The perma-tanned prince of Palace

Rent-a-gob chairman Simon Jordan is certainly entertaining. If only he was as successful at generating points as he is column inches...

Duleep Allirajah

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‘The future’s bright, the chairman’s orange.’ That’s the unofficial strapline of Crystal Palace FC. Actually, if truth be told, the future’s not looking particularly bright. Palace finished last season in mid-table in the second tier of English football and the TV ‘parachute’ money, for those clubs recently relegated from the Premiership, has now run out. However, the perma-tanned chairman, Simon Jordan, is still unquestionably orange.

Palace always seems to generate more headlines for what happens off the field than what happens on it. This week was no different. My daily routine normally begins with a strong cup of coffee and a quick peek at the BBC website for the latest Palace news. However, for most of this week the headline was the same: ‘Palace chief wins £1m court case’. No new signings, just the story that a high court judge had ruled that former manager Iain Dowie had made ‘fraudulent representations’ in order to be freed from his contract. Dowie had supposedly told Jordan that he wanted to be closer to his family in Bolton but, a week after leaving Palace, he was unveiled as manager of south London neighbours Charlton Athletic. Although Dowie claimed that he’d had no contact with Charlton prior to his departure from Selhurst Park, his mobile phone records apparently proved otherwise.

‘It’s a good day for football’, crowed Jordan. ‘A judgement has been found in favour of contracts.’ It’s this kind of populist rhetoric that has endeared Jordan to people who are instinctively repelled by his pomposity and relentless self-promotion – this is a man who hired Max Clifford as his PR adviser – not to mention his millionaire, tax-exile lifestyle. The Guardian’s arch-cynic Charlie Brooker was scathing in his assessment of Jordan’s starring role in the reality TV show Fortune: Million Pound Giveaway. ‘He looks like a cross between Gérard Depardieu and a thick waiter, and is one of those people you instinctively dislike the moment you clap eyes on them,’ wrote Brooker. ‘Consequently, everything he says and does fills you with revulsion. Everything. Last week he raised an eyebrow and I vomited blood for an hour.’

However, while the Guardianistas sneer at Jordan for his tangerine complexion and increasingly preposterous coiffeur, they simultaneously find themselves applauding his forthright views on the ills of modern football – a ‘disingenuous and dishonest game’ in Jordan’s own words. In 2002, he branded Football League bosses ‘morons’ and ‘incompetents’ for the TV deal they negotiated after the collapse of ITV Digital. He was widely congratulated, too, for going to court to enforce the contract of manager Steve Bruce who had tried to walk out on the club after Birmingham City had apparently tapped him up.

A few eyebrows were raised when Jordan started writing a regular column in the Observer in 2005. He didn’t wring his hands about football’s carbon footprint, but the Palace chairman nonetheless said the kind of things that Observer readers wanted to hear. Jordan painted himself as an outsider, an ordinary fan who is appalled by football’s murky business practices. In his column he regularly vented his spleen against football agents, the football establishment and the game’s ‘bung’ culture. He even landed a FA disrepute charge after a characteristically no-holds barred rant about referees. Jordan doesn’t want to be seen as a typical football boss. ‘If we score at an away match I’ll jump out of my chair and scream’, he once wrote. ‘I don’t see why being a chairman needs to mean being a stiff in a suit.’ (1)

What do I, as a Palace fan, think about Simon Jordan? Well, he saved the club from financial extinction, so I guess I should be grateful for that. He’s good entertainment value too. It was funny when he described Charlton fans as ‘morons’ for celebrating ‘as if they’d won the Champions League’ after the 2-2 draw at The Valley that sealed Palace’s relegation from the top flight. When outraged Charlton fans demanded an apology, Jordan’s riposte was typically blunt. ‘In retrospect, of course I regret calling them morons’, wrote Jordan. ‘Imbeciles would have been more appropriate’.

I don’t particularly mind his flamboyant persona. Okay, his hair is ridiculous and he’s clearly a bit vain, but so what? You could say the same about most football club owners (I mean the vanity not the hair). They’ve made their money and now want a bit of reflected glory by owning a football club. The difference between Jordan and other club chairmen is his playboy lifestyle. He is probably the first club chairman to enjoy the same celebrity lifestyle as the footballers he employs. He is a gossip page regular who has dated a string of minor celebs including Noel Gallagher’s ex Meg Matthews, TV presenter-turned-stalker Tara Stout, Mark Bosnich’s ex-girlfriend Sophie Anderton, Bosnich’s ex-wife Sarah and Suzi Walker, ex-wife of former Spurs keeper Ian Walker. The guy evidently has a thing for goalkeepers’ wives but his love life is his own business.

I don’t particularly care one way or the other about his outspokenness. If he wants to have a pop at the world and his wife then that’s fine by me. It’s just a pity that points aren’t awarded for the amount of column inches your club chairman generates. If that were the case then Palace would be pushing for a Champions League place. But you don’t get any trophies for the chairman’s soundbites, so we have to rely on the old-fashioned performance indicators, ie, scoring goals and winning games. And this is where Simon Jordan still falls short. The problem is that the former mobile phone tycoon simply doesn’t have the personal wealth to turn Palace into a major force in English football. More worryingly, having parted company with six managers in seven years, Jordan has acquired a reputation for being a difficult employer.

Jordan has said he wants Palace fans to be ‘proud they have one of their own representing their views in the game, and proud it’s someone who has the bottle to be contrary, because that’s what the game needs’. But, ultimately, he will be judged by the team’s achievements on the pitch. We don’t just want a rent-a-gob orange chairman; we want a successful football team and that’s something that no amount of Max Clifford PR advice can buy.

Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist.

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spiked-issue: Sport

(1) Being a stiff in a suit just isn’t me, Observer, 21 August 2005

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