Seasonal greetings

Andrew Scowcroft explains why he's no longer willing to help service his club's debts as much as ten months in advance

During Crystal Palace’s 4-1 win over Blackpool, my friend Chris and I had the break-up conversation, the one in which I said: “I’m not renewing my season ticket.” Although October 3 seems ridiculously early to bring it up, it was the date that Crystal Palace published their season ticket brochure for 2010-11.

The marketing department has developed the same affliction as supermarkets. If the Christmas displays go up before the season ticket prices, heads will roll. If I feel so inclined I can buy a season ticket up to the end of the 2014-15 season. However I don’t, which probably isn’t great news for the players whose wages were delayed as a result of the club’s cashflow crisis.

In 2006, I renewed my season ticket on the back of one of Palace’s best displays in recent years. Ben Watson tore through Norwich showing a range of passing beyond his years in a 4-1 win. The next week I felt cheated by a turgid display at home to Leeds. So the win over Blackpool has not led me to reach for my debit card. Nothing about the win was exceptional. Blackpool’s defence gifted us goals, the slip to allow Alan Lee a free header for the first being the funniest, as most Palace fans assumed that even free headers were a skill too far for him.

It is, of course, an overactive imagination that leads me to suppose that Simon Jordan might offer incentives to the players linked to ticket deadlines, especially as paying the team at all is proving to be a problem.

October was far too soon for me to undertake a financial commitment for the following August, especially when the memory of the 2008-09 season is still seared on my brain. It was a season in which Palace failed to score in nine home games, drawing six of them. There were 26 goals at home but 13 were scored in just four games. Although currently close to the play-off places, after the first ten home games of this season the team has scored 15 goals with ten coming in just three games.

The price of the ticket is due to rise steadily throughout the season. This rewards the committed, the economically confident and the financially risky. The steady decline in average attendances over the last four seasons, from a post-Premier League high of 19,457 to 15,220 last year, suggest there aren’t many of those.

When news of November’s unpaid wages broke, attempts were made to revive the spirit of the period in administration in 1999-2000. A campaign started on internet forums to drive up attendance for the pre-Christmas home games. The chairman tried to rouse fans by telling us that an extra 10,000 on the weekly attendance would solve the problem, making it the fault of those who do not turn up. However, diplomacy like this ignores the fact that Palace have averaged over 20,000 in a season only nine times. All bar two of those seasons were in the top flight. It is going to take something more than rhetoric from Jordan and the regulars on chat rooms to improve attendances on a weekly basis. As it was, 13,895 came to the Doncaster game, around 900 under the average for the season so far.

The date by which season tickets must be bought in order to get the best price seems to get earlier each season, coinciding with the increased reports of financial troubles. The constant creeping makes me reluctant to invest further in what looks like an increasingly unsound business. The overall impression is of a club that is simply looking for ways of surviving. Palace fans like to laugh at away supporters that pay our high prices but we’ve never done enough to question where that money goes. Or whether the money we pay is being invested in the club or used to service its huge debts.

So unfortunately it looks as though another crop of talented youngsters will end up on the fringes of the smaller Premier League teams because the club is unable to sustain a strong first team to play in. News that December’s wages were delayed only increased fears that Palace would start 2010, as they did 2000, in administration. Fans will argue that this is exactly the time I should be supporting the club but I disagree. I’ve realised that my relationship with football has changed. Thanks to the vast sums invested and owed by clubs in recent years, I am distanced from it. I fear that it no longer matters who is running the club, my money will be speculated with in order to chase an unsustainable dream.

Mind you, the last time I didn’t renew, I snapped up the half-season tickets so cleverly marketed by the club around the turn of the year. I wouldn’t even be surprised if the financial crisis is the desperate invention of the marketing department to increase renewals. Perhaps that’s why the club keeps writing to let me know it has extended the first deadline, exclusively for me.

From WSC 276 February 2010