Taxing times ahead for Portsmouth
Steve Cotterill is facing an exercise in damage limitation to keep Pompey ship afloat, writes Conrad Leach
Linvoy Primus deserved a testimonial in a better atmosphere than the one surrounding Portsmouth, and deserved a better crowd than the 6,605 who came for the visit of Fulham to bid farewell to the defender after a decade's service, but it all showed up the club's continuing plight.
A year on from their finances being exposed as watertight as a Ponzi scheme, Portsmouth are no closer to salvation and now find themselves one division lower. The Championship starts on Saturday and there is the real danger they could begin the campaign on minus points.
The club must defend themselves over unpaid taxes in court on Tuesday. "Next week is a big week in more ways than one," said Steve Cotterill, the manager, after the 1-0 win over Fulham, which was secured through Marc Wilson's 37th-minute goal.
"But I'm not petrified about Tuesday. If you'd been in my shoes in the last six weeks nothing would scare you. This has been a shell-shocked team."
HM Revenue and Customs is claiming £18.2m in "unpaid taxes of the image rights of certain players". In the meantime, the administrator is withdrawn ing free car-parking next to the stadium for visitors. He wanted to impose charges yesterday, but has agreed to hold off for at least another week.
If Portsmouth, who start the season at Coventry City, come out of administration, they will enter a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) with creditors hoping to receive something like 20 pence in the pound over five years. If they get the CVA, they can start to bring in players, at least on loan.
Brendan Bone, of the Portsmouth Supporters' Trust, says that "this season is all about survival", a view that is shared by most at the club.
However, dropping further down the league ladder, a la Leeds United, is a possibility given the current circumstances.
Even if they avoid a points deduction, their prospects on the pitch are horrendous because the playing staff has been decimated over the summer.
Cotterill -- "he's put his reputation on the line coming here," says Bone -- is Avram Grant's replacement and the person trying to make order out of chaos with a playing staff of 18, the latest addition to which is Ibrahima Sonko, the Stoke central defender signed on loan, who played yesterday.
The club do not even have a full-time goalkeeper, but Jamie Ashdown -- who was released by the club -- is on trial and has been made an offer. Wilson, a recent and successful Academy graduate who played over 30 matches for Portsmouth last season, also provides some optimism for the future.
The club has a transfer embargo at the moment, but it is not in force because they have fewer than 20 players -- the club's website lists just 15 -- which is considered to be a 'fair-sized' squad by the authorities. They have permission to get up to that number to try to be competitive in the Championship. If they get the CVA -- and people within the club believe they will -- their transfer embargo would be lifted and they can keep recruiting.
However, that is not going to herald a return to the pile-'em-high, Harry Redknapp era. Portsmouth's transfer activity will be watched carefully for at least a couple of years. Indeed, Cotterill was so encouraged by the display against Fulham that he claimed afterwards that he did not want to add to his team.
But changes will have to be made to please the creditors, even if veteran striker Kanu, unlikely as it sounds, is negotiating a new deal.
Cotterill was remaining silent over the issue yesterday.
They are desperate to sell John Utaka, who is on £28,000 a week.
Kevin-Prince Boateng could fetch £5m, and both played here. One who did not, however, Tal Ben Haim, is the highest earner on £38,000 a week, but is set to follow Grant to West Ham.
On the bench against Fulham -- watched from the directors' box by their newly appointed manager, Mark Hughes -- were four Academy players and a substitute goalkeeper in Liam O'Brien, who has never played a first-team game. In this regard, at least Pompey will keep the wages down if not their chances of staying up.
Portsmouth are not expected to trouble the top six this season, instead bookmakers have reported a torrent of bets on Middlesbrough to win the Championship, just ahead of Nottingham Forest. Burnley, who were relegated from the Premier League in May, are third.
Hull, the last of the three to drop down, sit, perhaps surprisingly, in mid-table in the bookies' lists, just below Leeds United and Norwich City, who were promoted last season from League One. Millwall, who won the League One play-off, will have a struggle to stay up, according to the bookmakers.
In more trouble are Watford and Scunthorpe, both of whom are ranked as joint favourites for the drop.