Offside, 23 July

Palace fans might welcome Gaddafi if he could sort out the cold burgers.

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

Every morning I scan the papers to find out the latest obscure Hungarian to be linked with Crystal Palace.

But last Saturday was different. In fact it was downright surreal. There, on the front page of the Guardian, was a picture of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, leader of the recovering pariah state of Libya, beneath the headline: ‘Could this man be the saviour of an unfashionable football club from south London?’ (1) Life’s never dull if you’re a Crystal Palace fan.

According to the Guardian, the Libyan leader is eager to accelerate his international rehabilitation by purchasing a Premiership football club. ‘I’ve been told that Gaddafi and his son are interested in acquiring Palace’, said club chairman Simon Jordan. That Gaddafi might want to invest in a football club is not implausible. Two years ago the state-owned Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Company (Lafico) bought a 5.3 per cent stake in Italian giants Juventus, and Gaddafi’s son Al-Saadi took a seat on the board. Less easy to explain is why Gaddafi would think that an association with Crystal Palace would improve his public image in the West.

The Scotsman reported that Palace supporters ‘reacted angrily’ to the news of the potential Tripoli buyout. ‘People do not want his bloodstained money’, said Gordon Law, editor of the Holmesdale Online website. ‘They have still not forgotten Lockerbie and the way he sponsored terrorism.’ Law estimates that ‘around 90 per cent of fans would not want him anywhere near the club’.

However, a visit to the Palace Bulletin Board shows that opinions are more evenly divided. An online poll reveals a near 50-50 split between those who oppose a Gaddafi takeover and those who are either indifferent or actually in favour. While 15 per cent of fans say that they would actually stop supporting Palace, 30 per cent would positively welcome an injection of funds from Tripoli. Palace supporters, however, have not gone quite as far as the PAOK Salonika fans who wrote to the Libyan leader imploring him to buy their club: ‘We kneel in homage in front of you. We ask you to be the saviour of our souls, and the leader of the new revolution that will originate in the north. Gaddafi, our God, buy PAOK.’

The protracted discussion thread on the Palace Bulletin Board, which had run to over 700 posts and 20,000 views in a couple of days, reveals a wide spectrum of opinions (3). While expressions of moral outrage were plentiful, a fair number of fans said they are happy to accept the Gaddafi dinar. ‘To be honest I would love Palace to be a top team and with Gaddafi’s money we could pick (or indeed pick off) the top players and really become something of a threat (both footballing and chemical and biological) to other teams’, enthused one fan.

Some supporters were less bothered about ethics but more concerned about the poor amenities at Selhurst Park. ‘Now all we need is Bill Gates and the Pope on the board and we might be able to fix the toilets in the AW [Arthur Waite] Stand’, quipped one fan. ‘Will he sort out the Bovril?’ asked another. ‘And hopefully the cold burgers as well!’ a fellow supporter concurred. Food first and morals later, as Bertolt Brecht once said.

While many fans would welcome a wealthy sugar daddy, some expressed reservations about whether the ‘Mad Dog’ of Tripoli was the right tyrant for the job. ‘Why can’t we get a run-of-the-mill Russian billionaire?’ queried one fan. ‘Why can’t we attract a dictator in his prime?’ asked another. ‘Same old story; we get some has-been whose best despoting years are behind him, and who can barely snap a breadstick convincingly anymore. Typical Palace.’

‘Anyone know what kind of football Gaddafi likes his teams to play?’ asked one contributor. It’s a good question and one that has been somewhat overlooked in the heat of the debate. I consulted the Colonel’s famous Green Book to see if I could find an answer. Sadly his cod-radical pontificating doesn’t tell us whether he’s a 4-4-2 man or prefers three at the back. Interestingly, Gaddafi’s description of black people as ‘sluggish in a climate which is always hot’ is uncannily reminiscent of former Palace chairman Ron Noades’ notorious remarks about black footballers. Noades has recently been making noises about buying back the club in partnership with former Chelsea boss Ken Bates. Maybe the gruesome twosome could team up with Gaddafi to form a footballing ‘axis of evil’.

Or maybe not – because it now transpires that the rumours were unfounded. A Libyan spokesman has issued a statement denying that Gaddafi has any interest in buying Crystal Palace. What a shame, just as I was warming to the prospect of chanting ‘Colonel Gaddafi’s red and blue army’ and hurling camel dung at the opposition. I guess it’s back to sifting through the transfer bargain bin for cut-price Hungarians.

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Topics Politics


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