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Fri 1 Jan 2010 03:27 PM

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Is Ali Al Faraj fit to run Portsmouth Football Club?

It's time for Ali Al Faraj to face the scrutiny of fans & media, says Pompey fan Colin Farmery.

 

As Portsmouth Football Club prepares to 'celebrate' New Year bottom of the league, facing a winding up order from Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs and having just announced for the third time in four months it is unable to pay its salary bill on time fans can be forgiven for wondering what on earth is going on.

 

Understandably fans want a focus for the frustration they feel at having seen the best team in half a century - and FA Cup winners less than two years ago - decimated and the fragile bond between club and supporter potentially irreparably damaged.

 

While fans chanting for 'their' club back, miss the fact that PFC has been a private limited company since its inception in 1898, they nevertheless have a point.

 

Since 1972 PFC has been the plaything of sole owners. John Deacon, Jim Gregory, Milan Mandaric and Sacha Gaydamak can all be placed in the by-and-large 'benign' dictator category.

 

Whatever the ups and downs on and off the field, fans at least knew who was in charge, made their discontent known when things were going wrong and administered the (sometimes grudging) praise when it was due.

 

Even the hapless son of Jim, Martin Gregory, tried. Inheriting a loss-making business he had little or no interest in, his ill-fated, but well-intentioned, partnership with Terry Venables and Eddie Ashby ended in recrimination and ultimate administration in 1999.

 

Plus ça change. Since August 2009 we have moved into uncharted territory, however.

 

In many ways it is hard not to feel sorry for Sulaiman Al Fahim [ click to read ].

 

This man is genuinely desperately keen to do 'right' by Portsmouth Football Club and its fans.

 

He will argue, plausibly, that he had a deal with Gaydamak and was on course to meet his commitments and timescales for refinancing the club by the end of 2009.

 

When push came to shove however, he was unwilling or unable able to come up with the cash to see off the persistent bid of the 'Ali Al Faraj' group. Al Fahim's consolation prize was the Chairmanship and a ten per cent stake.

 

Some fans have asked why Al Fahim has yet to inject his '£50 million'. If he has the money, to be honest, he is wise to keep it in his pocket as things stand, but more of that later.

 

The reason Al Fahim sold out so quickly can be largely laid at Peter Storrie's door. Seduced by Al Faraj's promises and frustrated by Al Fahim's evident innocence in the murky old world of top level professional football, he believed this group provided a better and more sustainable future.

 

A desperate time called for desperate measures. An impending wage bill in September had to be met so he acted. Fans groups were mobilised and Al Fahim was bounced into selling.

 

Storrie has his critics among Pompey fans, but much of it is unjust. His partnerships with both Mandaric and Gaydamak have seen PFC progress on and off the field at a rate few could have imagined ten years ago.

 

He is widely respected in football circles and his contacts book has invariably helped the club out of many a cashflow crisis over years. Portsmouth FC is an established Premier League club because of Storrie, not in spite of him.

 

His reputation is undoubtedly compromised however, by the fact he has publicly backed not one, but two 'rich' Arabs in six months and for one reason and another, neither have come up trumps.

 

But the truth is that since Storrie was sidelined from the day-to-day financial side by 'Al Faraj', PFC has collapsed like a pack of cards.

 

The reason PFC can't pay its wage bill, the taxman or assorted football clubs across England and the continent, is because the owners - whoever they are - don't have the cash or credit needed to finance it properly.

 

More worryingly, this is inspite of a loan of at least £18 million, maybe more, from Hong Kong-based businessman Balram Chainrai since October. If you throw in the £5 million Al Fahim invested for his ten per cent and £2.5 million Gaydamak paid to Barclays Bank in December, PFC has received the benefit of at least £25 million since September. That excludes any other revenue.

 

And yet the club can't pay a £1.9m wage bill on time every month? Extraordinary.

 

The spokesman for the 'Al Faraj' group Mark Jacob has hinted in the Guardian this week the blame lies with the previous regime. The statement on the official site contesting Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs' winding up peition is more explicit, citing the 'difficult position following former owners' decisions'.

 

One might be more inclined to believe this if we only knew who the current owners are. But we don't.

 

Besides, Jacob will no doubt understand one legal term which sticks in my mind from my business law days: Caveat emptor. Let the buyer beware. Passing the buck simply doesn't wash.

 

Sacha Gaydamak, Sulaiman Al Fahim and Peter Storrie, three of the principal players in this drama (or is that farce?) have publicly come out and explained their positions. Jockeying for PR advantage? Of course they are.

 

However, all the new owners have mustered thus far is a Spurs-supporting lawyer as spokesman and a convicted fraudster who is 'advising' the club on how to deal with its debts.

 

Few of Pompey's previous owners would have had the barefaced gall to treat this club's supporters with the utter lack of respect the new 'owners' have displayed so far.

 

Ali Al Faraj, it is time to reveal who you are . If you are not prepared to face the scrutiny of fans and media alike as 'your' club lurches from catastrophe to crisis and back again, there is only one conclusion to be drawn.

 

You are not fit to run our club.

Colin Farmery is the chairman of the PVA (Portsmouth Virtual Alliance), a group of websites affiliated to Portsmouth Football Club.

 

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James 10 years ago

Great article Colin. Who is the "convicted fraudster who is 'advising' the club on how to deal with its debts" though? Its all so murky, there seems to be a lot of rumours about the land surrounding the ground but I can't see how that can be worth the £75 million the club widely appears to owe.

Sean 10 years ago

You have made us the laughing stock of the country. We can no longer hold our heads up with pride at being Portsmouth Fans. You have turned us into a joke. Prove me (us) wwrong by going public on your plans for the club. This is lives you are playing with???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

ian 10 years ago

Very good article which unfortunatly points to the fact that all the people involved in our club are in fact only interested in money and property development. There are people's jobs at stake here as well as a cities passion and unfortunatly people with no passion for our club are bleeding it dry. Please leave our club alone.

Andrew 10 years ago

The time has been and gone for Al Faraj to prove to us Portsmouth fans that he is the 'real deal'. This whole thing stinks of something far darker than was initially thought. We want our club back. It might mean nothing to you, Faraj, Fahim, Gaydamack and Storrie.... but it means the world to us.

Harry Stotle 10 years ago

I think the answer lies in the title of this story, namely, who is fit to run a PL football club. And what all of this points to is the basic ineptitude of the current PL Fit and Proper test. No-one knows exactly the criteria the PL test is based on, however, evidently means of paying bills or investment isn't one of them. I'm sorry Colin but SAF and Storrie don't get off so lightly in my book. The rot set in long before Storrie was relieved of his financial management duties. And the current owners are not the only people who have kept the fans in the dark. Gaydamak wasn't exactly Mr PR either. But such is the way the modern English football is run, we can only expect owners of PL clubs to be anonymous benefactors. Except in our case, you can replace the word 'benefactors'.

His Excellency Dr Paul 10 years ago

Regardless of any supposed hostility (I'm a Saints fan) I genuinely feel really sorry for the Pompey fans who're watching the club disintegrate. I was pretty clear back in the summer that Pompey had not found their saviour. Saints went through a similar process in the middle of last year and had a similar period of chancers with no money trying to flip the club for a quick profit. I really hope that Pompey survives the best efforts of the chancers. Pompey fans should not stand for such treatment - the club needs desperately to find a decent owner who actually has some money and some integrity. But I fear such an owner might only be willing to come in after administration. So Pompey's premiership survival is probably too much to ask. But I'm sure the club will survive and it could even be Saints v Pompey again in the league next season.

StDavid 10 years ago

As a Saints fan I feel it imperative to have as many top class teams on the south coast as possible. Southampton have had their troubles and hopefully we are now in the long process of rebuilding. I do worry for Pompey and agree that the likely outcome is Administration but hopefully an angel investor will come in at this point before the assets of the club are totally stripped out. Not all Saints fans want to see the demise of Pompey and I for one wish all true Pompey fans the very best of luck and hope to meet you in the Premiership before long. Good luck to you all.

Gary Butcher 10 years ago

This guy is just a disgrace to the football community and an embarresment to the Premier league, and I hope he is chastised in his own circle of friends and business colleagues. He needs to be held accountable for the systematic stripping of a proud club. He has put no money in after buying the club for £2, but wants to take it out, he can't even be bothered to visit the club he owns. My club is now heading down the abyss of administration and possible liquidation, and what has he said to the fans, nothing. Get out of our club, the sooner the better.