International Soccer
Portsmouth's story still has one more chapter

Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It's safe to say that the past nine months at Portsmouth Football Club have been anything but boring.

During that time, the club has had four different owners, two managers, and missed payments to players on four separate occasions.

The team made history in late February as it became the first Premiership side in history to enter administration, which cost the club nine points in the standings and doomed it to relegation.

In early March, 85 employees were let go in an effort to keep costs down, while the Premier League withheld $3 million of transfer payments and diverted almost $11 million from the team's TV revenue to cover the signings of two players.

But as Winston Churchill once said, "If you're going through hell, keep going."

Portsmouth will be in the FA Cup Final for the second time in three years.
And that is exactly what Portsmouth and its fans have done.

Just one day after the club was officially relegated from the Premiership, they took to the pitch at Wembley Stadium for an FA Cup semifinal match against favored Tottenham on Sunday.

The game was scoreless after 90 minutes, but the south coast of England lit up as Kevin-Prince Boateng fired home a penalty kick to give Pompey a 2-0 lead in extra time, sending the club through to the final for the second time in three years.

"To be in the final because of what's happened this season is a good lesson to everybody not to take the easy solution," Portsmouth manager Avram Grant said following the match.

"The easy solution is to give up. I don't believe in this. To come to work every day not knowing what bad news will come.

"One day I came and all my staff said to me next week there is no club. We could write a book about the many things against us this season."

Indeed, there are plenty of victims in the sad tale of Portsmouth, from Grant himself, to the players and the fans.

Paul Hart began the season as Portsmouth manager, but seven successive losses to start the campaign helped him lose his job in November.

Grant took over with the idea that he would be able to buy players in the January transfer window, and that he would be given every opportunity to save the team from relegation.

However, that couldn't have been further from the truth as goalkeeper Asmir Begovic and defender Younes Kaboul were both sold, with no significant additions coming back.

This left Grant with few options and made his task of saving the team even more difficult.

And although he has voiced his frustration on multiple occasions over the situation of his team, Grant has continued to push on and get the most out of his beleaguered team.

It remains to be seen whether Grant will stay on as manager next season, but his role in keeping the team going can't be overstated.

Many of the players on Portsmouth's current roster will likely be playing elsewhere next season as the club continues to dig itself out of its current financial hole.

And although many have used the past few months as an audition for other teams around Europe, it still can't be easy to show up and play knowing that the end result isn't going to change.

The fans are the biggest victims of the club being run so poorly, because all they have done is show up and get behind the team.

Fratton Park is not one of the biggest grounds in the Premiership, but it is always one of the loudest, and has been so for much of this season despite the club's poor state of affairs.

So it was nice to see Boateng's penalty kick hit the net right in front of Pompey's traveling supporters, sending the crowd into a frenzy as they knew they would be back for the final on May 15.

The club will be an even bigger underdog next month when they face league leaders Chelsea, but after everything that has gone on this season, the task doesn't seem quite as daunting.

As unlikely as it appears, things could be looking up for Portsmouth because the win on Sunday allows them to claim a spot in the Europa League for next season, which brings in extra money for the cash-strapped club.

However, because this is Pompey, nothing is ever easy.

The fact that Chelsea has already qualified for next season's Champions League would normally give Portsmouth a spot in the Europa League, but because the club didn't apply for a UEFA licence before the March 1 deadline, they are not eligible to play in the competition.

The club will appeal the ruling to get itself into the Europa League, but anything can happen when it comes to Portsmouth.

It's been a long, strange trip over the past nine months, but if any team deserves to have a happy ending, it's this one.

Comments? Criticism? Applause?
Contact Tim Keeble at tkeeble@sportsnetwork.com
Contact Brian Westfall at bwestfall@sportsnetwork.com

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