When clubs get into financial trouble people talk about them “doing a Leeds”. Leeds United were and still are a lesson in what happens if you spend money you can’t afford.
Portsmouth have gone down the same road. They’ve had a bit of success and now they’re paying for it. It sounds like they’ll go out of business next month unless something is done about their wage bill.
You always expect clubs to find a way to survive but this looks very serious.
In many ways what happens next comes down to the players.
If the crisis is as bad as it seems, then Portsmouth’s high earners either reach a compromise or Portsmouth go bust. There’s a big responsibility on their shoulders and trust me, it’s not a situation you want to be in. But it’s up to them to do the right thing.
I’m not being clever about this. I’m well aware that footballers have families, mortgages and bills to pay. They need money like everyone else and they work hard to earn it.
But some of the lads at Portsmouth are earning very good money – enough money to make a gesture which keeps the club going. I doubt they’d starve because of it and I’m sure they’d earn a huge amount of respect.
I was in their shoes eight or nine years ago when the walls at Leeds were beginning to cave in.
I was club captain at the time and I was right behind a plan for the players to do their bit by agreeing to a wage deferral. I said as much in a media interview and all hell broke loose.
Some of the other lads were furious with me. Some didn’t want to defer wages and others thought I should have discussed it with them before talking to the press.
As far as I was concerned, if I wanted to say that I supported a deferral then that was up to me. My decision. The rest of them were free to give their views too – although I don’t think many would have opposed it in public.
All of us who were involved will remember which side of the argument we were on. There’s no need for me to name names. But the basic problem was that we weren’t on the same page.
Most of the lads were singing from the same hymn-sheet – most of them didn’t want to defer wages – but there was no agreement. My relationship with some of them wasn’t the best after that but I never lost sleep about it.
The fact is we were all earning huge wages, more than enough to give us very comfortable lifestyles.
It wouldn’t have made a difference to me if we were being asked to give up wages but we were only being asked to defer them.
I wasn’t the brightest lad in that dressing room by any stretch but I was clever enough to understand the meaning of the word ‘defer’.
From the start I was told that it was 99.9 per cent certain that we’d get the money back. In other words, it was a no-risk deal which might have helped the club.
Realistically, I doubt whether it would have helped to sort out the massive debts at Leeds at the time but at least we could all have looked back and said we did our bit.
It would have proved that when players talked about being proud to play for Leeds United, they really meant it. I suppose you could say it’s a way of putting your money where your mouth is – or not, in our case.
I won’t pretend that the situation at Portsmouth is identical to ours. The players there are being asked to take wage cuts or to move on from the club and those are big decisions to make, especially when you’re under pressure to make them quickly.
But many professional footballers do very well from the game and the massive amount of money involved in it. When you get the chance to give something back you should always take it – even if, like I did, you lose a few friends along the way.