Offside, 13 November
The crisis at the other Palace.
The Brazilians call it ‘jogo bonito’ – the ‘beautiful game’. But for the soccer-loving folk of Croydon football is anything but beautiful these days. Miserable, mediocre, or mind-numbingly dull would be more appropriate adjectives. Some people I know – good people – have started questioning whether they are wasting their time and money following the Eagles. To be honest, who can blame them?
And to think the season started so well. Three wins on the spin under new manager Steve Kember saw Palace on top of the First Division in August. But then I went on holiday and – is there a causal link here? – by the time I’d returned we’d sunk into mid-table. Eventually, after a dismal run that yielded just one win in 13 games, Kember was given his P45.
Turmoil is something with which we’re intimately acquainted at Selhurst Park. Steve Kember was the fifth manager to serve under chairman Simon Jordan in the past three years. ‘What we want now is a bit of stability’, said former incumbent Alan Smith. Within months Smith was sacked. ‘This club needs stability’, announced Steve Bruce when he took over in May 2001. Five months later Bruce had walked out. ‘Palace’ and ‘crisis’, to paraphrase Frank Sinatra, go together like the proverbial horse and carriage. If you do a Google search on the words ‘palace’ and ‘crisis’ the top results will either be stories on the Royal Family or Crystal Palace FC.
‘I expect us to get out of this miserable division next year’, Simon Jordan declared at the end of last season. Maybe so but, as things stand, the most likely destination is the even-more-miserable Second Division. Steve Kember’s task was not made any easier by the unrealistic expectations of a chairman who demanded a ‘road map to the Premiership’ but provided no money for new players. A road map to peace in the Middle East would have a more realistic goal.
Invariably we’ve had to put up with some gloating from our local rivals. Fair enough, we can take it. However, when we see Millwall chairman Theo Paphitis childishly thumbing his nose at us we just feel sorry for him. ‘Step forward our good friends at Crippled Alice’, chortled Paphitis in his programme notes. Paphitis also referred to Palace as ‘The Beagles’ and our stadium as ‘Smellhurst Park’. Oh please! Are we supposed to be offended by these playground taunts? We might be in a mess but at least we don’t have a chairman with the sense of humour of a seven-year old.
So who will take over the vacant manager’s post? Various failed coaches have been linked with the job. Glen Hoddle’s name has been mentioned. Thankfully, though, the hocus-pocus merchant was frightened off by Simon Jordan’s tyrannical reputation, thus proving that even tyrants have their uses.
Bryan Robson is reportedly interested even though he was expected to become Nigeria’s national coach. ‘The situation with Nigeria is that it is not quite signed, sealed and delivered’, said Robson (which roughly translated means ‘They can’t afford my exorbitant wage demands’). ‘My situation does not stop me from considering other offers’, he added ominously. Simon Jordan has made plenty of mistakes – spunking £2.2million on the goal-avoidant Ade Akinbiyi springs to mind – but surely even he can see that Robson, who spent £80million at Boro with very little to show for it, would be a disaster.
Graham Rix has also thrown his hat in the ring. ‘Palace have the potential to reach the Premiership’, he purred coquettishly. ‘The job would certainly have a lot of attraction for me’ (which roughly translated means: ‘Please give me a job. I’ve been unemployable since making a right pig’s ear of managing Portsmouth’).
Kit Symons, currently caretaker manager, is also a contender and could land a permanent contract if he gets immediate results. Symons is only 32 but has taken inspiration from his friend Chris Coleman who has made an impressive start to his managerial career at Fulham at the tender age of 33. (Blimey, is it just me or are football managers, like coppers, getting younger?)
The bookies’ favourite, however, is Ian Dowie, who is currently in charge of Oldham Athletic. ‘Palace, where I had a happy spell during my playing career, is a huge club’, said Dowie, lying shamelessly. ‘It would be a big job but it’s not for me to comment at this stage’ (which roughly translated means: ‘Yeah baby, come and get me. I’m gagging for it’).
Alan Smith once said that every time Palace were ‘on the verge of good things’ we ‘shoot ourselves in the foot’ and ‘revert to the volatile, slightly spivvy reputation we have sometimes deserved over the years’. So very true. Right now we’re convalescing after another unfortunate foot-shooting incident. But some of us are beginning to wonder whether we’ll ever walk properly again.
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