Portsmouth: The only way is up

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It's the 27th November 2008, and Fratton Park is playing host to some of the biggest names to grace the modern game. It is a UEFA Cup group tie, and seven time European Cup winners, AC Milan are the visitors. 

Amongst that Milan squad, where two former FIFA world players of the year, Brazilians Kaka' and Ronaldinho, the latter coming off the bench. If that was not enough, Milan's frontline was spearheaded by two of the finest strikers in recent memory, Filippo Inzaghi, and Andriy Shevchenko. 

Following a 3-0 defeat against Braga in their opening Group E game, and the luring of manager Harry Redknapp to Tottenham, it was arguable that Milan could have expected a walkover of Portsmouth and successor Tony Adams, they got anything but. 

In fact, it was almost the perfect night at Fratton Park for that years FA Cup winners, when Younes Kaboul and veteran Nwankwo Kanu put the hosts 2-0 ahead against a side that had won the Champions League for a seventh time just a year previous. Eventually though, Milan's class showed, and a dream result was snatched away when Ronaldinho had pulled one back and Inzaghi equalised for the visitors two minutes into added time. 

On the scale of things though, a 2-2 result against AC Milan, was a night Portsmouth fans and players that day will look back in sheer amazement. Even more so almost five years on, five years that have seen anything but pleasant viewing for Pompey fans. 

Fast-forward to the 19th October 2013, Portsmouth have fortunately emerged 1-0 victors against a struggling Bury side to maintain their 15th place position in the Sky Bet League Two, seven points away from the relegation zone, and four from a play-off berth. The fall from grace has been catastrophic for the South coast club, but putting things into perspective, that 1-0 victory against Bury is arguably a bigger achievement than the 2-2 draw against Milan five years ago. 

This demise is not a question of what went wrong, it is a matter that everything that could have gone wrong, did. From over-spending to mysterious owners, to seeing loyal members of staff being made redundant and a team that had cemented themselves in the Premier League torn apart in a matter of months. Portsmouth paid the price for those in power's incompetence, and the cost of trying to gain success. 

On the pitch issues first occurred during that season under Tony Adams, despite the result against AC Milan, that was as good as it got for the Arsenal legend, dismissed in February 2009, it was left to youth team coach Paul Hart to steady the ship, ultimately leading the club to a stable 14th place finish. What followed the 2008-2009 season though, was to shape the Portsmouth that exists today. 

Sulaiman Al-Fahim was the first of four bizarre owners at the club following a takeover from former owner Alexandre Gaydamak - Gaydamak also played his part in Portsmouth downfall, failing to settle payment owed to him during Portsmouth's first administration in 2010. He owned the club for two weeks, swiftly selling 90% of his shares to Ali al-Faraj, a Saudi based businessman whose reign truly lifted the lid on how much trouble Portsmouth were in. 

On searching 'Ali al-Faraj' into a search engine, the top suggestion is 'does Ali al-Faraj exist?', which tells you all you need to know about the Saudi's reign at Portsmouth. An owner of a club who made less appearances at Fratton Park than Michael Jackson at Craven Cottage plunged the club in greater danger when it emerged he had defaulted his payments to Portpin Ltd. A company owned by Balram Chanrai that had loaned al-Faraj £17 million to aid payments to players and staff.

Chanrai 'the reluctant owner', made it quite clear that despite proclaiming he'd do everything he could to save Portsmouth, was ultimately doing it to protect his own investment into the club. An unpopular figure with fans, Chanrai eventually sold the club in 2011, to Convers Sports Initiatives, but it was not to be his final involvement with the club. 

Following the demise of Convers Sports Initiatives, the future of Portsmouth again hung in the balance, leading to a second administration and ultimate relegation to League One. Chanrai again, still seeking a return to his initial investment declared his interest in becoming owner for a second time, although stating his preference for someone else to buy the club.

What he did not bank on perhaps, is that the fans had seen enough. Tired of watching their club being torn apart, a fan run initiative, the Pompey Supporters Trust (PST) launched their attempt to take charge of the club, with their clear disapproval of Chanrai taking charge once again. 

Chanrai believed their bid had 'no substance', believing he would become owner once again. However the Football League believed Chanrai not suitable to take over, whereas administrator Trevor Birch named the PST as preferred bidders. For the first time in several years, Portsmouth fans had something to cheer about. In its lowest ebb, the club was being placed into those who cared the most, the fans. 

The takeover from the Pompey Supporters Trust in April meant that the club was finally in the hands of people who were not there for financial gain, but for love of the club. Although their ownership coincided with relegation to League Two, the focus returned to the pitch, rather than the boardroom. 

Month-to-month deals became permanent deals, and reinforcements have been made by Guy Whittingham with the intention of leading Portsmouth's recovery. A season of consolidation and squad blending appears to be this years outcome, with an almost entirely new squad, although fortunes and prospects in the football league can change within a matter of games.

Miles away from the days of Niko Kranjcar, Jermain Defoe and Glen Johnson, the modern Pompey squad still has some talented players in their ranks. Simon Ferry had a successful spell at Swindon Town before being released in a cost cutting measure by the club. Andy Barcham is a player who on form, is far better than the level of league two, and Jed Wallace, a player who has successfully made the transition from youth team to first team is already a fan favourite and seems destined to one day play at a high level. 

For whereas trophies provide fans with that special sense of joy and emotion, the mark of a true fan is to stick with a club through thick and thin. Still posting attendances of around 15'000 shows the commitment Portsmouth fans have despite the quick drop down the league ladder. 

As UEFA persist with clubs living within their means, it is arguably Portsmouth who were the catalyst for financial fair play. A prime example of what can happen when a club spends to compete at a level in which is not sustainable for their financial standing. 

Although the 2008 FA Cup win and welcoming AC Milan to Fratton Park were special memories for Portsmouth fans, if you were to ask a Portsmouth fan which brought greater satisfaction - seeing Ronaldinho grace Fratton Park or Bondz N'Gala heading the winner this weekend against Bury, the latter would win every time.

Because one is a measure of success, and the other is a measure of survival. When Portsmouth slipped into administration for the first time in 2010, even the most optimistic of Portsmouth fan would have found it difficult to see a future for the club. On the 19th October, in the bottom tier of the football league, Portsmouth and everyone associated with the club could focus on the game in hand, and nothing else. 

That is not only a measure of survival, but one of fighting back. 

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This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

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