My old mate and occasional dance partner, John Keeley, invited me down to Fratton Park on Tuesday night to watch Portsmouth take on AFC Wimbledon in the EFL Cup (the League Cup in old money).
It was my first visit to Pompey since 2002. Back then, it was a day I will never forget as I got to host the BBC Sussex fans’ phone-in alongside English footballing legend Alan Ball. We even managed to rope in Fred Dinenage as a guest at one point. How? I just asked him, and I still recall to this day the quality of his suntan, Fred that is, not Bally.
One of the talking points that day was the irony of the geography of the directors’ box.
Back then the Pompey supremo was Milan Mandaric, a Serbian multi-millionaire, who was bankrolling the Portsmouth Premier League dream, while his opposite number that day, and sitting a few feet away, was Dick Knight.
Knight’s consortium had saved the Albion from extinction five years beforehand, but playing at the temporary stadium at Withdean with the smallest budget in the Championship, it was almost a footballing version of ‘Rich Man, Poor Man’ with the gulf being far wider than 41 miles or a couple of blue padded seats.
How times have changed, 16 years on.
And it’s overwhelming proof that all that glisters is not gold.
The Albion were effectively asset stripped in the mid 1990s and were on the precipice of disaster. On reflection, the Portsmouth supporters have experienced a similar story.
As with Dick being the Albion’s knight in shining armour, Portsmouth FC, a football club founded in 1898, were effectively saved by a kind hearted, and no doubt football loving High Court judge.
They’ve had the lot down in terms of owners at Pompey and the club was saved by the aforementioned High Court hearing and the fans at the 11th hour. Speaking to a media colleague at half-time, who is also a Pompey fanatic, the Portsmouth story and the positive conclusion represents everything that is both right and wrong in the modern game.
This Saturday Pompey entertain Oxford in League One, while on Sunday the Albion entertain Manchester United live on Sky.
Could anyone have predicted that back in 2002? And also what happened in the resulting years inbetween?
But could Albion eventually end up in the same trouble as Portsmouth? An overwhelming no.
The differences between the two clubs is wider than the gulf back in the directors’ box in 2002.
In an era of foreign owners, clubs up to their eyes in debt, the Albion have something the envy of a lot of clubs up and down the country. Never mind the state-of-the-art stadium, top-class training facilities and a loyal fan base, the Albion have not only a owner with significant funds, but an owner who supports the club he bankrolls – and has done all his life.
Look down the Premier League table and possibly with the exception of Burnley and perhaps West Ham, you cannot say that about the other 17 owners.
No consolation for Pompey fans, I know, but a timely reminder that form is temporary but class is permanent. I always maintained that with a level playing field the Albion would be the biggest along the South Coast, a feat I don’t think we’re that far off now. But with the Chris Hughton era moving forward, it will be a cast iron fact in a couple of years.
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