This article originally appeared in the Rochdale matchday programme on 8 February 2014.
More than 1,800 Dons fans will be making the relatively short trip to Fratton Park next Saturday. Our opponents’ plunge down the divisions since 2010 may sound like the storyline for a disaster movie, but four years on and the picture is beginning to look very different, writes David Reeves.
In the programme for our game against Portsmouth last November (no prizes for recalling the result!) the match preview summed up Portsmouth’s troubles: “After winning the FA Cup as recently as 2008 and subsequently rubbing shoulders with the likes of AC Milan in the UEFA Cup, the consequences of spending beyond one’s means and enduring a series of owners with questionable motives soon hit hard.
Two periods of administration in as many years followed – as did three relegations – and in October 2010 their situation was so perilous that Portsmouth issued a startling statement saying, ‘It appears likely that the club will now be closed down and liquidated by the administrators.’ Fortunately, some desperate eleventh- hour measures pulled Pompey back from the brink, but it wasn’t until April 2013 that the purchase of the club by the Pompey Supporters Trust was finally completed, enabling them to exit administration and bring some much-needed stability for their large and long-suffering fanbase.”
Pompey’s pains must have been as agonising as the suffering of Wimbledon fans in 2002. But neither the Portsmouth FC story nor the AFC Wimbledon story is ultimately about pain, and certainly not about failure. They are both stories of guts and determination, belief in a new beginning, and the hard work and money of committed fans working together to raise the proverbial phoenix from the ashes.
So now Pompey supporters, like ourselves, with help from Supporters Direct, are continuing their fight to write the next chapter in their club’s history. It’s been a monumental effort from a huge number of people, offering their skills, time and cash not just to save but to rebuild the club for its supporters and for its local community.
One large piece of the Portsmouth jigsaw is the capital finance that Pompey fans have been able to raise to show that they are not just well intentioned, but deadly serious in their vision. Central to their plans is a Community Shares scheme, an increasingly popular finance-raising method for fan-owned clubs, including FC United of Manchester, who are looking to raise £2 million to build a new stadium in Moston. It’s a solution ideally suited as a method of raising serious finance in a way that primarily focuses on collective benefit for the community, rather than an individual’s private gain. And as Dons Trust members will know, a Community Share issue is likely to form a significant part of the financing of a new stadium for our own club back in Merton.
In the opening game of Pompey’s 2013 League Two campaign, the proud message “OURS” was spelt out by home supporters in the Fratton End holding up coloured cards, symbolising that that club was – like AFC Wimbledon – now proudly owned by its fans.
We invited Portsmouth CEO Mark Catlin to reflect on the job of running England’s biggest community football club. He writes: “It’s been a hugely challenging and rewarding experience. It’s not without its challenges, not least managing the expectation there is at a club which was in the Premier League only four years ago, but we see this very much as a long-term journey. I have to say that by and large the fans have been brilliant, not only through the support they have given through the turnstiles, but also in the patience they have shown as we get to grips with the realities of building a sustainable football club for the future.”