Likelihood is that Premiership newcomers Crystal Palace will be heading back to the Football League come May. Matthew Barker explains why a power struggle at Selhurst Park isn't going to help
Simon Jordan can be a difficult man to like, but equally one can easily feel rather sorry for him. This, after all, is the man who arrived at Selhurst Park in 2000, sorted through the rubble of the Mark Goldberg era and pulled the club through one of their darkest hours. A seemingly bright young thing, he spent money – lots of it (most estimates home in at around the £30 million mark) – and brought a new zippy business sense to a place that had barely survived the previous two years of calamitous mismanagement and misjudged transfer dealings.
Palace supporters’ attitudes towards their chairman have since become rather more mixed; most, if not all, fully appreciate that he effectively saved the club, but plenty too have quickly tired of his increasingly grumpy outbursts and fondness for garish double-breasted jackets. Jordan has worked his way through seven managerial changes in four years and, for all the buzzword-heavy talk of roadmaps and blueprints, he’s struggled to find any real stability at a club that has been crying out for it. Now, with Iain Dowie apparently happy to stick around and the remnants of post-Cardiff euphoria lingering, despite the season’s wretched start, the mobile-phone magnate has made it known that he’s looking for a way out.
Jordan announced in June to the Sunday Mirror, in a typically affected soundbite, that his time at Palace had been “difficult, disillusioning and disingenuous”. The subsequent news that one prospective buyer was none other than Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya was always going to get tabloid pulses racing, though perhaps just as bizarre was the revelation that Jordan employs Max Clifford as his “press advisor”. The whole (non) story smacked of a Clifford ruse; it transpired the PR has close links with the Libyan FA and with Gaddafi himself. If the point of all this spin was to bring a bit of pre-season buzz in the absence of any decent signings, it worked a treat, but as a way of talking up the club’s potential to any interested parties it’s all fallen rather flat. Indeed, since the affair first became front-page news, there has been no sign of anyone else coming forward with any sort of offer.
The problem is, even if Gaddafi did fancy pitching up at Norwood Junction, he would still face the fearsome prospect of having to deal with Ron Noades. Noades’ Altonwood company actually owns the Selhurst Park ground (a legacy of his £23m deal with Goldberg in 1998) and thus any potential sale has to go through him. Jordan has been at bitter loggerheads with his landlord over payments on a ten-year lease (with six years still to run); Noades claiming he’s owed money, Jordan insisting that in fact he has overpaid.
The ex-Brentford chairman was quick to toss his hat into the ring when news of Jordan’s plans first broke, enthusiastically telling the local press of a dream-team partnership with Ken Bates. Frightening as the idea of that particular deadly duo might be, it does suggest Noades might actually be short of money and not in a position to go it alone. With Bates staying mercifully shtum on the subject, the plot remains unhatched, but Noades hasn’t gone away. The current rumour doing the rounds on the message boards is that his son is now in the frame to mount a takeover bid; a situation that, so the theory goes, will allow Jordan to do business with Noades without losing any face.
Jordan has been keen on a return for the club to its historic home, the Crystal Palace Park, some distance up the hill from their Selhurst base of the past 80 years. Under the proposals revealed earlier this year, Palace would become tenants of a revamped National Sports Centre, enjoying modern training facilities and improved transport links, courtesy of an East London Line tube extension and tramline link into the area, while the London Development Agency is keen to get a decent name on board to secure funding for the project.
Years of ground-sharing have left most fans feeling a little ambivalent towards their current home and the idea of returning to the area from where the club takes its name might well appeal as Palace enter their centenary year. It would certainly solve Jordan’s Noades headache but, if he really isn’t enjoying himself anymore, now might be a good time to go. History would be kind to him, as the man who took the club from the edge of extinction back to the Premiership within four years. Conscious of the need to be seen to leave the club in a healthy state, Jordan has insisted he won’t take back the money he has invested and will only sell to a trustworthy, ambitious buyer. But, as he readily admits, “people aren’t exactly breaking down the door”.
Even if Palace don’t end up relegated before the next transfer window, it looks like Jordan may well have to stick around for a while yet.
From WSC 213 November 2004. What was happening this month