| COLIN FARMERY: The truth will out - Chainrai is part of the solution...|
Mon 21st May 2012 21:00 by Colin Farmery
The first casualty of war is the truth. Sadly, so it seems as the 'battle' hots up to buy Portsmouth Football Club out of administration.
As things stand there are only two candidates vying to ensure the club survives into its 129th year of existence for season 2012-13.
In the 'red' corner is Portpin. Effectively controlled by Balram Chainrai, this British Virgin Islands company reportedly loaned Portsmouth Football Club £17 million in the autumn of 2009 and has had a stake in the club one way and another ever since.
In the 'blue' corner is the Pompey Supporters Trust. Forged in that same frantic autumn of 2009, as the financial wheels fell off PFC one-by-one, the Trust, despite some birth pangs, is now actively promoting a community-led buy-out of the club since the early spring of 2012.
Such is the febrile mood of fans at the moment, no doubt some may take exception to either of the above two (in my view at least) uncontentious sentences, depending on their point of view.
Since the not unexpected news broke on Friday that Portpin had submitted a bid to take over the club once more, an increasingly fractious debate has broken out on the message boards and social media forums on the pros and cons of the respective merits of each party.
Opinions have been traded as 'facts' as the clock ticks towards the end of May, when administrator Trevor Birch must be in a position to persuade the Football League Pompey will be in a financial position to fulfil its fixtures next season. The track records of the 2009-10 and 2011-12 seasons respectively, when the club each time ended up in administration, means this is far from a given, whether Portpin or the Trust are finally given Trevor Birch's nod as the preferred bidder.
If ever there was a moment when unity was required to ensure the survival of the club, now is the time. That is easier said, than done.
From the Trust point of view, its greatest selling point is the fact it is not Portpin. A significant consituency of fans buy in to the concept that for PFC to clease its toxic brand, it needs to make a clean break with a grubby past. Whether he is the architect or the innocent victim (depending on your point of view) of Pompey's charity-robbing, sleazy legacy, Balram Chainrai is its representative.
However, Mr Chainrai's position is perfectly logical in the circumstances. His £17m, now frozen at £18.6m once interest and other odds and ends have been added on, remains a secured liability of Portsmouth Football Club. However much of a problem you think Mr Chainrai might be, that sort of debt means he has to be part of the solution. Throw in the fact that a further £10m plus is owed by PFC to erstwhile owners CSI, currently in administration itself, controlled by Mr Chainrai's preferred insolvency specialist Andrew Andronikou, gives him considerable sway over how this situation is ultimately resolved.
Casual talk of Mr Chainrai wanting to take '£10m' out of PFC over the next few years may be wide of the mark. The fact is no one but Mr Chainrai knows what his 'price' is. One thing is for sure, is that the only reason Mr Chainrai is back on the scene is that there is one to be paid.
However, while Mr Chainrai's past actions should not be ignored or challenged, one way or another the Trust is going to have to do business with him if it is to succeed in its goals.
By the same token, Mr Chainrai ignores the Trust and attempts to divide and rule at his peril. Should he end up ruling again, Mr Chainrai will divide fans like no one before. There is a substantial risk financial projections will be blown apart by season ticket boycotts. In a recent on-line poll, 60% preferred 'liquidation' to a Chainrai-led takeover. Scientific? Of course not. But in making their bid, presumably Portpin are feeling lucky.
The bottom line is that the Trust has the public backing of three of our local MPs, including Portsmouth North and South. It has the backing of Portsmouth City Council, which is privately willing to support a community-led buy-out if at all possible. It has the backing of two respected legal (Verisona) and accountancy (Taylor Cocks) companies, advising it on its strategy. It has two prominent and successful local businessmen in Mick Williams and Mark Trapani on the Trust board leading the bid, who would be ill-advised to get involved in a fly-by-night, doomed-to-failure buy-out, as caricatured by some fan opponents of Trust involvement in PFC.
Some of those same opponents claim the Trust is 'unrepresentative'. That is true. The majority of Pompey fans are ambivalent. They just want a team to support, which wins more than it loses, every Saturday. However, imperfect as it may be, the Trust remains the only democratic representation on offer. Its Board are real fans, who argue their case and will answer fan questions. Whether you like the answers is another matter.
Pompey is a globally-recognised football brand. In the medium to long-term there is the potential to build a sustainable club, with a community stadium which aspires to competing at the highest possible levels of competition. That has been the position of the Portsmouth club since the mid 1920s when it first won promotion to the old first division.
For my part, since 2009 I have advocated the principle of Trust ownership, whether in whole or in part. In the next five years, with UEFA Fair Play Rules and the Football League's own financial criteria for clubs gaining traction, it will be increasingly the model. The scope for once perfectly legal 'financial doping' practised by the likes of Pompey in the past and, well, Southampton of late, will be squeezed to the margin. If you want all of your money back Mr Chainrai, you could well be here for a long haul.
Time is short, so let's cut to the chase. Mr Chainrai. What's your price?
You can support the Trust's community buy-out scheme here
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