learn from our mistakes. I genuinely wouldn't want anyone else to have the season we have had (FA Cup run aside of course - I hope everyone gets that at least once in their lifetime).

I'd also like fans of other clubs to be less judgemental about Pompey. You don't know what your owners and chairmen are up to, and it could be you next.

Comment by bangsection 2010-04-20 16:39:10

"In 2010 we are the epitome of "the magic of the Cup"

I don't think I have ever read a sentence in WSC that I have disagreed with more. Pompey's run has nothing to do with the magic of the FA Cup and everything to do with the continuing to profit from spending money you never had.

The thinking behind points deductions for clubs entering administration is simple – it seeks to prevent clubs benefiting from what Michel Platini calls “financial doping”. A football club that overreaches itself should not be able to gain a competitive advantage over a club that spends within its means. This is a laudable position, so why do these rules only apply to league competition? To extend Platini’s metaphor, allowing Portsmouth to remain in the FA Cup was a little like banning Ben Johnson from the Olympics but allowing him to compete in the Commonwealth Games.

"I am sure the majority of neutral observers will be behind Pompey as underdogs."

Nope. A discussion on the messageboard of my League One club revealed that almost every contributor would be backing Chelsea. At least they pay their debts. I think you've massively underestimated the amount of ill feeling there is towards Pompey among supporters of other clubs.

Comment by sjmaskell 2010-04-20 18:44:36

"Pompey's run has nothing to do with the magic of the FA Cup and everything to do with the continuing to profit from spending money you never had."

Please illuminate us bangsection - just which member of our current team is the result of this 'madness?' And just who are the supporters of your League One club - wouldn't be one that plays in red-and-white stripes, would it?

Comment by wearebees 2010-04-20 20:24:37

@ Leontricker
I'd also like fans of other clubs to be less judgemental about Pompey. You don't know what your owners and chairmen are up to, and it could be you next.

I don't think we'll be squandering millions in my lifetime, Carl Cort on a free transfer is about as exotic as we get!

Comment by bangsection 2010-04-20 22:50:31

"Please illuminate us bangsection - just which member of our current team is the result of this 'madness?'"

Hmmm, well, let's take your fairytale FA Cup run shall we? Who's this scoring a last minute equaliser at Coventry? Surely not Kevin Prince Boateng, a £4m signing made as recently as last August? And who's this popping up with a brace in the fourth round win over Sunderland? Why it's our old pal John Utaka, a snip at £8m when Harry was still buying players like they were going out of fashion - still in your team, still giving you an unfair advantage over clubs who pay their bills. On to the fifth round where Nadir Belhadj (£4.4m) scored your third. Do I need to go on?

And, no, I'm not a Southampton fan - Walsall actually. Fans of other clubs are perfectly able to form a rational dislike of Portsmouth without geographical factors coming into play. It's nothing personal - it's why we don't particularly like Leeds either. Nothing against your fans - everything against clubs who gain an unfair advantage at the expense of other teams and then try to claim it as a romantic FA Cup story.

Comment by sjmaskell 2010-04-21 18:54:17

Of course I didn't realise you included £4m Spurs reserves in yout definition of 'madness'. But I suppose it's all relative. Compare that to the team we put out in 2008 with Diarra (sold for £20m), Muntari (£15m), Defoe (15m) etc. etc. and you'll forgive my inept argument. But consider the cost of the Sunderland team we beat, and the bank roll of the Birmingham team we beat (you should at least be grateful for that one) then you can hardly call our ramshackle bunch cheats. If you were aware of the variables that Avram has to weigh up before selecting his team, the chief of which is 'Does playing this guy cost extra money?' and if you were aware of the passion so many of them put into playing and if you watched and willed the team that has been bashed and bashed again by outsiders win games by sheer determination and if you weighed up the cost of Tottenham's squad of Champions' League wannabes against the team we turned out at Wembley, who ran them into the ground to beat one of the very men that got us into the mess we find ourselves in and if you had lived through the sheer bl**dy fear that we would not even have a team to support come the end of the season THEN you wouldn't be so glib in making a specious accusation of cheating.

Comment by loppy 2010-04-22 08:26:35

@Sjmaskell

£4million Spurs reserves ARE moments of madness when you are £120 million in debt. And it isn't just £4 million is it? Add in agents fees, a premiership salary and the several clauses Portsmouth seem to have put into every contract and it's probably substansially more. Possibly enough to pay 80 or so backroom staff salerys. And wern't most of the current unplayable lot signed last summer? When someone must have realised they could never pay the clauses?

Just out of interest should Pompey win the cup, does the squad still have the guaranteed pay rise for winning a competition?

Comment by Leon Tricker 2010-04-22 10:02:24

I'd like to clarify what I meant by Pompey epitomising 'the magic of the cup'.

If it is possible to leave finance aside for a moment, I'd argue that if you assess the level of footballing talent/skill within the Pompey first team, and compare it to the teams they have played, then (Coventry aside) this cup run has upset the odds at every turn. To go back to finance, compare the current value of the Pompey first team to those they've played. Again, I think (Coventry aside) Pompey have been the underdog throughout the competition.

The underdog emerging victorious is, I would suggest, what the majority of people consider to be 'the magic of the cup.'

I'm glad that this article has provoked some debate. I'm sure the new revelations about the scale of our debt will only fuel the anger that some football fans feel about Pompey.

I find it interesting that (as far as I am aware) no one from within the professional game has criticised the crazy clauses in the contracts of Pompey players past and present. There have been fair comments in the past from, for example, David Moyes on the wages paid by Pompey (or not paid, as it has turned out!) But I've not heard any player, manager, agent, chairman etc. criticise the stupid clauses Pompey put into contracts.

Why?

Because they know that this goes on all the time. I'd wager similar clauses are in the contracts of the majority of professional players, at all levels of the game. Pompey have been found out, but I'm guessing many more clubs are closer to the edge than the supporters realise.

I'd fully support an investigation into what has gone on at Pompey so that lessons can be learnt throughout the game. But don't kid yourself that what has happened to us couldn't happen to you.

Comment by bangsection 2010-04-22 11:03:28

"THEN you wouldn't be so glib in making a specious accusation of cheating."

You have to understand that when a club enters administration because they have spent more than they can afford on players (which is transparently the case at Portsmouth) then by definition they have been seeking an unfair advantage over competitors - that's why the points deduction was brought in. It's not a "specious" accusation it's an entirely logical statement of fact. If you don't think you've been "cheating" (your word not mine) you'd better get on to the Premier League about this outrageous miscarriage of justice.

Look, I agree that an FA Cup final appearance is nice for a group of fans who have suffered awfully under a series of increasingly bizarre owners and an indifferent Premier League. But it is not a romantic story. And as much as you'd like to "leave finance aside" Leon, I'm afraid that's impossible. Just because you were "underdogs" in games does not change the fact that you could not afford to pay many of the players who won you those games. It's like saying that Marion Jones' five Olympic medals in Sydney were ample reward for her disadvantaged upbringing and, er, let's just forget about the performance enhancing drug use because that's not part of the narrative.

The irony here, and I'm surprised nobody has pointed it out, is that as football creditors all your players WILL eventually be paid in full. It's the schools, St John Ambulance, local businesses - even your own supporters club - who will have to take 20p in the pound. So, enjoy your day out at Wembley but forgive fans of other clubs if we don't see it in quite the same "romantic" terms as you.

Comment by Leon Tricker 2010-04-22 13:04:02

@ Bangsection

All fair points, and the Marion Jones analogy is really hard to argue against. This debate (as well as the hundreds of column inches elsewhere) is making me question my original position.

In 2008 the poor performances on the pitch distracted me from the elation of winning the FA Cup. In 2010 shouldn't I be equally distracted from the cup run because of off-the-pitch matters?

Have my values and my conscience been bought-off by a few better than expected performances? Does success on the pitch blind fans to the reality of what is happening at their club?

Perhaps I am too close to the issue. The shots taken at Pompey are a bit like when someone has a go at your family: you know that the person attacking your idiot brother is right, but you defend them regardless. I opened the above article with the line "Football fans and logic aren't often the closest of acquaintances." I could substitute 'logic' for 'objectivity'.

If it was your club going through this what would you do? Rightly or wrongly I'll always turn up and support the team playing at Fratton Park.

Comment by albertgoodall 2010-04-22 18:41:50

I agree with bangsection. The accusation of cheating was not "specious".

I wish all Portsmouth fans a happy cup final. Particularly sjmaskell: sing your heart out, and as you cheer on your poor downtrodden "bashed" players, try not to think of Cowplain Community School in Waterlooville (owed £14,743.54), or the Priory Community Sports Centre in Southsea (owed £11,000), or King Edward School in Southampton (£41,714.01), not to mention the ambulance service and all the other local businesses and organisations.

And if you win the cup, don't waste your time thinking about its value, given how the people who organise it, the Football Association, custodians of the national game, chose to let you carry on, and so favoured millionaires over communities.

Comment by bangsection 2010-04-23 09:12:29

Leon, thanks for such a well considered response. If Walsall had reached the FA Cup final in similar circumstances (and let's suspend our disbelief for a second) I would get behind the team wholeheartedly for the entire game and I hope you do the same.

Today's Guardian is reporting that Pompey fans are lobbying the FA to allow your ticket allocation for club officials to be auctioned off and the proceeds to go to the schools, scout groups and other organisations who will be left out of pocket. It's a fantastic idea, but once again shows how fans are left to pick up the pieces when football's shady money men bring a club to its knees.

Once again, I have no problem with Pompey and their fans - you've been royally shafted. My problem was only ever with the characterisation of your cup run as some sort of "fairytale". It's not, it's part of something much more tragic than that. Enjoy the Cup final - the club might not deserve it but the fans surely do.

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