Unflinching McInnes still relishes his Disney Land

Pompey chairman Iain McInnes Picture: Ian Hargreaves
Pompey chairman Iain McInnes Picture: Ian Hargreaves

Not even the glorious Sunday afternoon rays could pierce the black mood smothering the city flinching below.

Pompey, the football club saved from extinction by its fans almost 12 months earlier, was now in 90th spot scrapping to remain in the Football League.

Except this time the battleground was a football pitch rather than the High Court.

Iain McInnes still recalls the backlash, the abuse, the spitting. How could he not – the lowest common denominator occurred in front of his family on that sunny March day.

As the Blues’ chairman and a central figurehead in the supporter-inspired survival, he is a bullseye within the city he has spent his life.

For the minority among the minority, in those times of relegation-fraught gloom just a few months ago, McInnes was a target to launch at.

Particularly when dining with his daughter and granddaughter on a glorious day in a Port Solent restaurant.

But for the punchy Paulsgrove kid, the pop guns won’t pierce his enthusiasm to push football’s fallen club back up the mountain.

McInnes said: ‘I had some exchanges last season, some quite unpleasant ones. It comes with the territory.

‘I must admit, for as passionate as I am, I don’t remember being rude to a director or an official of a football club, it just doesn’t seem to me to be right.

‘But there have been about six or seven altercations, one of them quite an unpleasant one at a restaurant when I was with my eldest daughter and granddaughter.

‘Four people sitting at another table came across and used four-letter words and said “It’s okay you sitting here while our club is going to rack and ruin”. That sort of stuff.

‘It was a Sunday in March, I was having lunch with my family and these people came across and were being aggressive, going on about yachts. It wasn’t pleasant.

‘I was spat at on another occasion, and there have been some four-letter words used when people have made their way to the directors’ box both home and away.

‘I would rather not dwell on that because for every one of those there are at least 500 good things to say.

‘People who have come up and said “Thanks we really appreciate what the board have done” and all we say to them is we have done no more than you.

‘Those that give abuse are a tiny minority and I know Mick (Williams) has had similar experiences.

‘Of course I have criticised boards in the past, you had every right in many instances and, to be fair, some fans probably had every right at times this year.

‘I can brush it off, I have had to, all my life, that is why Pompey is so important to me.

‘It was Pompey in my younger life that enabled me to do that, allowed me to gain that hope when there didn’t seem to be much. It’s just a special place.

‘When I was a youngster growing up in Paulsgrove in a dysfunctional family, this club was my Disneyland. That has got helter skelters in it so it is quite appropriate!

‘And even now as chairman, for me it has been great fun.’

McInnes has held the Pompey helm since April 2013 following the community takeover.

In the gallery of predecessors hangs portraits of a money lender, a man whose father is a fugitive from France, an Arab calling himself a doctor but without the qualifications and a Russian fighting extradition to face fraud charges.

On another hook is the painting of an elusive character some doubt existed.

All maintained distinctly low profiles during their Fratton Park days, preferring the company of shadows.

Then McInnes stepped into the room.

He added: ‘I am no different to any other fan, so when somebody wants to talk to me I will give them time.

‘Chairmen didn’t do that before at this club.

‘I had a phonecall the other day from somebody who suffers from a mental disorder and had asked to see me because he thought I kind of resided at the club on a regular basis.

‘I am now in regular communication with that individual who is a very intelligent and very, very nice man. This club is his life.

‘He is in his early 50s and Portsmouth Football Club is everything. The doctor told me that if this club had gone he would have worried terribly about his patient.

‘Something like that is very humbling, it brought tears to my eyes at the time and shows how important it is to people.

‘You supported us at Fleetwood, you’ve put your money in to buy shares, you’ve put your money in by way of entrance fees, you’ve got behind the team when really they aren’t playing well enough for you to get behind.

‘I haven’t done any more than anyone else, I just happen to be in a position where I am a bit of a figurehead and take a bit of credit. But I have some fabulous colleagues on the board and really top-class people on the Trust.’

Within five weeks of that Port Solent confrontation, Pompey would be safe from relegation.

The decision for Richie Barker to depart and to promote Academy manager Andy Awford instantly produced five straight wins to complete a remarkable recovery.

There are now brilliant blue skies kissing the sun-drenched city.

McInnes said: ‘We have eventually got to where we wanted to be and that is a stable, financially sound club with a proper ethos, structure and legacy – a real ability to now go forward.

‘Every step will always be affordable, it will always be measured, it will never be the mess we inherited.

‘As a group of people we had some terrible times in the fight and battle for the club. If you didn’t believe you were going to win ownership of the football club you would have given up.

‘And if you had given up there would have been absolutely no guarantee of a club, but the fans played their part.’