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Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Goodwill Hunting

Goodwill towards clubs tends to ebb and flow. The outpouring of cheer that greeted Portsmouth’s FA Cup triumph in 2008 and their fleeting European campaign was soon replaced with astonishment and incredulity over the club’s mismanagement and overstretching of its resources. Pompey have since been held up as an irresponsible example of club ownership, an exhibit of the trappings of trying to build on Premier League status, reckless proponents of spending beyond your means and ultimately, as they slid down the Premier League the following season, a bit of a joke.

Things didn’t really improve over the summer as the club prepared for a season back in the Championship. Avram Grant left to be relegated with dignity somewhere else and lots of players departed, including David James, who went to enjoy his retirement away from football at somewhere called Bristol City. Only 14 players and David Nugent remained on the club’s books on the opening day of the season. Couple that with an appalling start (two points from seven matches), and the slide looked unstoppable.

Now this isn’t an article about Portsmouth’s financial woes, partly because it’s been covered excellently elsewhere, and partly because if I’m honest, I don’t have a bloody clue about any of it. What I will say though, is that if you’re going to indulge ‘Arry Redknapp’s maniacal spending (he is NOT a fucking wheeler-dealer, remember. He is NOT interested in bargains), you had better have some serious wedge behind you. If you don’t, he’s probably not the manager for you. Moreover, if you’re going to offer all your players ludicrous bonuses for winning the FA Cup, you are likely to be totally fucked when they achieve just that. You are also likely to be totally fucked when you owe one of your previous owners (Alexandre Gaydamak) £11m and he asks for it back.

It looked like we would lose Portsmouth altogther last week, when negotiations stalled on the sale of the club and the threat of liquidation loomed. That such an outcome was a possibility inspired pity and at least a sliver of goodwill towards Portsmouth, purely out of sorrow at losing a passionately-supported football club. Their crap start to the season elicited more grudgingly positive sentiment. ‘They might have been money-spaffing arseholes,’ we thought, ‘but we wouldn’t wish liquidation on them’.

Extinction might seem particularly hard to take with the club in such a rich vein of form. While survival should eventually enable the club to put their traumatic recent past behind them, they have nonetheless been busy addressing their wretched start to the season in emphatic fashion. Since the last of their league defeats, 1-0 away at Sheffield United in September, Pompey have won six of seven, drawing the other. They’ve scored 19 times, conceding only eight in that period. The club are tenth, with reports quoting manager Steve Cotterill bullishly targeting the playoffs.

With the relief surrounding Portsmouth’s escape from liquidation, you sense the benevolence towards the club is returning. Cotterill is an experienced and likeable manager and achieved great things with an unsettled club, though a very well-funded one, at Notts County. Pompey’s current run of form has breathed fresh life into the club and the optimism under new and – for now, at least – stable ownership is palpable.

So while the ‘good times’ aren’t necessarily returning – the squad of 21 still looks painfully underequipped, particularly in the midfield, to challenge for promotion over the course of 46 games – the fact that these at least are no longer ‘bad times’ is fortifying. Southampton fans aside, I reckon most of us are relieved Portsmouth have survived, and we’ll begin to forget it was a mess of their own making. Maybe the goodwill towards plucky Pompey will begin to return anew.

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