Now that Everton have finished 8th in the Premier League and will not be playing Europa League football next season I can comment, without accusations of bias, on the decision to prevent Portsmouth from being allowed to compete in Europe despite reaching the Cup Final. The decision means that whoever finishes 7th in the Premier League will take that Europa spot instead of the South Coast club and I have to applaud the FA’s decision on that front.
I’ve got nothing against Portsmouth, despite previous posts to this website where I’ve suggested that it would be good for them to be relegated (so as to relieve themselves of the mercenary remnants of Redknapp’s reign and start over). But as a club, I’m ambivalent towards Portsmouth, I certainly don’t want them to go bust but I shan’t miss watching them play. I’m also full of admiration for the job that Avram Grant has done since taking over, but despite his dignified slowing of their inevitable free fall, they don’t deserve a European adventure next season.
I don’t claim to be a guy who knows an awful lot about money (I’m up to my ears in student debt after all), and as far as the business side of football goes, I try to largely ignore it. For me, football is not about money and I resent the fact that the modern game depends so heavily on currency – it shouldn’t be that way. But I have accepted that it is so and as such, I firmly believe that clubs must play by the rules. It might not seem fair that the rich kids can just buy who they like, but that’s no reason to corrupt yourself in order to ‘keep up’.
And that’s essentially what Portsmouth attempted to do. They saw many of their Premier League rivals receive big cash injections and they thought yep, this is the way to go. As such they told their manager that he could buy all these players on big wages and the manager, delighted, went out and obliged. Just think of all the players that Redknapp brought to Pompey: Distin, Defoe, Crouch, Krancjar, G.Johnson… there are more who I can’t remember – it was a really good side.
Unfortunately, the money to pay for all of these good players wasn’t actually there. They borrowed it all from somewhere, or more likely, various somewheres and initially, it paid off. They won the FA Cup for chris’sakes. Portsmouth. Won the FA Cup. They say that the magic of the FA Cup comes from the upsets, but I’ll be honest, I can’t remember a less magic Cup Final than Portsmouth vs. Cardiff. But for the Pompey fans, that will perhaps be one of their greatest footballing memories.
Of course, we know now that the money that they borrowed hasn’t yet been paid back. They were borrowing all this money and not making nearly enough to even begin paying it back, and that leaves them in the position they’re in today. Relegated from the Premier League, with barely a squad to scratch together, a nine-point penalty and the future of their club massively uncertain.
You could say then, that they’ve paid for their sins. The official punishment is the nine-point penalty. That is imposed to counter what I’ll call the ‘footballing gains’ that they profited from by virtue of living beyond their means. You’re not allowed to spend money you don’t have, they did so to improve performance on the pitch, it worked, so to even things up, we confiscate some points. It’s a system that can seem harsh – the clubs in administration are already up shit creek, taking away points is akin to stealing their paddle – but does make sense.
So some would argue that denying them Europa League football on top of the points penalty and on top of their humiliation this season and on top of their relegation and on top of the fact that they might well cease to exist, was a little harsh. Not so. Because the thing is, the only ‘footballing punishment’ they’ve yet received was in the Premier League. Docked nine points, they’re relegated (albeit that they were headed that way anyway), punishment served. But they didn’t just benefit from their illegal financial activity in the league.
As I said above, the main result of their overspending came when they amassed that very impressive squad, and that squad, amassed by largely ill-gotten gains, won the FA Cup. Furthermore, this season, while in administration and so technically still living beyond their means, they’ve had another great Cup run, paying money to their players who have got them there despite owing significant debts to other clubs and entities.
Which means that they’re ‘footballing gains’ as a result of their dodgy business have come more in the FA Cup than in the Premier League over the years. And yet, the FA, overseers of that competition, have not seen fit to hand down any punishment to them. One could conceivably argue that they could have been disqualified from this season’s competition, rather than benefitting financially and publicly from a run right the way to the final.
Hell, if you want to get really harsh, someone could probably make a case for them having their FA Cup victory of a few years ago stripped from them. If you could go through their books and see just how much money went on that team in that season that shouldn’t have done, you may well be able to argue that that FA Cup victory was unjustly bought by illegally borrowed money.
I’m not saying that we should do that. What’s past is past, and I don’t think they should’ve been kicked out of this season’s FA Cup either. Instead, I think that the FA’s refusal to allow them into Europe next season serves as a small punishment, and that is probably enough. That is why it’s a good decision to prevent them from entering the Europa League. Because they needed to be punished by the FA for breaking the rules of that competition.
If we’d let them enter the Europa League, they would have received significant financial benefits of course, and one could argue that a struggling club should be afforded that if they’ve earnt it. But that would have been to justify their initial gamble – they borrowed that money to help them to succeed in Europe etc. which would then enable them to increase their earnings and pay back the borrowed money with interest. Pompey have found that that is no way to run a football club, and so we shouldn’t help bail them out by playing into their hands.
So well done to the FA for standing firm and not bowing down to the masses who thought that ‘poor’ Pompey could do with a European adventure to soften their blow. Poor Pompey are poor because of their own actions, and they therefore deserve little sympathy (the fans, of course, deserve sympathy for the way their club was run) and no helping hands. And in fact, I hope that Chelsea annihilate Portsmouth come Cup Final day. If they do then they will have bought the FA Cup (and much more besides) just as Portsmouth tried to, but at least they actually have the money they’re spending.
Have your say:
Do you agree that the FA were right to block Pompey’s European consolation? Or am I being overly harsh to a club already deep in the mire? Leave your thoughts below…