At last the Pompey silence is broken - seven years, three months and 19 days later

New Pompey chairman Iain McInnes has already broken the mould of his predecessors
New Pompey chairman Iain McInnes has already broken the mould of his predecessors

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle played in goal for Pompey, don’t you know.

Certainly Sacha Gaydamak did – and a treasured piece of trivia he proudly imparted. Again. And again. And again.

At least he did the last time I spoke to him – upon his unveiling as Pompey’s then joint-owner.

In fact, it was the only time I ever spoke to the often elusive French/Russian businessman.

In actual fact, until this week it was the last occasion I interviewed the chairman or figurehead of Portsmouth Football Club.

Yes, a mighty seven years, three months and 19 days ago.

Still, on January 6, 2006, on the occasion of his maiden press conference, Gaydamak spoke to his Fratton Park audience.

National newspaper journalists promptly leapt upon this youngest owner of a Premier League club, quizzing him vigorously about the influence of his father, Arcadi.

Little did most of us at that time realise the relevance of the line of questioning and how Gaydamak Jnr’s denials would eventually be proven to be untrue.

Not to worry, Conan Doyle played in goal for Pompey, he would later repeat verbatim to the television cameras, to the radios and to the written press.

We’ll overlook the fact that it was actually Portsmouth AFC he represented, and under the guise of AC Smith.

Since that day, though, Gaydamak, followed by a procession of other owners, chairmen or whatever you want to call them, have not spoken to me.

Sulaiman Al Fahim, Ali Al Faraj, Balram Chainrai and Vladimir Antonov – they were all contacted but declined.

Surely it is not that unreasonable and outrageously demanding for the chief sports writer of The News to want to talk to them?

But nothing. For seven years, three months and 19 days.

That, of course, ended on Wednesday when newly-appointed Pompey chairman Iain McInnes sat down in the Fratton Park boardroom for a chat.

Moments earlier, a press conference had introduced the club’s new seven-man board – and Guy Whittingham as manager – following the successful community takeover bid which has breathed life into the ailing grand old lady.

Undoubtedly, some will have a lack of empathy over my failure to speak to McInnes’ predecessors.

To them, I would simply ask whether the club and its fans have really benefitted from the silences from Gaydamak and Co over that period.

So what of the others?

Well, the closest I ever got to Al Fahim was his spokesman Ivo Ilic Gabara.

A very personable chap and pleasant to deal with, with a penchant for claiming ‘everything is on track’ and calling for patience. In the end Al Fahim departed after 40 days having given no interview – apart from embarrassing himself in a fans’ conference by waving around a piece of paper claiming he had £50m to invest.

During the Al Faraj reign, I did get an interview with Al Faraj’s brother, Ahmed, in a London hotel, arranged by Mark Jacob.

At one point, Ahmed’s phone rang and he told me it was his brother, so I chanced my arm and asked if I could speak to him. Ahmed declined.

He did, however, promise our photographer, Malcolm Wells, he would e-mail five photographs to replace the often-used grainy yellow one of his brother.

We never heard from him again.

As regards Chainrai, perhaps I did myself no favours with the criticism I levied towards him during my match report for the 2010 FA Cup final.

I mentioned how his son was one of the mascots, while Chainrai sat next to Prince William in the Royal Box – all despite no longer being the owner, having put the club into administration.

In all, there were many issues over that article he and his lawyers objected to.

I don’t suppose he was ever going to speak to me after that or let me call him ‘Balu’ like others in the media relished.

Certainly, there were no invites forthcoming to visit him in Hong Kong to watch him chew gum through an interview.

Even the PR firm he eventually employed, Tavistock Communications, refused to deal with me on account of being a sports journalist and not a news reporter.

Convers Sports Initiatives took over on June 1, 2011, yet it would be three-and-a-half months later before Antonov and Roman Dubov spoke publicly.

Even then The News were the only local media not invited to their offices for the occasion.

To make matters even more ridiculous, those who were welcomed were warned to keep quiet about their London date or their pass may be revoked.

It turned out the owners were upset over a News article the previous week in which several supporters, including the late Tony Goodall, had voiced concerns over ticket prices.

Such fans believed the pricing fixed that summer by Portpin was behind low Fratton Park attendances for the first four home games.

When later questioned why The News had been omitted, then-chief executive David Lampitt blamed the owners.

The last time I heard Gaydamak interviewed he told us: ‘Portsmouth Football Club is a business I am investing in.

‘There is no relationship between my father and the club.’

Perhaps with that statement therein lies the reason why, for the past seven years, three months and 19 days, these people didn’t want to speak.