As Crystal Palace enter what are quite possibly the two most important games in the clubs history, questions must be asked as to what has gone wrong and why a team that was in the Premiership just five years ago, is now facing the possibility of liquidation.
Like all business meltdowns there are always fundamental errors made along the way, and a football club is no different. In Palace’s case, the day that Mark Goldberg bought the club without the Selhurst Park stadium in March 1998, should have been the day that every punter in the land put a bet on the South London club going into administration, it was just never going to be. Why? Because for a club of Crystal Palace’s size the stadium provides up to 80% of the revenue, but more importantly in this case it would have been the only asset worth anything because Goldberg in effect paid a wrapping £23million for little more than a brand name and a few over aged journeymen players, and then went on a reckless spending spree allowing Terry Venables to pay over the odds transfer fees and wages. (Does this sound familiar to anyone at Pompey) Eagles were inevitably put into administration just a year after Goldberg took over. Palace, however, managed to stay alive and get out of administration through the genius of Steve Coppell somehow getting a group of boys to play like men, and keeping them in what was then the First Division.
After this former Crystal Palace season ticket holder Simon Jordan bought the club for £10 million, once again without the ground. Jordan’s reputation amongst Palace fans somewhat resembles his latest haircut, parted through the middle. Some see him as one of them, a Croydon boy come good who is ideal to run their beloved football club, and others see him as someone who got what he deserved when the club went into administration. Whatever your opinion is of the man two things are absolutely certain about Simon Jordan, one is that he is a Palace fan to the core and the other is that he made some terrible blunders during his time as chairman that ultimately led to the club’s demise.
From the moment he walked in the door Simon Jordan always backed his managers with money. The funds for Ade Akinbiyi, Shefki Kuqi, Leon Cort, Fitz Hall, Clinton Morrison and Julian Speroni all came out of his back pocket in the pursuit of Premiership football. However, Jordan’s faith in his managers has ultimately contributed to the downfall of the club he so dearly loves. For instead of spending millions on misfiring strikers and overrated centre backs, Jordan should have been content with seeing his club struggle in the lower echelons of the first division for a period of time, whilst he amassed the funds to buy back Selhurst Park once and for all.
The lessons of how to take a club forward can be witnessed at all medium sized clubs, just look at Bolton. They have all been able to create a community club and with it seen their crowds soar. Just a few years ago any of these clubs would be looking with envy at the size of Palace’s crowds, now they are an example of what Palace would love to be. However,Jordan ultimately lacked the presence of mind and was forced to watch crowds dwindle as he charged the fans extortionate ticket prices for boring football in his desperation to squeeze what he could out of a stadium that he didn’t own.
The brutal truth is that without the ground you are simply cannot progress for many reasons. With this distinct lack of income it is impossible to make progress on the pitch whilst also balancing the books. You are at the mercy of the landlord, so why would anyone make major ground improvements if they don’t own the ground and could be evicted when the lease is up? Bearing this in mind, why would you implement a cheap pricing policy when you have to give an increasing percentage away to the landlord? The questions just keep coming and none of them provide a satisfactory solution. On top of all this the problems for Palace have been compounded by the fact that the club’s landlord has for a long period been former Chairman Ron Noades, someone who Jordan could not seem to do business with.
In fairness to Simon Jordan he did try to overcome this by announcing that he had reunited the club with the ground, but this turned out to be false when the company he hid behind whilst he did the deal, charged an even more expensive amount of rent in turn making the club even more unviable. They too have gone into administration.
On January 30th 2010 Crystal Palace completed the full circle as they once again fell into administration with debts of £30 million, no ground and an extremely uncertain future.
However, as grim as things look all is not lost. Crystal Palace have a consortium of wealthy fans under the name of CPFC 2010 who are willing to bail the club out should no other bidder come along, (which is looking increasingly likely)under the condition that they can also acquire the stadium.
Palace also have an extremely loyal fan base which has been exemplified by the activities of the Supporters Trust in recent months who have been working out a way to buy the stadium with CPFC 2010 using loan notes, should the consortium fail to come to an agreement with Lloyds Bank to buy it out right. On top of this, staying up in the Championship is now in their own hands following a strong fun of form under the calm influence of Paul Hart.
Should the club be saved and should Selhurst Park be kept, the new owners of Crystal Palace need to take a long hard look at what has gone wrong over the past ten years and then take steps to ensure that it never happens again.
The clubs new owners simply have to look at the club through a rational business like point of view, rather through the eyes of a fan. Crystal Palace have now had two owners in succession who have had their judgment impaired through their love of the club and this trend must stop if Crystal Palace are to ever be a stable club.
This would entail ensuring that the stadium always remains intertwined with the club, and that an intelligent manager is appointed who the board are prepared to support, but only on the basis that the future of the club is completely secure.
This may sound like a simple solution, and it is. However after all the trials and tribulations that Palace fans have been through in recent months they don’t want anything complicated and they aren’t asking for much, they just want a team to watch at Selhurst Park on a Saturday afternoon.
Written By Kieran Lovelock