There are league rules that prevent one person owning two clubs (although as the Peter Johnson case shows, they do not mean much) but there is nothing to stop someone in control of one club from owning another club’s ground. This is the case at Crystal Palace, where the extraordinary terms of their lease with former owner Ron Noades have left him with a significant presence.
At the beginning of last season Palace moved into a new training centre built by Noades at Godstone in Surrey. Brentford now use the same site, so that from his office Noades is able to watch his old club train in the mornings and his new one in the afternoons. Since taking over at Brentford, four Under-21 internationals have moved from Selhurst to Griffin Park, as well as Hermann Hreidarsson, who joined the Bees from Palace for £850,000 in September 1998, and moved on to Wimbledon for £2.5 million a year later.
That was a terrible bit of business for Palace, but not as bad as the conditions still attached to Selhurst Park, for which they pay Noades’s company Altonwood a substantial sum in rent. Altonwood also receives ten per cent of ticket sales (reducing to 7.5 per cent while Wimbledon are also tenants), together with the whole of the licence fee paid by Wimbledon for sharing the ground. Noades also owns the club shop and the company that runs the catering and bar services. The lease forbids Palace from playing home matches anywhere else, and from redeveloping the site in any way. On the other hand, it is the club that has to pay for maintenance – two of the stands may not meet safety standards next season.
Noades has done nothing illegal. In selling out to Mark Goldberg he proved himself to be a canny operator, and has since shown he is not a bad football manager either. All of which would be fair enough, if it weren’t for the fact that the impact on his former club is so oppressive.
While Brentford and Palace have been merrily swapping players, Oldham Athletic are contemplating swapping their ground for a patch of neighbouring greenery. In October the club agreed to sell Boundary Park to a company called Hiretarget, which is 20 per cent owned by the local council. Their scheme is to build a new ground on nearby Clayton Fields and offer the Boundary Park site in exchange to replace existing playing fields.
The deal has an unfortunate precedent, in that Hiretarget also bought, then sold off, the dilapidated Watersheddings ground of the town’s rugby league club. The club (renamed the Oldham Roughyeds, as if things weren’t bad enough) now play at Rochdale’s Spotland ground.
Oldham fans see little gain in a deal which would leave them as tenants rather than owners of the new ground, planned to be no bigger than the current one. It would involve the demolition of a stadium which even the council admits is “a structurally sound and safe ground which will last for years” and which has seen two new stands built during the Nineties thanks to the sale of Earl Barrett, Denis Irwin and others.
The council counters that the swap would remove Athletic’s £2.5 million debt and allow them to earn more revenue through the inevitable corporate facilities at the misleadingly named “Sports Park 2000” – the chances of football being played there next year are nil. Since the announcement of the deal a mysterious buyer for the club has emerged, after previous suitors had failed to reach agreement with the current owners. Fans await the identity of the new bidder with interest.
Potential stadium problems also loom at Swansea City. Swansea rugby union club are now lined up to share the Morfa athletics stadium with City when the mooted £75 million redevelopment goes ahead – current projections see both clubs installed in the 25,000-seat stadium by early 2001. City vice-chairman Neil McClure trusts it will prove to be “an imaginative and creative sports development that will make Swansea the envy of Wales”. City fans, on the other hand, fear their club’s owners, the Silver Shield car windscreen repair company, have a bigger interest in the profits to be generated by the leisure outlets attached to the new-look Morfa than in the loss-making football club. It’s only a wild theory, of course.
From WSC 154 December 1999. What was happening this month