LONDON - How did a Premier League club with a guaranteed income of 35 million pounds a year from the Premier League, end up with spiralling debts of 70 million pounds and in administration?
The question was on the lips of most Portsmouth fans, and almost everyone else interested in football, on Friday after the 2008 FA Cup winners became the first Premier League club to enter administration.
Inevitably, the answer changes according to what part the speaker has played in the gloomy soap opera that has been acted out on England's south coast since Alexandre "Sacha" Gaydamak put the club up for sale last August.
One senior English administrator, speaking on condition of anonymity said: "This was a disaster waiting to happen as I am convinced that many of the people involved looked at the club to see what they could get out of it.
"I am convinced that not everyone has had the best interests of the football club at heart."
Portsmouth, who hosted AC Milan in the UEFA Cup last season, put their affairs in the hands of administrator Andrew Andronikou on Friday, a move which prevented them going into liquidation after a winding-up petition from British tax authorities.
Since August, the club have had four owners: Gaydamak, Sulaiman Al-Fahim, Ali Al-Faraj and Balram Chainrai, none of whom have been able to arrest their decline.
Chief executive Peter Storrie, who on Friday announced his intention to resign, recently gave his explanation of what went wrong, saying the problems began when Gaydamak announced he wanted to sell the club in August 2009.
"The adverse publicity surrounding Sacha's father Arkady sent the banks who provided us with overdraft facilities into meltdown," Storrie said in an interview with the Sunday Mirror.
Arkady Gaydamak, a Russian-Israeli businessman, was convicted by a French court last year of illegal arms deals, tax fraud, money laundering, embezzlement and other crimes.
"Standard Bank and Barclays demanded total repayment of their overdrafts," said Storrie.
"Had that not been the case we wouldn't be in the situation we are in now. Overnight we had to find nearly 50 million pounds as well as sustain the running of the club."
While the off-field problems were mounting, things started going wrong on the field as well.
Portsmouth finished 14th last season after manager Paul Hart galvanised an improvement in their form after arriving in February 2009.
They made a shocking start to this season, however, losing their opening seven matches, and have been nailed to the bottom of the table. Relegation was already a near-certainty even without the nine-point deduction following the move into administration.
Hart was sacked in November and Avram Grant, who took Chelsea to the Champions League final in 2008, has been unable to work a miracle, seeing Portsmouth win just twice in 13 league matches.
Paradoxically, Portsmouth have done well in the FA Cup and are through to a quarter-final against Birmingham City next week. Victory in that match would mean a return to Wembley for an FA Cup semi-final.
Away from Fratton Park, the Premier League, with the backing of the British government and the Football League, are working on robust new rules on club ownership which should prevent something like this happening again.
For Portsmouth the changes will come too late but at least they have survived being wound up, one victory during a season of almost unrelenting failure.comments