You’re not solvent anymore

Administration might spell the end of the Crystal Palace football club, but it won’t crush the supporters’ spirit.

Duleep Allirajah

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Tuesday 26 January 2010. A real curate’s egg of a day. Britain came out of recession. Crystal Palace went into administration. The chairman’s orange but the future’s not bright.

There are some days when I hate football. This was one of those days. Every football fan knows these dark days well: days when you can’t read the sports pages; can’t bear to watch Match of the Day; wished you hadn’t wasted so much time and money on that stupid game. It happens when your team gets stuffed; when they lose in the last minute; when they lose to the scummers; when they lose in the playoffs; when they get relegated. We’ve all been there. Over and over again. And we always get over it. Regain our passion; our love for the game.

But administration isn’t like those bog-standard dark days. It’s much scarier. A 10-point deduction. A fire sale of players. Plunged into a relegation dogfight. You look at the fate of Leeds or Southampton or Luton Town and you see the future. Or even worse. Remember what happened to Maidstone and Aldershot? Palace could go the same way. Out of existence altogether. The end of football as we know it.

It gets you thinking. What would I do if my football club goes to the wall? Could I bring myself to support another club? Could I contemplate watching non-league football? Could I find a more fruitful way to spend my Saturday afternoons? It doesn’t bear thinking about. And then there’s my daughter. How do I break the news to her? How can you explain the concept of administration to a seven-year-old? I give it my best shot. ‘Remember how Woolies closed down?’ I tell her over dinner. ‘The same thing could happen to Crystal Palace. It could be shut down.’ She looks at me nonplussed. ‘So what? It’s only football’, she says. I should have guessed. Woolworths sold toys. The last time I took her to Selhurst Park there were no toys and we lost 3-0 to Doncaster.

Of course, the rational voice in my head is telling me that very few football clubs disappear altogether. Football clubs aren’t like normal businesses. Most clubs are unprofitable. Most lose money. And yet, unlike other businesses, most somehow stay afloat. My rational voice is trying to be upbeat: ‘Palace have survived administration before’, it says. ‘We could come out of this in better shape. Our debts cleared. New owners in place. New investment. Happy Days.’

He’s got a point, that rational voice. A few weeks ago we sold one of our first-choice centre backs, Jose Fonte, to Southampton. You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to work out that your football club is in Big Trouble when you’re flogging players to a League One club. But the point is that last year Southampton suffered the triple whammy – administration, points deduction and relegation – yet now the club seems to be bouncing back. There is life after administration. That’s what my rational voice keeps telling me. Only, right now, I don’t really believe him.

Palace isn’t the only club with serious financial problems. There is growing concern that football is facing its own credit crunch. Notts County and Portsmouth have both been served with High Court winding-up petitions from HM Revenue & Customs. Even the biggest clubs aren’t immune from penury. Last week Manchester United’s debts were revealed to be £716.5 million, prompting fans to mount protests against the club’s American owners. Liverpool, another club whose US takeover was financed by borrowing, are thought to be £245 million in debt. West Ham’s new porn baron co-owner David Sullivan admitted the club were in ‘an incredibly bad situation’ with debts of £110 million.

Now even Gordon Brown has started pontificating about the level of club debt. ‘I think the management of football clubs have got to look very seriously at their responsibilities to their supporters, that they have high levels of income from the supporters but the debt levels have been at a leverage level that is too high’, said the prime minister, a man who knows a thing or two about running up massive debts.

Manchester United and Liverpool fans want their Yank owners out. Palace fans, by contrast, haven’t been agitating for regime change at Selhurst Park. Our problems weren’t caused by dodgy foreign owners or leveraged buyouts. Chairman Simon Jordan was a local lad made good; a boyhood Palace fan who saved the club from financial ruin. The problem was that he simply didn’t have deep enough pockets to bankroll the club after relegation from the Premiership in 2005. When the parachute payments ran out, Jordan was forced to borrow money to keep the club afloat. And now one of those creditors, a hedge fund called Agilo Ltd, has called in the administrators. The mood on the cpfc.org bulletin board was generally sympathetic towards Jordan. He’d made some bad decisions but the majority of fans felt he had the club’s interests at heart.

So, we won’t be burning effigies of our tangerine chairman in the streets of Croydon. We will be devouring the message board rumours about prospective buyers, raging at the loss of our best players to the circling vultures, and generally moaning about how football ain’t what it used to be. And of course, fans being fans, this misery will be washed down with lashings of gallows humour. Amidst all the message board woe, one thread makes me smile. Fans are invited to think up chants for the club’s financial plight. ‘We’re not solvent any more’, suggests one fan. ‘We’re skint, we’re poor, Noades’ mum is still a whore’, suggests another (a reference to a popular chant about former chairman Ron Noades). Brilliant. They can take away our football club but the human spirit isn’t so easily crushed.

Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist.

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