'Palace fans should be dreaming about winning trophies, not of carefully balanced budgets.'

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

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There was a moment during the episode of the BBC2 fly-on-the-wall series Trouble at the Top at the end of March 2001 when I felt as if I was watching Fawlty Towers.

The programme featured Mark Goldberg, the erstwhile chairman of Crystal Palace Football Club, who is now attempting a comeback with a TV channel for job seekers. However, in true Basil Fawlty-style, Goldberg’s latest venture was beset by a series of mishaps which were painfully embarrassing to watch. The channel’s website never worked during presentations, nobody remembered to bring the promotional video to the public launch, the marketing team was unable to drum up any custom, and finally, Goldberg himself was reduced to standing in the streets handing out flyers.

On the evidence of the programme you might well ask how he made any money in the first place. Goldberg is something of a chancer who was in the right place at the right time when he made a mint from the mid-1990s IT boom. But his luck ran out from the moment he paid £22.8million in 1997 to buy Crystal Palace from Ron Noades, who was evidently sick of fans chanting that his mother is a whore (an allegation which, I should point out, has no basis in fact).

Goldberg’s brief but disastrous reign is well documented. Eight months after becoming chairman the club was in administration and Goldberg was heading for the bankruptcy courts. He had transformed Palace from a ‘yo-yo club’- alternating between the Premiership and the First Division – into an ‘oh-no’ club, struggling to avoid relegation to the Second Division and facing financial extinction.

And the moral of this story? You might conclude, as is the fashion these days, that Mark Goldberg was undone by his unrealistic ambition to turn Crystal Palace into a European power within five years. You might also point to the experience of Blackburn Rovers, who were relegated despite Jack Walker’s millions, as proof that money cannot guarantee you a seat at football’s top table. A 1999 report by Leeds University Business School praised Wimbledon for being the most ‘efficient’ club in England because, rather than try to buy success, they have been ‘consistently producing home-grown players or spotting talent in the lower leagues’ (1).

Some Palace fans, like comedian Kevin Day, have started to express nostalgia for Ron Noades: ‘When Ron Noades was around he refused to manage the club in any way other than prudently. We all wanted him out because we wanted the quick fix that Goldberg promised. After Goldberg, obviously now we’re all very suspicious of the quick fix and ironically – hypocritically even – wouldn’t mind a bit of financial realism’ (2).

But when has football ever been about financial prudence and efficiency? I don’t hear Wimbledon fans singing ‘We’re by far the most efficient team the world has ever seen’ (mind you, there’s so few of them it’s hard to hear them at all). Palace fans should not settle for a frugal existence in the lower divisions punctuated by the occasional cup run. We should be dreaming about winning trophies, not of carefully balanced budgets. Whatever else you might criticise Goldberg for, he should not be pilloried for his ambition.
(1) Football’s frugal champs, Observer, 8 August 1999
(2) Crystal Palace – the soap opera, Guardian, 13 May 2000

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Topics Politics


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