Let me start by asking you two short, simple questions that should make you immediately recoil in horror in disgust. Would you like to be a Birmingham City fan? Or maybe Portsmouth might be preferable?

Give yourself a few minutes before reading on. Wipe up the vomit, settle the heart rate, relax. I shall now elaborate.

You see, this week Twitter has been alive with a great deal of chatter about Arsenal’s latest AGM. Arsène Wenger made a rather controversial comment that effectively popped all of the foaming-at-the-mouth frustrations of yer typical Gooner into one neat little capsule when he said that qualifying for the Champions League was like winning a trophy.

In that respect he’s quite the expert at winning trophies then. Phantom trophies, perhaps. Trophies that require no polish, no shelf to put them on, but trophies all the same.

It’s a topic that has become readily associated with Arsenal in recent years. Is it more important to reach the Champions League than it is to win some silverware? Indeed it seems to be a topic that divides many football fans. The arguments are clear and obvious; reaching the Champions League has so many benefits in terms of profile, finance and ability to attract new players whilst, as a fan, there can surely be no better feeling than seeing your team lift a trophy. I say ‘surely’ because, well, I’m assuming that it feels great.

What angry Gooners often seem to ignore when grumbling about Wenger, is that he’s single-handedly paid off huge chunks of that stadium debt every year by turning a profit in the transfer market. Perhaps he’s had no choice but to do so. Regardless, his record of combining profit with unbroken top 4 positions is unique in English football. It is a spectacular achievement and one that must bring huge satisfaction to his paymasters in the Emirates boardroom, despite the lack of a trophy for seven years.

Yet this issue crystallises the different ways in which club owners and club fans view football nowadays. Obviously that difference has always boiled down to money v glory but in the past those two things tended to go hand in hand.

In the mind of Arsène Wenger that continues to be the case – the glory of hitting the top 4 season after season should be celebrated like a trophy. Financially it means infinitely more to the club than a dozen League Cups. Yet clearly the fans see it differently. Perhaps not all fans, but enough to make any edition of 6-0-6 unlistenable after any Arsenal defeat.

So how does this reflect upon Newcastle? It scarcely needs to be pointed out that we haven’t won a major trophy in a long, long time. Yet as a club we are probably in as healthy a financial position as we’ve been for a long time and finishing 5th last season felt fantastic.

We’ve got some cracking players at the club and things generally feel good. But where is it all headed? Is it enough to be ‘healthy’? We had Brugge in town last night and the steady build up of atmosphere in the city on a European night is always a great feeling. But is that enough in itself? Healthy finances, good players, regular top 6 finishes in the league, regular European football – are they the kind of ambitions we should be having?

After a match recently, a few of us were engaged in a debate about whether we’d swap with either Birmingham or Portsmouth. Obviously both clubs are struggling away in the league just now but there’s no escaping the fact that both clubs have won a major trophy in the last five years.

It goes without saying that I wouldn’t wish the absolute hell that Portsmouth have been through lately on any football fan, nor would I wish any kind of affiliation with Birmingham City on any football fan either. But it’s a question that does bear some thought – would you swap?

Would you swap the last ten years of Newcastle’s history for that of Portsmouth? Would you exchange (mostly!) top flight football and relative stability for that one gigantic Wembley moment?

It’s not as straightforward a decision as it might first seem!

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  • Pat

    As a Portsmouth fan, I can say that while our most recent history is, as you said, hell, I, and most other Pompey fans, would not swap our FA Cup glory and EURO run for stability, despite what it has cost us.

  • Appreciate this isn’t the focus of the article but the Portsmouth story is nowhere near as simple as this. We won the FA Cup backed by an owner shovelling in his own money – like most Premier League clubs. When he couldn’t do it any more because of outside difficulties, we sold our top players and repaid the bank £40m and got on top of our football debts.
    Had we had a new owner with £15m to £20m to refinance the club, via an overdraft or whatever, we would have been one of the least indebted clubs in the Premier League at that point. However, what we got were a swarm of asset strippers trying to get back money owed to them by our former owners father in Israel which had nothing to do with us.
    I’ve written some blogs on the subject, which you can find linked here: http://www.newsnow.co.uk/A/606531702?-11209

    Suffice to say though, that our “spending spree” to win the FA Cup was about £60m in transfer fees – something Mike Ashley would regard as chicken feed by comparison with what he has spent at Newcastle. And in terms of those transfer fees, we sold Diarra for £20m, Glen Johnson for £20m, Crouch and Defoe for more than we paid, as with Kranjcar, Distin. So actually, we made a profit on our transfers. Our reported debts of over £100m turned out to be another fiction and in fact the real total was about £60m at most – with virtually all of that being owed to owners – debts we are rightly very sceptical about.

    So the Pompey story isn’t at all that we broke the bank to win the FA Cup. Yes, we spent more than we could afford from the business, but while you’ve got an owner paying the bills is that a problem? If so, we better stop the Premier League to allow more or less every club in it to get off – including Newcastle:-)

    • Paul McIntosh

      Hi Micah, I really hope the article didn’t come across as some sort of criticism of Portsmouth or the way in which the club was run when they won the FA Cup. As you rightly point out, being run at a loss is hardly a new phenomenon in English football! My take on it was purely to contrast between what fans/clubs see as “success”. There’s much to be happy about at Newcastle right now, many positives and a fair bit of optimism but Portsmouth stand as proof that in general a lot of fans would, hypothetically, accept an awful lot of bad times for just one trophy.

      The dream, of course, is to combine trophies with stability and, as we at Newcastle have found out in the last 20 years, no amount of speculating-to-accumulate is any guarantee of silverware. It was really just a hypothetical meander to see whether Newcastle fans would accept suffering what Portsmouth have been through in the last 3-4 years if we could be guaranteed just one trophy!

  • Matt

    Micah, that is a great post, and just shows how ignorant the wider football world is to the farcical situation Portsmouth FC have now found themselves in.

    I have read your blog and hats off to you, that this has now been exposed! Southampton fans apart, every football fan in the country wishes you a speedy return to the Premiership where your loyal and fantastic fans belong!

    Play Up Pompey…

  • Holmsie

    As a Birmingham City fan, I can say that winning at Wembley in 2011 was one of the best moments of many BCFC fans’ lives, including my own. Seeing grown men in tears after a late, late goal from Martins was spine-tingling. Last season’s European run was simply amazing. Watching your team win away in Europe – doesn’t get much better than that. However, if we were to drop as low as Pompey (no disrespect); I would reconsider my answer.

  • David

    Would you swap with Pompey, now? Probrably not but if things go right in 5 or 10 years we might just be the envy of all other clubs with the fans owning the club, no one taking out dividends or charging massive rates of interest on the owners loans, then the answer may be Yes!
    It’s true that those with genuine wealthy benefactors such as Chelsea and Man City are in a different league but which other clubs actually have owners putting money in without charging for it?

  • This is a discussion I have with many people. I know Micah has pointed out our situation isn’t that simple, but we take your discussion topic I would personally say that winning the FA Cup and playing in Europe was the best thing I’ve ever seen. I started as a Pompey fan watching a club struggle in the Championship, really doing nothing, we then were promoted and that felt great. But every fan wants to see more, and having the choice of a major trophy and 10 years of obscurity, or 10th place in the EPL for 10 years I bet as a football fan you’d say the first option. I don’t really speak for anyone in general, that’s just how I feel about it.

    Football as a business is a flawed concept. It has customers that are stuck to a club that has a monopoly power over them. The clubs then have no controls put on them to protect the customer. The owner can wade in, spend money and walk out allowing themselves to take back that money, just as you would expect in a normal business. However a football club will always have thousands of local working class people paying a months wage to see the club throughout the season (at the top level anyway). That’s where protection is needed, FFP hopefully will bring this, if it’s properly regulated. I very much doubt it will and the fanbase as a whole will be left to pick up the pieces.

    That is where Portsmouth is at right now, we didn’t get the protection, and now we are here spending even more of our hard earnt money picking up the pieces.

  • Bluenosesol

    We can all remeber when Newcastle were wallowing in the nether regions, managed by Jim Smith and watched by gates of around 6000. Can even remember them losing 0-5 at home in the FA Cup :-). Dont think may would have swapped with Newcastle in those days. Come to think of it, they werent exactly lighting fires 2 years ago!

    • getyourfactsright

      I’d like to see where you get a figure of 6000 from mate. Yes Jim Smith eventually took us into the mire but I think you need to check your record books instead of having a ridiculous guess. Maybe you have amnesia as you obviously can’t remember.

  • Tone Army

    You have to be in it to win it!
    Every year Arsenal have the chance to win a european trophy, apply some logic please.

  • jon

    was too young to see us win our last major trophy in ’63 or play in our two European Finals, so waited 44 years to see us win a major trophy at Wembley so wouldn’t swap that in a million years just to stay in the predictable greedy prem.

  • pompeyinoz

    As a Pompey fan living in Sydney I relished the time we had in the EPL. It was the first time I could watch a live Pompey game in 30 years and would be up at 2am most Saturday nights (in oz we get every epl game live). One fo those games was against Newcastle on your turf. We hadn’t beaten you in donkey’s years and within 15 minutes we were 3-0 up and went on to win 4-1. I have great respect for Newcastle fans but it was games like that made the trip well worth while.