Scoops, scrutiny and security

The proposed Tornante Company takeover of Pompey has not got off to a particularly smooth start. Neil Allen has got a tremendous scoop for The News with his interview with Michael Eisner, but inevitably it raises more questions than it answers.

We had the initial announcement of the Tornante bid on March 20th, with the agreement between the company and the club that there would be a 70-day window of exclusivity. Only just over 20 of those 70 days have passed, so it is still early in the proceedings, but already Mr Eisner has stepped outside that process to make his appeal through the press. I am not at all sure he was wise to do so.

Firstly, there is his decision not to have any fan involvement on the board of the club after the takeover. This is stunningly tone-deaf, and it should be a red flag for the Supporters’ Trust. Indeed, that Eisner has gone to the press with the idea suggests that he hasn’t spoken to the Trust in any detail yet. If this interview is an attempt to “bounce” the Trust, it is misjudged.

Fan representation on football club boards has long been regarded as being a necessary step in improving accountability in the game. The Government has been far too slow to legislate to improve governance, either by reforming the game’s dreadful authorities or by requiring improvements to how individual clubs are run. But there are clear indications that the Government is open to legislation in the fairly near future, and I would expect fan representation on club boards to be the headline measure.

I am surprised how little some Pompey fans value fan representation. At the moment we have fan control of the club. It is disappointing to see a rush to give that up without seeing what the alternatives are for generating investment and retaining ownership. We do need investment, but I think the people who are saying we have no choice but to accept this bid are being hasty.

To give away representation on the board as well isn’t so much a disappointment as a dereliction of duty.

We have seen before at Pompey what happens when there is weak accountability. Even when all the facts were in the public domain and it was clear that rules are being broken, that the authorities were totally inactive on our behalf. Accountability and openness are vital, and just about our only safeguard in the event that the fans no longer own or have a stake in the club.

The response from the Trust to Eisner’s interview is sensible and cautious, emphasising the need for proper negotiations so that the shareholders can understand the proposals, and the risks and benefits.

I welcome a commitment not to be as bad as Assem Allam at Hull or Vincent Tan at Cardiff.  But the concession on not changing the kit colours or name is hardly anything to shout about. It’s like a guy turning up at the altar for his wedding and vowing not to beat his new wife or sleep with her sister.

We will need to see a lot more of the detail from Tornante before we can judge properly, but the opening gambit makes this look like a bog-standard football takeover, indeed it has the flavour of a hostile takeover attempt with a couple of weak sweeteners.

No doubt Eisner will quickly backtrack on the fan representation issue, because the “heritage board” sounds like the sort of mock fan representation gimmick we have seen before at PFC. But the scrutiny of the Tornante proposal must not end there, and it must be gone through thoroughly before anyone has to vote on it. Scrutiny of Tornante is not hostility to investment or a decision to restrict Pompey to lower league competition.

Let’s get the season finished and then sit down calmly and look at the pros and cons. The whole timing of this bid still seems odd to me – it could easily have waited until the end of the season, or at least proceeded confidentially during the season to a point where there was a final proposal to put to shareholders. This is too big a decision to rush and nobody should be criticised for taking their reasonable time over it.

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