The Eagles look once again certain to plummet straight back to the ground and reality because of the club's finanical burden. Neil Witherow reports
Just as they were a year ago, Crystal Palace FC are a national laughing stock. At the recent game at Port Vale, the Palace away following came out in highly vocal anger against the club’s owner, Mark Goldberg. This marked the first real sign of concerted unrest among the fans, sparked by the rumours that two of the remaining crowd favourites, Craig Moore and Simon Rodger, were about to depart.
The mass exodus from Selhurst is reaching biblical proportions and the fans can no longer understand why when, according to the chairman less than a month ago, there is no financial crisis at the club.
He spoke eloquently of his five-year plan, how he was now fully “hands-on” and would be bringing his business expertise and proven system of man-management into play. He outlined the current financial status of the club, explaining that the picture was nowhere near as bad as the media would have us believe. The official line on Jansen and Lombardo was that Jansen wanted Premiership football and Lombardo wanted to go home. The sales had nothing to do with the financial situation, but the club was clearly in a better position now they were gone.
After acknowledging there would be further departures, he named players who would not be sold, which the team would be built around – including Rodger and Moore.
Little more than a month later, those same fans hear rumours that Moore can no longer be afforded and must be sold to pay wages. Rodger, a free agent at the end of the season, has yet to be offered a new contract and Steve Coppell denies ever having agreed a list of departees. Those brave words of the open meeting seem now to be little more than a fob.
Goldberg has recently taken on a new spin doctor, admitting that the effect of previous PR had been “catastrophic”. His first instruction from the new guru seems to have been to shut up. On the train up to the Potteries, he remained tight-lipped when fans tried to ask him what was going on. Small wonder, therefore, that there was such a negative reaction at the game.
Since then, all manner of rumours have been circulating surrounding the ownership of the club and ground, with our tenants appearing to be instigating much of the gossip. How ironic that after years of Wimbledon fans expressing their low opinion of Selhurst, the club now declares an interest in owning a ground they refused to spend any money in developing, despite indicating they would do so when the initial seven-year deal was signed.
In the midst of this melange of rumours, Coppell and John Cartwright must valiantly try to organise what remains of a squad that was always far too diverse to mount a serious promotion challenge and whose wage bill is far in excess of the amount of talent and application on display. Those who seriously felt Venables was the man for England should take a look at the disparate signings he gathered here. If there was some master vision at work, it was very heavily disguised. Even Coppell admits he does not know yet what our best combination is.
When Coppell was appointed his brief was apparently to keep things ticking over until the end of the season, but that looks increasingly difficult as the tools needed to do that job keep disappearing. A dogfight against relegation is becoming a more likely scenario with only two wins in 17 starts, an away record to match the appalling home run last term and now the added distraction of unrest in the stands.
The demonstration by fans at the game against Barsnley was modest in numbers, but is likely to be only the first manifestation of discontent if Goldberg’s financial credibility continues to melt away, as it has done most recently with the revelation that the club could not pay the staff’s wages for February.
What Palace supporters really want now is no more talk of a five-year plan. We’ll settle for a five-week plan which explains in simple terms precisely how we are going to avoid relegation and remain as the landlords of Selhurst Park.
From WSC 146 April 1999. What was happening this month