A year on – memories of the day Pompey lights could have gone out haven’t dimmed

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As Mr Justice Peter Smith delivered his rubber-stamp, Court 30’s lights shut down.

‘There’s not enough of you moving, please move about,’ came the dry response from the judge: ‘Would the last person in turn the lights out?’

Nervous laughter stuttered its way through a sizeable public gallery audience in that Rolls Building room.

On the day when Pompey’s Football League existence could have been plunged into darkness, the moment escalated the unfolding drama.

As it was, this was no desperate last act from Balram Chainrai – as one wag joked – rather somebody unwittingly leaning against a light switch in the clamour to be present for the final whistle.

Around 30 people were in attendance for that fateful High Court day on April 10, 2013, yet the hearts and souls of Blues fans across the world were also present.

The year which has since passed has produced two Pompey managers, a caretaker boss, two assistant managers, four goalkeeping coaches, the utilisation of 45 players and the amassing of 48 points.

Relegation also remains a very real possibility, even if last weekend’s Newport County victory provided such priceless impetus.

Away from the field of play, the club are months ahead of schedule for clearing their legacy debts, having out-performed all budget targets.

It was a year ago this coming Thursday, however, that the Pompey Supporters’ Trust and the high net worths reached a £3m agreement with Portpin to reunite Fratton Park with the club – and retain Football League status.

‘According to the evidence, the gate clanks shut on April 27, doesn’t it, when the season finishes,’ said Sir Peter on that tension-filled day.

Portpin barrister Hilary Stonefrost replied: ‘That’s not correct’.

Sir Peter snapped back: ‘That’s what the Football League say and it’s their business, isn’t it?’

Failure would have resulted in liquidation and removal of the prized ‘golden share’, in addition to a tear-stained farewell to their Fratton home.

Non-league ground-sharing with the Hawks, also bringing a stand purchased from Bournemouth to the party, was the contingency plan – an alternative nobody wanted to unlock the bottom drawer to retrieve.

Those who still cannot register the pitfalls of Chainrai – or Keith Harris – after all this time will never be convinced and neither is this the occasion to waste such energy.

But for some of us privileged to be in the courtroom that day in whatever capacity, it was a special result whose memories will never be diminished by time’s cruel ravages.

I still possess the text sent by SOS Pompey linchpin Brendon Bone, a massive figure in the fight to save the football club who was not in attendance in person.

‘The tears are on their way now mate!’

He wasn’t alone as at 4.21pm a south coast city rejoiced at the outcome and the prospect of now having a future.

The hearing was designed to settle the valuation dispute over Portpin’s charge. Mid-way through, the Tomlin order arrived proclaiming an out-of-court agreement had been reached.

The importance was not wasted on the judge: ‘Good Lord, so many people to bring one piece of paper. Neville Chamberlain carried his own!’

Pompey fan Jay Ricketts still owns the piece of paper which announced the crucial legal documentation was on its way, albeit torn as he ripped it off the notepad.

Then social media went into overload.

My tweet which first broke the news of the judge approving the resolution, received 547 retweets and was favourited 145 times.

Meanwhile, the Sky reporter dashed out of the room – ‘Sky Sports sources understand’ crowed the yellow ticker moments later. The source was, of course, the judge.

Moments earlier, a red-faced Mick Williams had tip-toed along the tightrope of contempt of court when his phone beeped twice with a text message during proceedings.

‘You just used your get out of jail free card,’ said Sir Peter sternly. The second time Williams was met with a steely glare before responding with a simpering ‘Sorry sir’ defence.

Williams was never actually meant to be in court that day and it was his arrival around noon with Mark Trapani which was the clearest indication yet that resolution was afoot.

The duo, nowadays part of the club’s seven-man board, had opted to remain in Portsmouth – then they were delivered an encouraging text.

For those not privy to such hope, the morning was immensely frustrating, notable only for moving the case from a cramped Court 32 and persistent Twitter rumours from those not present that matters had been adjourned for the rest of the day.

Come the afternoon, the case relocated to Court 30 and finally there was action, with attendance swelled by the likes of Ashley Brown, Mark Catlin and Iain McInnes.

McInnes had earlier been stationed in the nearby offices of administrators BDO, negotiating a last-gasp settlement with Levi Kushnir over the phone and other Portpin representatives.

As proceedings unfolded amid the thuds of The News’ then-business reporter Emma Judd’s heavy-handed typing, the toying Sir Peter clawed at the representative of BDO and then, much to the relief of many present, Portpin’s barrister Stonefrost.

According to McInnes and Williams, Stonefrost would confide in both, she was in fact a second-generation Pompey fan, yet being a professional had a job to perform.

Meanwhile, in summing up, Sir Peter surprisingly unmasked himself as a ‘friend’ of the city’s Royal Navy Museum through his fascination with dreadnoughts.

‘My club, Hull City, are now driving towards the Premier League, but there we go,’ he couldn’t resist gloating.

Then came the judge’s nod of approval, sparking a round of applause, emotional embraces and tears. So many tears.

Administrator Trevor Birch headed off to call his wife but firstly stopped to accept Barry Dewing’s handshake, before looking upwards and uttering: ‘That was for Tony (Goodall)’.

Those rejoicing fans’ next destination was Ye Olde Cock Tavern in nearby Fleet Street for speeches and Champagne for the remainder of a buoyant evening.

Fittingly, Dewing was the last Pompey fan to leave that pub, shortly having raised a toast to Goodall, supping his late friend’s favoured drink of orange and Vodka in tribute.

Dewing and Goodall had stood side-by-side at the first meeting when the Trust ownership vision was ambitiously hatched back in 2009.

Four years later the cabbie strolled into the London night, the impossible dream having been achieved.

‘We did it.’