• Administrators sign conditional agreement with fans
• Deal subject to receiving permission to sell Fratton Park
The Portsmouth Supporters Trust is hopeful that its deal to buy the club out of administration will be concluded by Christmas, after signing a conditional agreement that raises hopes of an end to a tortuous saga for the club's fans.
Ashley Brown, chairman of the PST, said he is "thrilled and proud" that it has reached an agreement while the administrator, Trevor Birch, said he is hopeful that it marked "the beginning of the end of the process". However, the sale remains conditional on the administrator receiving permission to sell Fratton Park.
The club's former owner Balram Chainrai, who has an outstanding charge on the ground through his company Portpin, has been unable to agree a deal with the administrator to sell the ground to the Trust. It believes a fair market value for the ground is £2m-£3m while Chainrai, looking to recover as much as possible of the £17m he claims to have sunk into the club, is believed to be holding out for much more.
It will be for a court to decide whether the administrator can take control of the sale process and to decide whether PST's offer represents fair value. The administrator is hopeful a court date can be set before 21 December, allowing the club to go into the new year in the hands of the supporters trust.
"Portpin has rejected the trust's offer for Fratton Park, so the sale has to be conditional on receiving the court's permission to sell the ground. We are therefore in the process of submitting an application to the court," said Birch. "I'm sure every member of staff, every player and every supporter will join with me in wishing to see a speedy resolution of what has been a protracted administration," added the former Chelsea, Leeds United and Everton chief executive.
"Everyone involved in the transaction has worked incredibly hard to get the deal to this stage and, although there is still much that needs to be done, today's announcement marks what is hopefully the beginning of the end of the process."
The administrators removed preferred bidder status from Portpin three weeks ago and named PST as the preferred bidders.
Brown said Thursday's news marked "a special day for the thousands of Pompey fans who have stood by their club and stood up to be counted".
Iain McInnes, the proposed chairman of Portsmouth FC if the deal goes through, added: "This truly is fantastic news and the start of a new chapter for Portsmouth Football Club. The hard work will continue during the court application process to ensure that we are in the best position possible to drive the club forward and build for the future ahead of the important January transfer window."
PST has already agreed that an existing CVA with the club's creditors earlier this year will be honoured if it takes over. Chainrai is expected to continue to contest any attempt to force him to sell Fratton Park. The Hong Kong businessman claimed he had "suspended" his bid to take control of the club last week, insisting that Portsmouth fans were being "manipulated".
In a statement released on Thursday to the Guardian, he said he remained ready to buy the club "in a matter of days" if the Trust's bid should prove unsuccessful and insisted that the Football League had not rejected his application.
The Football League had been considering whether Chainrai was eligible to take control of the club for a third time, under rules that prevent any director or shadow director who have been involved in two administrations from being involved again.
"We remain ready to complete the deal in a matter of days, should the Trust be unsuccessful. That is our intention, and despite ill-informed gossip to the contrary, the Football League have not rejected our application," said Chainrai. "We have satisfied the Football League regarding our business plan and cash requirements and we have answered all other questions regarding the Owners and Directors' test."
Chainrai claimed: "The Trust's bid is conditional on securing a deal to flip Fratton Park and sell it to property developers. The money raised from that sale is vital to fund their bid and yet the rental agreement will ratchet up costs and put the Club under more pressure every year that goes by. We believe that keeping Fratton Park under the ownership of the Club – which our bid guarantees – is of paramount importance to the future of Portsmouth Football Club if it is to remain at the heart of the community."
The PST has dismissed his comments, saying it was common knowledge that it was working with a property developer to work on acquiring the land around Fratton Park and developing a long term plan for a club that has lurched from crisis to crisis since winning the FA Cup under Harry Redknapp in 2008.
Pockets of land around Fratton Park, a crucial factor in the Portsmouth saga, were formerly owned by a company controlled by former owner Alexandre Gaydamak that is now also in administration.
PKF was appointed in February last year, when the club was plunged into administration for the second time in two years when Vladimir Antonov, the major shareholder in then-owners CSI, was arrested for fraud in Lithuania.
Its financial difficulties stretched back much further, with the south coast club placed at the centre of a bewildering and opaque series of transactions among a succession of overseas owners before becoming the first Premier League club to enter administration.
The meltdown prompted the Premier League to introduce tougher rules around club ownership and financial security and new details are still emerging about the chaos that engulfed the club during that period.
Earlier this week, the London law firm Fuglers and three of its then solicitors were fined a total of £80,000 and ordered to pay £60,000 in costs by an industry tribunal for professional misconduct linked to a period when a Fuglers account was used to conduct transactions on behalf of the club.
One of those censured was Mark Jacob, the Fuglers lawyer who acted as Portsmouth's executive director during a period in which the club was nominally owned by the mysterious Ali al-Faraj, who was never seen in Britain.