AT a time when Newcastle Knights fans are entitled to despair for the future of their club, a soccer team in England’s fourth tier can perhaps offer a glimmer of hope.
Formed in 1898, Portsmouth FC have enjoyed some halcyon times, reigning as first-division champions in 1948-49 and 1949-50, and winning the FA Cup as recently as 2008.
Yet by 2009, the south-coast club encountered a financial crisis that culminated a year later when they became the first Premier League outfit placed into administration, with reported debts of around $200 million.
For several turbulent years, during which a series of foreign owners came and went and entire playing squads were released, “Pompey” appeared doomed.
But in 2013, salvation arrived when a takeover by the Pompey Supporters Trust was ratified.
The supporters trust raised almost $5 million to finance the takeover from more than 2000 fans, who each pledged $2000.
A further $4 million came from a small group of wealthy individuals.
The supporters trust maintained a 58.5 per cent majority of the club, against the investors’ 41.5 per cent.
They secured a “parachute” payment of almost $20 million from the Premier League, which was immediately used to settle football creditors. Other creditors, owed almost $50 million, accepted the trust's offer of around £2 million, although every effort was made to pay small businesses and charities in full.
Three years down the track, after 18 games this season Portsmouth are fourth in League Two, consistently drawing crowds of above 16,000, and have realistic aspirations of winning promotion.
It has been a remarkable turnaround, and a lesson in what fanpower can achieve.
It is also food for thought as an ambitious syndicate of “concerned locals” put together a business plan they hope will be suitable for the Knights.
The exact details of what they are proposing remain a mystery, but it appears they are in the process of securing significant investors to provide start-up capital, and will be relying on parochial community support to ensure the club remains financially viable.
In theory, their model might be the perfect fit for Newcastle – falling somewhere in between the membership-owned club that the Knights were from 1988 until 2011, and the disastrous tenure of Nathan Tinkler.
For the first 24 years, the Knights punched above their weight, but it was always a battle to keep the club above the breadline and compete with richer rivals.
After Tinkler’s reign of error, Novocastrians are entitled to be wary about having another sole owner in control of their club.
A consortium based in the Hunter, boasting business and football expertise and offering rank-and-file fans some form of ownership, might be the perfect solution.
It certainly paid dividends in Portsmouth, another working-class, harbour city with an ingrained “our town, our team” mentality.