Portsmouth FC's high court hearing has been adjourned for two weeks to allow current owner Balram Chainrai time to gather key documentation which has not yet been provided. Already there is more than a faint suggestion that the revelation of more dirty laundry is the likely outcome.
HM Revenue & Customs, who it is now thought are owed in the region of £18m by Pompey, are understandably peeved at the way the club has been placed into voluntary administration, which places HMRC behind football creditors in terms of who gets paid first. They are even less impressed by the fact that the administrator, Andrew Andronikou, has links with Chainrai's company by dint of having the same solicitor, Balsara & Co, and have rightly raised concerns about the administrator's independence as a result.
Certainly, Andronikou has been making all the right noises in the days since his appointment. He has heroically promised to deliver the best possible result for all parties which, in truth, is little more than the definition of his job as administrator. He has stated - a not unreasonable assumption, but one without any foundation in fact - that other Premier League clubs will follow Portsmouth into administration - a speculative claim at best, a cynical attempt at deflection at worst. He has even said he will challenge the league's mandatory nine-point deduction, intended to act as a disincentive to clubs seeking the quick fix of administration to solve financial problems. (He has about as much chance of that as I do of succeeding Ryan Giggs as PFA Player of the Year next month.)
One certainly has to question whether this is all just part of a not-so-elaborate smokescreen designed to buy Chainrai as much time as possible to recover - and possibly even turn a profit - on his investment.
Let's be absolutely clear about Chainrai's motivations here: he is not in this to save the club, only to protect his own interests. Having loaned £17m to previous owner Ali al-Faraj, assuming ownership and then putting the club into administration means he has effectively jumped to the head of the queue of creditors, much to the chagrin of HMRC.
Portsmouth apparently need to find £7m to make it to the end of March, and a further £7m to remain solvent through April. It was made public today that insolvency experts put the club's debt at £85m and the playing squad's value at £21m, potentially slightly conservative but almost certainly a more true evaluation than chief executive Peter Storrie's estimation of £38m a week ago. With a reported arrangement to sell Fratton Park to Chainrai for £10m on a sell-and-lease-back deal, that broadly means Pompey's assets cover at best half their liabilities. It is a shocking indictment of the level of financial mismanagement which has been going on at the club.
The bottom line is this: Portsmouth are operating insolvently - that is to say unable to pay off their debts - and have probably been doing so for at least the best part of a year. That can only happen with the full knowledge of its senior management (bad), unless they are shockingly incompetent (no better).
Either way, it is illegal - and can even result in criminal charges being brought against board directors.
I have previously wondered who is to blame for Pompey's plight. The Premier League haven't helped with their laughable excuse for a 'fit and proper person' test for new owners, and their sloping, Teflon-coated shoulders when it comes to taking any decisive action one way or the other. And Harry Redknapp, with his free-spending, wheeler-dealer ways, has played his role in helping to dig the hole ever deeper. But neither the league nor Redknapp has actually done anything wrong. For me it is Peter Storrie and the Portsmouth board who hold the greatest responsibility, and therefore carry the greatest blame. It is they who have knowingly covered up the club's illegal insolvency for months. And it is they who may ultimately face criminal charges for doing so (although it probably won't come to that).
And so my final, two-fold question is this. How much worse does the situation need to get before the courts decide enough is enough and wind Portsmouth up? And for how long have Portsmouth's senior management been winding the rest of us up with their denials of responsibility and wrongdoing?
A wind-up? What is becoming increasingly clear is that the situation at Portsmouth FC is now way beyond a joke.
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