Just say Noades

Not only has he insulted Crystal Palace's foreign players, but Ron Noades has made some odd decisions about how to run his club. Tim Crabbe hopes the outspoken chairman can turn things around

I’m on holiday, trying to avoid news of further embarrassments for Crystal Palace. But even three thousand feet up the Alps there are rumours circulating that Palace’s would-be chairman Mark Goldberg has been seen with Terry Venables and Paul Gascoigne. A television report on the story includes clips of Ian Wright, John Barnes and, God forbid, David Platt. Later news from the home front includes a 6-2 thrashing at Chelsea, the appointment of Attilio Lombardo as manager and growing rumours that this former employers Juventus are to take a 10 per cent stake in the club. The fact that we now have an Italian speaking manager with a Swedish translator might give Rodney Marsh and George Best something to joke about on Sky but it doesn’t bother me. Here’s why.

Ron Noades’ 18-year relationship with Palace fans has mirrored the instability of the club’s League position. He may have stepped in when the club were changing managers with the regularity of Man City but he was never ‘one of us’, and has not been forgiven by fans for the disastrous appointment of Alan Mullery as manager and showing such a lack of ambition after promotion in 1989. The following year Palace got to the Cup Final, then finished third in the championship in 1991. Leeds, who had finished one place below Palace, invested shrewdly in new players and went on to the win the League, while Noades did his best to undermine the loyalty of the black players who had carried Palace to their highest-ever League position by remarks on a Channel Four documentary about race and football. It was no surprise when Ian Wright packed his bags for Arsenal and the drift back towards relegation set in.

Since then it is almost as if our chairman’s strategy has been to get us back up into the Premiership then wait for the phone call from an entrepreneur prepared to invest millions and provide Noades with a nice nest egg. That possibility finally emerged last summer when attention began to focus on Mark Goldberg, a multi-millionaire who seemed less interested in talking about ticket prices and merchandising than about Selhurst Park’s halcyon days of the Seventies. Everything he had to say seemed to confirm that Goldberg was first and foremost a Palace fan, an impression further enhanced when it became clear that he was bankrolling the signing of Lombardo, Padovano and others (given Ron Noades’ attitude towards foreign players there was no question of such moves being financed from gate receipts).

Goldberg is very rich, annoyingly so for someone in their mid-thirties, having made a fortune through a series of enterprises including a 1980s yuppie recruitment business and the stock market flotation of his company MSB International. No one seems to know exactly how much he is worth, however, and stories soon began to emerge of World Cup ticket scams and company failures. Noades too seemed to be trying to play down the young pretenders’ ability to finance a takeover. The waters began to muddy further with the announcement that, having established business relations during the Lombardo transfer, Goldberg was now in negotiations with Juventus about a formal tie-up.

Juventus were to provide 10 per cent of the £30 million needed to buy Palace, plus the loan of young squad players, in exchange for access to Palace’s connections within the sports merchandise market. The link-up would also allow the partners to work together on the flotation of Palace on the Stock Exchange, an idea currently attracting a great deal of interest among Italian clubs. The fact that these proposals were later denied by Juventus seems to have stemmed from Italian regulations that forbid one club from holding a stake in another. A quickly re-worded press statement pointed out that under the proposals Juventus would be providing “technical assistance”, the fees for which would be reinvested in Palace.

This highlighted another of the fans’ concerns about Goldberg, that he can’t help shooting his mouth off. The flurry of excitement over the possibility of Venables’s return has been offset by a series of postponements and public statements being withdrawn. It looks to some as though Venables will only come if he doesn’t get any better offers. Still, the current silence from both camps, Steve Coppell’s willingness to take on a new role and Lombardo’s temporary appointment suggest that the door if being held open for a big announcement in the summer.

Goldberg’s move from backstage director and financier to front page ‘Club Czar’ has generated only scepticism in the media, with particularly withering scorn lavished on the link with Venables. Behind the sniping you can sense a feeling that Palace are not behaving in a way that befits their place in the natural order of things. A club yo-yoing between the divisions shouldn’t show this sort of ambition, in the same way that a supposedly ‘big’ club like Spurs are demeaning themselves by entrusting team affairs to an unknown coach from Switzerland.

You wouldn’t want Venables anywhere near the boardroom, but the DTI have taken care of that by barring him from becoming a company director. Venables would get the time at to build a team at Palace without the pressure that would come with managing one of the ‘big’ clubs and, perhaps most importantly for a man still facing debts and law suits, a salary package designed by a recruitment specialist rather than a second-hand car salesman. As Goldberg explained to the Croydon Advertiser “My aim is to provide hope and show that we have some ambition.” Maybe it is all pie in the sky but I’m sick of the yo-yo syndrome and would welcome a change even if it runs the risk of replicating some of Goldberg’s other business deals, with spectacular initial success followed by meltdown.

Palace were not going to break the promotion-relegation cycle without getting rid of Ron Noades, replacing him was never going to be straightforward. The question remains why Noades created the crisis by insisting that Goldberg demonstrate that he could complete the takeover midway through the season. The cynical might suggest that he was confident that the club was set for a return to the First Division in May, thus wiping the odd £10 million off its market value…

From WSC 135 May 1998. What was happening this month