They Might Be Giants: The Big Six of League One

Portsmouth

Whenever I think of Portsmouth and Lincoln City, I recall my father telling me how the former as Football League Champions met the latter as Third Division North Champions in the FA Cup with Pompey running out winners. However, although the game may well have taken place the back story cannot be quite correct. The Imps won the Third Division North crown in 1948 and Pompey had their first of two successive league titles a year later. So I think it must have been as champions-elect that Pompey faced the Imps in the cup.

The period either side of the war was Pompey’s golden era with the first of their two FA Cups coming in 1939. The second was as recently as 2008. They also boast a number of other distinctions, including being the first to win promotion through three professional divisions and only the fifth club to have won all four English professional divisions. Like so many clubs who have fallen from a great height, money, or a lack of it has often been at the heart of the problem and in common with others in this article, Portsmouth have certainly had their fair share. In fact they’ve had more than their fair share and some decidedly dodgy owners too. Administration and a nine points deduction ensured relegation from the premier League in 2010, the same year they again reached the FA Cup final losing to a single goal from Chelsea’s Didier Drogba.

Portsmouth FC - 2008 FA Cup

A Company Voluntary Arrangement followed, which staved off bankruptcy, although not before HMRC, who had objected, failed to get the CVA overturned in the High Court. In June 2011 Convers Sports Initiatives owned by Russian Vladimir Antonov acquired the club. Five months later he was arrested for fraud on an international warrant emanating from Lithuania where he was wanted in connection with asset stripping a bank. This was two weeks after Michael Appleton had been appointed manager. The following February (2012) Portsmouth entered administration for a second time following a winding up order from HMRC who were owed £1.6 million in unpaid taxes. By April, the administrator revealed the full extent of their indebtedness which amounted to £58 million including £3.8 million in unpaid wages and bonuses and a staggering £38 million in fees to the previous administrator (nice work if you can get it).

By this time Appleton had left to take over the helm at Blackpool (see above). Salvation came in the form of the Pompey Supporters Trust who took over the club in April 2013, making Portsmouth the largest fan-owned club in England. All this did not prevent a second successive relegation, this time into League Two where they remained until 2017, having narrowly avoided a third successive relegation in 2014. Four years after acquiring it, the Trust voted to accept an offer to buy the club from The Tornante Company, headed by former Disney Chief Executive Michael Eisner. As Pompey hauled themselves out of League Two, so Lincoln were hauling themselves back into it with the Imps finally attaining league parity in 2019. Portsmouth will begin their fifth successive season in League One on 6 August. At the time of writing, we don’t yet know whether it will also be Lincoln’s third.

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