Against modern football? What does Josh Harris’s takeover of Crystal Palace mean?

A new takeover of Palace by American businessman Josh Harris is reportedly close to completion. But is it good or bad news? Patrick Stevens, from Palace’s FiveYear Plan fanzine, gives his thoughts…

selhurst parkWell, after all the debate, now might be the time we really find out. So what’s at stake, and what might be in store?

Firstly, we all know now that modern football is a business: huge foreign investors, vast sums from Sky TV and now BT Sport, and sponsorship deals that sound like telephone numbers mean that the top premier league clubs have riches beyond the dreams of avarice. Footballers are the new Hollywood (or at least the new ‘Made in Essex’) with the money to either burn (literally apparently if you are Jonathan Woodgate) or to become international philanthropists; like Craig Bellamy would you believe in Sierra Leone or Yannick paying for two fans to get into West Brom away. Journeymen foreign players come and go, while few English players make the top level; managers are sacked within weeks if there isn’t instant success and fans are charged an arm and a leg to go and watch two perennial mid table survivors… Oh and Sky TV shows Man Utd every week.

And what has it brought us?
Well yes, it has brought us modern stadiums with easy access and super new facilities (oh how the Palace fans looked in awe and wonder at the clean toilets at the Hawthorns on Saturday), and it has brought us some of the better players in the world who can produce football at a level we could not have imagined twenty years ago (and if you watch Man City, their world class players sometimes even play their best for 20 minutes at a time!…though of course that only happens once a month), and we’ve even got spray on foam at free kicks. But at what cost?

We now have a Premier League that, despite constantly being hyped as the best in the world, is probably the least competitive football league in the West. For some years now it has been a two horse race – after Arsenal stutter and fall away in March. Last year Liverpool confused everyone, and actually made a go of it (until one night in Crystanbul). But even that was a flash in the pan, and their best player has left for a bite of success in Spain, as they settle back into 6th. Two teams out of twenty with a possible chance is half as competitive as the much derided Scottish league when Rangers and Celtic had their private battles. And how sustainable is that? This year it seems that the competition could be over by Xmas.

And what does that mean for the rest of us? Well in the premier league it means that from about 6th down we are all in a relegation battle. Some more exciting than for others but in truth survival is the aim, and relegation the genuine focus of most of us for much of the time; just ask Swansea last season. That’s fine at the start but who really wants to be Stoke? And as for success…. Well somehow scrape in to 6th Or reach the absolute summit and manage to beat Bradford at Wembley, and the Europa League will seriously threaten your very survival ; again, just ask Swansea! Give enough Europa, you might just hang yourself.

Add to that Sterile all seater stadiums where Arsenal is famously known as a library (where you can study the statistical reason why you are in fact the best team in the world despite never winning anything) or, God forbid, Chelsea where they hire professional flag wavers. Still, at least no one has yet sunk as low as having plastic clappers in the play offs ….

Crystal-Palace-Tottenham-Fans-Crystal-Palace_full_diapos_largeAnd then there’s Palace.
Palace, wonderful Palace. With our flirtation with the lower leagues, our two administrations in ten years; our being bought by fans. With our creaking Selhurst park (and its new gates) and our home grown Holmesdale fanatics who changed us into the most vibrant, lively set of fans respected the land over. With our team spirit, where players like Mile Jedinak and the universally adored Jules give us everything they have and make us feel part of something real. And we love it. We LOVE it.

And then somehow, against all the odds, we get up into the monied elite and then even more amazingly we stay there. We become the nation’s favourite other team (at least until we appointed Neil) and we are loving it even more (well most of us). In many ways, we are the perfect example of what you can be if you are true to your roots and build a sustainable old fashioned club. Perhaps Swansea might argue with that, and in fairness Everton, but we are new kids on the block and we are tearing it up.

And in the world as it is, that is all most can dream of…….till now

Suddenly, out of nowhere, we are the subject of a bid from a US Billionaire. Someone who can do that thing everyone talks about, but no one really defines, and ‘take us to the next level’. But at what price?

On the way home from the Chelsea game recently I had a very polite conversation about the HF poster and how Chelsea had been built on money of questionable parentage. Those fans said I was just jealous. I assured them I was not, and that if you asked a palace fan 95% would choose to stay with CPFC 2010 rather than become Chelski. And I meant it. But was I right? Well we maybe about to find out

Personally, I don’t think life at Palace could be very much better. Yes, I would love a European trip; my god I would love to win the FA Cup; though I have to admit I’ve never really believed we would win the title (save for one moment in 1980 when Dave Swindlehurst scored the 4th goal v Ipswich to take us top) but what am I prepared to give up to achieve that.

From where we stand now I would have to say ; Not very much. There is a wonderful saying ‘Be careful what you wish for’ and it is something I truly believe. What does it mean? Well how about Cardiff and Vincent Tan’s millions getting them promoted at last? Pompey’s all-stars winning the FA cup? Blackpool’s glorious year in the Premier? Did they bring longer term happiness? Even Chelsea’s never ending success. I know more Chelsea fans that look back on the 70’s as the glory years rather than boast of ten years at the top bankrolled by Roman. And does anyone know a happy Arsenal fan?

And what can we realistically achieve through being bought out – either we become Man City, maybe a Spurs or God Forbid a Newcastle. And where does this money come from? And how long is the vast expenditure justified in a world wracked with poverty and a country in austerity?

crystal palace holmesdale fanaticsAnd anyway, why do it? Surely we already have it all; a genuine club, with genuine fans, and genuine owners plus a decent team who compete in almost every game. That, my friends, is football Nirvana. And let’s not forget it as the dollar bills begin to rain down.

But nothing lasts forever, time and tide wait for no man, and nothing beats a cliché in football. So, football is a business, and we are a product. Our reality is that CPFC 2010 always said they were reluctant custodians (less reluctant by the day I suspect) and will sell sometime. So perhaps the best we can hope for is that they sell to the right man.

We can never know what the future holds, but all reports of the interested party is he is more Richard Branson than Roman Abrahmovic. We are told he builds on the clubs innate strengths and puts the fans first. We also hear he trusts those who know to run the business – he is the money man. And I, for one, trust CPFC 2010. Maybe this is the best we could hope for.

Perhaps, just perhaps, if this deal goes through and he is all his US clubs say he is, and he leaves Steve Parish and the gang as managing directors, then we can keep what we have and more. And who knows, maybe we can become Crystal Palace – not only the best club in the land, with the best fans, the best owners, but also Crystal Palace with a tiny bit of silverware to sit alongside the ZDS cup.

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