SEASON REVIEW: Pre-Season
In the 112 years Portsmouth has been established as a football club, never has the club been in the news as much as we were this season. For 12 months it was a certainty that picking up a newspaper would result in reading some story, often fictional, about how we owed money, failed to pay wages, fired staff, lied to other clubs, poisoned snakes and hid weapons of mass destruction. Or something to that effect.
Most season reviews start in August, but not ours, our season started on the 27th of May 2009, 3 days after our last season finished. News broke from an Arab business website that Sulaiman Al Fahim, a reported billionaire had agreed to buy the club. As the day progressed this news broke throughout the media and after 8 months of sliding downhill and losing several big name players like Defoe and Diarra, things seemed to be taking a turn in the right direction. I distinctly remember the names Tevez and Henry being mentioned on message boards with some degree of seriousness behind it.
However, buying a football club isn't like buying a toothbrush. Firstly toothbrushes don't change hands 4 or 5 times a year and secondly, we had to sit through several months of Due Diligence as well as a 'Fit and Proper Persons Test'. As fans eagerly awaited this transaction, it became apparent all might not be as it seems. Al Fahim seemed to be hiding something when trying to prove his funds, and meanwhile in the transfer market, Pompey had a complete clearout, releasing some big earners like Djimi Traore, Lauren and Sol Campbell. In addition to this we sold Peter Crouch and Niko Kranjcar (eventually) to Floppychops, Distin and Johnson went to the blue and red sides of Liverpool respectively and David Nugent left to spend 6 months at Burnley. Other departures saw Davis, Little, Thomas, Pamarot and Mvuemba leave on frees.
After seemingly clearing any debt with such a large scale evacuation, Pompey had a lot of space in the dressing room, so in came Kevin-Prince Boateng from Spurs for £4m, and Tommy Smith & Mike Williamson from Watford for a reported £5m between them. Paul Hart also brought in Tal Ben-Haim and Michael Brown for undisclosed fees. Steve Finnan, Aaron Mokoena and Antti Niemi came in on free transfers and many a loans was made with Hassan Yebda, Aruna Dindane and Frederic Piquionne joining for the season and Jamie O'Hara coming in until January.
Back on the pitch Pompey's pre-season started disappointingly, with draws at Havant & Waterlooville and Basingstoke. A 6-1 win followed at Eastleigh, before going back to Guimaraes for some memories, but this time without the results. A 2-0 loss to the hosts and a 4-0 drubbing against Benfica (as well as losing 2 pointless Penalty Shoot-Outs) saw Pompey finish last in the mini-competition in which the officiating was a little suspect to say the least. In the week before the season started Pompey looked decent against Rangers at Fratton Park, as well as giving some squad players a chance against Gosport, and picking up a comfortable 3-0 victory.
A bit of momentum is just what the team needed. All the off-field distractions however were not.