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Knowing your place in football’s pecking order

After the transfer of wonderkid John Bostock to Spurs, spiked’s resident Crystal Palace ‘sufferer’ has to face facts.

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

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Crystal Palace don’t do trophies. Not proper ones at any rate. Winning the Zenith Data Systems Cup in 1991 is all we have to show for 107 years of history. But, if there was a prize for generating column inches for off-the-pitch action, then Palace would be real title contenders.

If it’s not a managerial sacking – we’ve had 11 managers in the last 10 years – then it’s the latest memorable rant by our colourful (ie, orange) chairman, Simon Jordan. Last week he was raging, with some justification, about being ‘mugged and brutalised’ after a Football League tribunal had awarded a paltry compensation fee for 16-year-old wonderkid John Bostock. And if Jordan isn’t railing against the football establishment, he’s a) dating a D-list celeb, b) in court suing a girlfriend-turned-stalker, c) appearing on the reality TV show Dragons’ Den, or d) announcing that the club is up for sale.

This week he went for the last option, claiming that he was disillusioned with football and is planning to sell up (again). Colonel Gaddafi was once rumoured to be interested in buying Palace. As larger-than-life chairmen go, Jordan’s a difficult act to follow, but I think Gaddafi could carry it off.

When Jordan isn’t in the news, his players step up to the plate. Last week, Ashley-Paul Robinson, an 18-year-old academy product, hit the headlines after he inadvertently scooped his own transfer story on the social networking site Facebook: ‘Ashley-Paul is goin fulham on monday. If i pull dis off im on dis ting’, he wrote. The next day he added: ‘Ashley-Paul is travling 2 Bath With Fulham Fingers Crossed.’ (It’s urban text speak. Get a yoof to translate). Unfortunately for Ashley-Paul, the message could be viewed by the 2.7million members of the London network and not just his 198 Facebook friends. (And before you ask, yes, it’s a lot of friends for an 18-year-old, but the Facebook definition of friendship is rather loose).

When the player realised his mistake he posted a new message, saying: ‘Ashley-Paul has been very naughty lol!’ But his employer wasn’t LOL. ‘It’s pretty embarrassing for the club that this guy is telling the world he’s looking to leave the club’, said a Palace source. ‘Perhaps someone should tell him to be a bit more private about what he’s putting on the internet.’ His manager Neil Warnock was somewhat more blunt. ‘We feel it’s probably better that he looks elsewhere to further his career’, he said.

As a Palace sufferer (I think that’s the correct terminology), my inevitable dismay that the cream of our youth academy wanted out was at least tempered by the knowledge that the club was at the cutting edge of something. This is possibly the first case of a transfer rumour originating from a social networking site. I’d prefer trophies but, hey, beggars can’t be choosers.

There was a mixed reaction among Palace fans on the cpfc.org message board (aka the BBS) to Robinson’s Facebook faux pas. Some fans were angered by his brazen treachery. ‘Why talented youngsters would want to leave Palace at the moment when they know they will get first team opportunities to perform is beyond me’, said Mr Palace. Others were less concerned about his departure. ‘Not that bothered. Always felt he was the weakest out of the Academy grads to have come through last few seasons’, said chav-hater. ‘A couple of sub appearances and he thinks he is Lionel Messi. See ya Ash!’ concurred SJ’sLoveMonkey.

Some remarked on the extra weight he seemed to be carrying. ‘At least Tomas Brolin proved something before he got fat’, remarked Crunchie. Bradpitt thought that he must have been attracted to Fulham by the ‘lure of all those free Harrods hampers’. Others were more concerned about his poor grammar. ‘Can anyone translate that quote? I’m over the age of 12 so it makes no sense’, said Reps AJ. ‘Can the youth academy please hire a English tutor?’ quipped brooklynlou (oblivious to the irony that he should have used the indefinite article ‘an’).

While fans have reacted to Robinson’s departure with a mixture of derision and amusement, there has been genuine anger over the transfer of teenage prodigy John Bostock to Spurs. The central midfielder was one of the brightest stars to emerge from the Palace youth system. He made his first-team debut at the age of 15 and has captained the England Under-17s. He was also a lifelong Palace fan (not a long life, I admit, but you’d have thought it might count for something). At the time of writing, the ‘John Bostock to Spurs thread’ on the BBS had attracted 231,515 viewings and 4,342 posts.

Some fans don’t blame Bostock himself but feel that he was badly advised and would have been better off gaining first-team experience at Palace. They point to the experience of Wayne Routledge, another Palace youth team starlet, who went to Spurs in 2005 but, after loan spells at Fulham and Portsmouth, managed just five first-team appearances in three years, before finally being shipped out to Aston Villa. Jordan was characteristically sympathetic: ‘When Spurs came knocking I told Wayne to stay and learn his trade at Palace, but he went, he grabbed the money, and now he’s at Villa not getting in the first team, just like he didn’t get in the Spurs team, just like he didn’t get in the Portsmouth team and just like he didn’t get in the Fulham team.’

Other fans see this as a cut-and-dried case of treason. Some disgruntled supporters found Bostock’s Bebo page and posted abusive messages on it. ‘I think its awful to do what you have done! palace made you what you are and for you to treat them like this is disgusting! money obsessed tosser!!’ said one angry fan. ‘Hope you rot in the reserves. Palace fan my ass!’, said another.

Simon Jordan was more measured, blaming the tribunal system rather than the player. Jordan isn’t the best-loved chairman in English football but his angry reaction to the Bostock tribunal settlement has struck a chord with those who feel that money talks too much in English football. ‘What this does is send out a message that academies and youth development policies are not worth investing in because perceived bigger clubs can come along at any time and do what the hell they like’, thundered Jordan.

Now I’m as disappointed as the next man that the club’s been paid a pittance for one of its brightest young prospects. But wasn’t football ever thus? The bigger clubs have always bought talented youngsters, often on the cheap, from the smaller clubs. And, whisper it, Palace have done exactly the same, poaching talent from smaller clubs or else picking up players who’ve been developed by bigger clubs. It works both ways. The galling thing about the Bostock saga is not that the world is unfair. We already knew that. What hurt most was that it emphasised our position in football’s pecking order, namely, we are not a big club and therefore our most talented players will eventually leave. The only way that will change is if Simon Jordan does manage to find a Croydon-loving oligarch to sell to. And while we’re on the subject, didn’t I read that the Bin Laden family was looking to buy a football club?

Duleep Allirajah is spiked‘s sports columnist.

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