PORTSMOUTH pulled off their most significant victory of the season yesterday when they succeeded in obtaining an extra seven days to fight a winding-up order.
The Premier League’s bottom club, who have debts of around £60m, were granted more time to prove they can afford to pay creditors at a hearing at the High Court.
Pompey were pushed closer to becoming the first top flight outfit to go into administration, or even out of business altogether, by the winding-up order brought by HM Revenue and Customs over a £7.4m VAT bill.
But despite the court being told Portsmouth were insolvent, lawyers for the club persuaded Mrs Registrar Derrett to grant them until 4pm on Wednesday to file a satisfactory statement of financial affairs.
Key to their success was the claim that two “very serious offers” have been made for the club, with the implication being that new owners would provide fresh funds to rescue Portsmouth from oblivion.
If they fail to meet next week’s deadline, however, they could be wound up within days, with their case due to be heard on the next available date after Friday 19 February.
The identity of the two bidders is unknown, but the Saudi ambassador to Britain and Ireland, Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf, and an Irish-American consortium are thought to be interested.
Chief executive Peter Storrie said: “You can never be confident, but there are two parties and they allowed us to tell the court and they would not do that if they were not serious. We are hopeful we will complete the season and stay up.”
Should either take over, they would become Portsmouth’s fifth owners this season. The Hong Kong businessman Balram Chenrai, who assumed control last week after previous owner Ali Al-Faraj defaulted on a loan repayment, is keen to sell.
While agreeing to a stay of execution, Registrar Derrett said she feared the club could go on running up debts they could not afford to repay.
“I am very concerned about the financial status of this company,” she said. “It seems there’s a very real risk that this company is trading while it is insolvent.”
HMRC is also owed a further £4.7m in PAYE and National Insurance that was not part of the winding-up petition, and its legal representative, Gregory Mitchell QC, said of Portsmouth: “It’s clear beyond any doubt at all this company is insolvent.”