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LONDON (Reuters) - A group representing thousands of Portsmouth fans hopes to be in charge of the former English Premier League football club by the end of the year after agreeing to buy it out of administration.
Portsmouth, an estimated 61 million pounds in debt, went into administration in February and were subsequently relegated to the third tier of English football.
The sale of the club to the Pompey Supporters' Trust (PST) remains conditional on it winning legal clearance to buy the club's Fratton Park home after opposition from rival bidder Portpin, the vehicle of Hong Kong businessman and former owner Balram Chainrai.
"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," said Trevor Birch of PKF, who is the club's joint administrator.
Portpin are owed 17 million pounds by the club, secured against the stadium. The PST is believed to have offered around 2.75 million pounds for the ground.
If the deal goes through, it will be an interesting experiment in fan ownership of a well-supported English club.
Supporters' groups across Britain have been pushing for greater involvement in the running of clubs but few have managed to raise the money to match their ambitions.
"We hope to finalise the sale by Christmas and go into 2013 with a fresh start for our great club," said PST Chairman Ashley Brown.
"We thank everyone for their support so far and look forward to many more Pompey fans joining us and being part of history as we create the biggest community-owned club in this country," added Brown.
Some 2,000 Portsmouth fans had pledged two million pounds to help fund the takeover, PST spokesman Colin Farmery said, adding that the Trust would now start to collect the funds and look to other fans to back the deal.
Portpin said it was still interested in buying the club should the PST bid fail for any reason.
"We still believe our bid remains the best offer for the future of Portsmouth Football Club," Portpin said in a statement. "We remain ready to complete the deal in a matter of days, should the Trust be unsuccessful."
Portsmouth were in the Premier League as recently as 2010. They are now 18th in their 24-team division and have a 10-point penalty hanging over them for being in administration. ($1 = 0.6310 British pounds)
Writing by Keith Weir; Editing by Alastair Himmer and Clare Fallon