The Tesco vision which should have been a Pompey cash cow

An artists' impression of the proposed Tesco superstore behind the Fratton end
An artists' impression of the proposed Tesco superstore behind the Fratton end

It was August 26, 2009, when the deed was done – a transaction which has subsequently deprived Portsmouth Football Club of millions of pounds.

Although registered in the name of Miland Development 2004 Ltd, the land behind the Fratton end and stretching down Anson Road was among the club’s most prized possessions.

Accompanying it was the lip-smacking opportunity to generate substantial profits through land development for any incumbent Pompey owner, should he ever wish to start the digger of course.

Then came Sacha Gaydamak’s intervention – and effectively Pompey’s crown jewels had gone.

That summer, the then owner signed over the club to Sulaiman Al Fahim. Although, in the process, he elected to keep hold of his valuable trump card a while longer.

Wary of Al Fahim’s reliability to conclude a full deal for the club, he pinpointed January 2010 as the date to receive a full settlement of £32m – effectively, his loans against the club.

Gaydamak would keep hold of the land as security and upon conclusion hand it over in a £1 transaction.

Al Fahim’s ownership would last 41 days, before passing over to Ali Al Faraj. And the land would be divorced from Pompey forever.

It resulted in a patchwork quilt of eight pieces owned between four parties in that part of Fratton – a highly-complex property jigsaw puzzle requiring painstaking solving.

Still, on Monday, planning permission was lodged with Portsmouth City Council by Point Estates, the current owners of the Fratton end car park area, having bought it out of administration.

Their ambition is to build a Tesco store on the site residing in the shadows of Pompey’s home.

If granted, the financial rewards for Stuart Robinson – the figurehead of Point Estates and a Pompey president – will be eye-watering as he negotiates a freehold deal with the supermarket giants.

The schedule for the council to decide is 13 weeks after the plan’s submission, with Tesco potentially opening in 2015, creating 300 jobs, in addition to a petrol station.

Almost four years and six months after the club was deposed as master of its own destiny over such land, the plans are finally in to build on some of its former kingdom.

Not that Pompey won’t benefit. The truth is they would have to if Robinson is to be successful with any planning application.

According to the council’s ‘Portsmouth Plan’: ‘...development opportunities of the surrounding land should not prejudice the aspiration of an improved and enlarged football stadium’.

Effectively, anyone wishing to develop neighbouring land would have to also help improve Fratton Park as part of the process.

It explains Robinson’s willingness to work alongside the club, which has so far consisted of buying £100,000 worth of shares and supplying a £1.34m loan.

Arguably, without his financial input, the community bid would never have possessed the funds to buy the club and also see off Balram Chainrai and Levi Kushnir.

It remains a business-driven opportunity, however, and, in order to satisfy both the club and the council, Robinson has given Pompey a strip of land running along the back of the Fratton end and measuring 13m deep.

This would allow the potential for an extra tier to be added to the stand and up to 2,000 seats introduced to give it a new capacity of 7,000.

In addition, the club have negotiated ownership of three parcels of wasteland behind the North stand through a mixture of freehold and leasehold with Point Estates.

That will create space for a potential North stand development, although in the immediate-term it will become a surfaced car park to house 250 spaces, helping deal with the loss of the Fratton end car park.

One vision is the construction of a two-tier 12,000 seater stand, costing in excess of £10m and containing corporate boxes and lounges.

Alternatively, the Milton end could be flattened and rebuilt to solve the safety issues which have put more than 700 seats out of action at present.

Potentially costing £4-5m, it would not actually increase the potential 3,200 capacity due to restrictions on height and size through its vicinity with neighbouring properties.

Such blueprints have been drawn-up by Trust board member Mike Saunders – an experienced architect responsible within the club for the stadium and infrastructure plans.

However, the funding for these Fratton Park improvements is an overriding issue moving forwards and once again involves Robinson.

As part of his agreement, he is to hand the club a ‘substantial sum’ running into seven figures, the precise details unwilling to be revealed by those involved as it is deemed ‘commercially sensitive’.

Crucially, it will not be enough to bankroll the construction of a stand –more a contribution to be ring fenced until more money can be raised.

For the community ownership, additional investment on that front will be essential and could be aided by grants, a bonds scheme or fund-raising.

For that reason, the club insists it cannot set a timescale for building work to take place.

No doubting the time frame for Tesco, however, whose interest in the site first emerged in 2008 but were put off by initial Gaydamak talks.

Pompey’s former owner had long been relaxed about selling and then, in July 2012, decided to put Miland Development into administration.

That opened the door for Robinson completing the land purchase for almost £4m in February 2013, although a year earlier the Pompey Supporters’ Trust had made tentative enquiries.

Trust representative Colin Farmery held two lunch meetings with Gaydamak, talks involving floating of an idea rather than a business transaction. Yet he wanted more than £3m – comfortably outside the Trust’s price range.

Besides, the Trust were always going to allocate their financial resources to saving the club from liquidation rather than instigating a property deal.

Intriguingly, from the time the land was separated from the club, a succession of Pompey owners showed no interest in clearly a money-spinning long-term investment.

Admittedly, history between the Gaydamak family and Chainrai and Kushnir would have been prohibitive to any potential deal, not that they showed any inclination anyhow.

Meanwhile, Convers Sports Initiatives didn’t instigate any move before their empire came crashing down.

Still, Point Estates own Pompey’s former belongings these days and as a result dictate Fratton Park’s neighbours for the future.

And the initial sod was dug on August 26, 2009.