Pompey given seven-day stay of execution
Portsmouth have been given a seven-day reprieve to sort out their financial mess after Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs (HMRC) told the High Court that the club are "insolvent", owing them £11.5 million.
The club must provide a "statement of affairs" by 1600 GMT on February 17, or the club could be shut down. But the earliest they can go back to court will be February 19, and the case might still be adjourned again, giving them more time - although still not as much as they wanted.
Portsmouth's 2008 FA Cup final opponents Cardiff and League One side Southend were also handed stays of execution on Wednesday after facing winding-up orders of their own.
But while both Cardiff and Southend were given 28 days to sort out their finances, Pompey have just seven, after declaring they are now in detailed talks with two interested parties to become the club's fifth new owners of this tumultuous and financially torturous season.
Following the ruling on Wednesday Portsmouth chief executive Peter Storrie revealed to Soccernet the club had "worked through the night" to get the information to persuade the court the club had two "potential serious buyers" and that he had since received a call from a third interested party.
Storrie denied a rumour that yet another Middle Eastern conglomerate was interested but confirmed Soccernet's information that one of the consortiums is Irish-American.
Asked how close Portsmouth came to being wound up, Storrie said: "A decision like this is always 50-50 with a judge, she could have wound us up today."
Portsmouth were branded "insolvent" by HMRC in the High Court, and the organisation claimed that they are owed £11.5 million by the club - not the £7.5 million that had been previously quoted - in a bid to press home their case to wind up Pompey.
The club have been in crisis talks with the Revenue since Monday to try to resolve the winding-up petition before it reached the High Court, but an offer of a £1.8 million down payment, with the rest being paid once the new owner arrives, failed to move the Revenue.
Gregory Mitchell QC, representing HMRC, said: "It's quite clear beyond any doubt at all that this company is insolvent. They have failed to provide any evidence at all as to their solvency. There are many debts and they are unpaid.''
Portsmouth lawyer Nigel Hood said any move to force the club to wind up would have "very serious consequences''.
"There would be irreparable harm caused not only to the suppliers but to the employees, 600 staff, suppliers, people who have paid in advance for their season tickets would lose their money,'' he said.
The threats of both administration and closure still hang over the club, and chief executive Peter Storrie was locked in talks with the club's lawyers immediately after the hearing.
Bob Beech, a prominent member of Portsmouth fan group SOS Pompey, was far from optimistic in the wake of the decision. "I have got no confidence in anybody now that's involved in Portsmouth Football Club," he told Sky Sports News.
"To be honest with you, my personal point of view would be for everybody to go and let's start again with somebody who has actually got the interests of Portsmouth Football Club at heart. Are we just going to be stood here again in seven days' time, or does that mean there is somebody waiting in the wings to be the saviour - again?
"You have got to always hope - where there's life, there's hope, so let's hope in these next seven days, we can get sorted out, we can all start smiling again and look forward to who we have got in the quarter-final of the FA Cup.''
A statement on Portsmouth's official website read: "Portsmouth Football Club today welcomed the decision by the High Court to allow the club time to demonstrate its plans to restructure and stabilise the business under new owner Balram Chainrai.
"The club was given seven days to produce a statement of affairs for the court and HMRC and this will be produced in conjunction with Vantis plc, a firm of accountancy and insolvency practitioners. Following this submission a hearing will be convened on the first available date after Friday, February 19.
"In January, the club was granted leave to appeal the judge's decision on the application to strike out the HMRC petition. The total outstanding on the petition in December was £11.5 million. This includes £5.8 million of disputed VAT, £1.1 million of undisputed VAT and £4.6 million due on PAYE and NIC.
"In relation to the PAYE and NIC, £4.5 million has subsequently been paid, leaving £7 million outstanding. However, the total amount of VAT included which is subject to a dispute is £7.4 million (of which £5.8 million has been petitioned for). Therefore we contest that there is no payment due.
"There was a further submission issued late yesterday in relation to £4.7 million, which included £3.8 million PAYE. The club is making arrangements to pay this to bring the club up to date with PAYE payments. The club will show that the business will be sustainable as a going concern and how it will deal with outstanding creditors as a result of the recent takeover.
"Balram Chainrai's trustees - chief executive Peter Storrie and Ashok Patel of Balsara & Co - are in advanced disscussions with more than one interested party who have the ability to further stabilise and grow the business. The club would like to thank the staff, players and fans for their continued support through this difficult period."