A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune (sort of) to be seated a few yards away from Britain’s most famous football fan, who goes by the name of John Portsmouth Football Club Westwood. It was at the Chelsea-Portsmouth game just before Christmas and Westwood was in attendance, as he has been at every Portsmouth match for the last twenty-four years – ringing a bell and leading chants. Westwood’s appearance (see below) is all the more striking, given that he is, by profession, an antiquarian bookseller.
The most popular chant among Pompey fans was – “We’re going bust/Who gives a f…/Super Pompey are staying up”. Unfortunately, only the first part of that statement seems likely to be true. Portsmouth are defnitely going bust. This month they failed to pay their players on time for the third time in a season and were issued with a winding-up order by HM Revenue and Customs. However, it seems unlikely that they will, in fact, ”stay up”. At the moment, they are marooned at the bottom of the Premier League and seem pretty certain to be relegated.
However, I for one hope that Portsmouth manage to turn their fortunes around. Devotion of the Westwood-variety deserves to be rewarded. But – even more important – Portsmouth are a rare example of co-operation between Arab and Jew. The club’s owner, Ali al-Faraj, is a Saudi. (Portsmouth supporters lament that they are owned by a Saudi sheikh who is not as flush as his status would suggest.) Two of the team’s best players – Nadir Belhadj and Hassan Yebda – are Algerians. The team manager, Avram Grant, is an Israeli. And so is the man in the even more critical role of financial adviser – Daniel Azougy – who has been barred from practicing law in Israel itself, after a conviction for fraud. Read more