Crystal Palace FC isn't just my club, it is a huge part of who I am.
Is that a ridiculous sentiment? In the eyes of some, yes, of course it is. To me, and to so many others, not just in red and blue, but in whatever colours represent their club, it is 100% true. Now, after our magnificent and historic first ever Premier League win at Old Trafford on Saturday, I had planned for my next article to be about Roy. Three hours before the final whistle was blown, at the time the line up was announced, I once again had to read lots of disgusting abuse aimed at Roy, undeservedly so, because of the team he had picked. Personally, I am fed up with it. I am fed up with narrow minded people failing to see what we have in Roy, and how much worse it could be without him. The man has flaws, no doubt, but who doesn't? Even so, he is a massive part of why we are still in the Premier League, despite the board not giving him the tools to do the job properly. My actual paying job(yes, this does not pay, as someone highlighted on Twitter), prevented me from getting that article written over Carnival weekend, and so, as we took to the pitch for the Carabao Cup, a second article idea presented itself. As our so called squad depth took on the mighty Colchester of League Two at Selhurst, its failure to score, and then lose on penalties, once more highlighted a point I have made many times already. Our failure to back Roy, and actually build on our squad with quality in depth, is what prevents us from kicking on. As Andros missed his penalty, a day after basically taking a shot at the club for tweeting enjoyment at Ashley Young's expense(a man who has gladly played dirty tactics against us, I might add), it felt as though this article idea had jumped ahead of the Roy one. Everything changed though, just before I went to sleep. When my phone pinged, and the Sky Sports Football update came through, saying that Bury had been expelled from the EFL, I knew that today, my article needed to have a totally different focus.
Now, don't get me wrong. The Roy matter still needs to be addressed. Not only that, but the whole 'at least we still have a club' line, does not hide the fact that currently there are major failings at our beloved club, failings highlighted last night, and this too, needs to be addressed. Both will be. For those of you who follow my work here at Back Of The Nest, you will know that I love sharing my opinion, and so those articles will come. For now though, let me change the pace.
Last night, League One side Bury FC were officially expelled from the EFL. Already steeped in debt, unable to play a single game this season so far, their expulsion from the league effectively acted as the tolling of the death bell for the club. Now, I may not be a fan of Bury, but as a fan of football, I can sit here and say how sad it is to see such a thing happen, and how I truly feel sorrow for all those connected to Bury, be it as staff, players or fans. I can't even begin to imagine how they must have felt last night, when that devastating news finally broke. I can't begin to comprehend what it must feel like, to wake up this morning, knowing that effectively, you no longer have a club. I don't know how it feels, but by god, like so many other Palace fans, I have been too damn close to it. In my 30 years of bleeding red and blue, I have seen us fall into Administration twice. The first time, was in March 1999, when Mark Goldberg plunged us into the abyss of uncertainty, only for CPFC 2000Ltd to take over, headed up by Simon Jordan. Jordan was a Palace fan, very outspoken, very orange. At times, I loved how forward he was. After years of stale and stingy Ron Noades, Jordan was a breath of fresh air. He was not afraid to stand up for what he believed in, and take on the FA. One scenario of this, was the theft of John Bostock, tapped up by Tottenham, and taken for peanuts after the FA ruled only a tiny fee was required. However, at times, Jordan also talked absolute garbage, such as telling us that he had bought Selhurst Park, which was a lie. He also showed poor financial business constraint, such as selling long term season tickets cheap, taking away a yearly revenue stream. His actions, in the end, plunged us back into Administration, just ten years after he had saved us from one. This time though, it felt different to the previous time. For starters, we had that day out at Hillsborough. The final game of the season, away to Sheffield Wednesday. A win or draw would see us stay up and relegate them, while a win for them would relegate us. The thing was, our plight carried more weight than that. A loss, wouldn't have just meant relegation, it would most likely have meant the club going out of existence. We had a ton of debt, a ground we didn't own(making any takeover deal more complicated), and had we dropped down into League One, the drop in financial revenue would have lost us any form of appeal to a potential buyer. Of course, a 2-2 draw saw us survive THAT day, but even then, it still nearly ended. Our future went down to the final hours, and a fans protest outside of Lloyds, before finally we were taken over by CPFC 2010, compiled of Steve Parish, Martin Long, Stephen Browett and Jeremy Hosking. We were so close to the edge, that we very nearly had to experience the dreadful morning, of waking up without a club. It is why, some fans still 100% defend Parish to the bitter end these days, because he was one of those who saved us. It is why, all of us who supported the club at that time, but especially those of us who were in the stand at Hillsborough, hold an unbreakable bond with the players who took the field that day, because they didn't just avoid relegation, they literally saved our club.
So, as I say, while I can't fully comprehend how Bury fans are feeling, I have a close idea. Here is the thing for me, going back to my opening line. For most fans, our clubs are everything. Not everyone will understand this, so I will do my best to explain myself. For years, I have had people say to me that they can't stand football, followed by comments about players rolling around the floor faking injury, being overpaid, and who cares about people kicking a ball around. They say these things, as if I should not only be embarrassed to be a football fan, but that I should be even more embarrassed to have admitted it in public. Now, I know, that some of you reading this, will have experienced the exact same thing. Non fans, thinking we are nuts, for being passionate about something. The thing is, I don't care what they think. I love football, but above and beyond that, Crystal Palace is everything to me. Now, let me put that in a little perspective. I have a family. I have a wife and a daughter who I love with all my heart, they are my world. At times, I am sure my wife doesn't think it, but it is true! Palace is also my world, it is just in a different way. I work, for the benefit of my family. I try and be a decent person, for my family(although there are some obscure Palace superstitions that this could cover too). So where does Palace come in? Well, I am the person I am, the person my wife fell in love with, partially because of the club, not that she would ever know it. I am an all or nothing person, always have been, always will be. If I am into something, I am 100% all in, I don't do half measures. So, when my dad got me into supporting Palace, I took the club on completely, it became a part of my life, a part of me, because I don't know how to be any other way. Throughout my life, Palace has been my one constant. Relationships have blossomed and then crumbled, but Palace has always been there. I have shared loving memories with family members, only to then lose them, as we all do, but Palace has always been there. Friends come and go, Palace remains. Through the ups and the downs, the highs and the lows, the variations in my life, Palace has always been there. We all need something in our life that helps share the burden, that helps us escape when we need it, that helps keeps us sane when we feel at breaking point. For me, Palace has been that something. To be able to go on a match day and sing my heart out, to focus on nothing else but 11 to 14 men(now women too) wearing my team colours for 90 minutes, it has been a life saver at times. When we lose, it takes the shine off the weekend, it makes going into work that little bit harder, it dampens a night out a little. Win, and there is a spring in the step, work is a little more bearable, the day is brighter. I have said to various people in the past, that if I didn't have Palace, I would probably have gone insane by now. They nod and agree, but in reality they take it with a pinch of salt, failing to understand just how true my words are. By spending my week, staring at the league table and fixtures, working out where others could drop points, how we could possibly stay up, it stops me from letting other things get to me. My brain has more ability to cope with, and deal with, other issues, because all of the stress and madness is focused on whether we can reach around 20 points by Christmas! It is my release, it is my comfort blanket. It will read as madness to many, but some will get it, some will understand. I mean, I have loads of superstitions, ones that I even say are dumb, because I've seen us lose far too many times for any of them to actually work, but I still do them. Why? Because that is how my mind has built itself to deal with things. It is how the club has become a part of, me redirects some of my issues, to spare others from them.
My wife, like many other football widows(male and female), will never quite understand that we can love them, our kids AND our club, it doesn't have to be one or the other. It is just a different level of understanding. For example, she feels that I always put Palace first, sod the rest of them. For me, every season there are games I choose to miss, for her. As mad as it sounds, to me, that shows how much I love her, that I actually choose to miss games for her. My own flesh and blood family, never got that privilege. I would miss family events, under the guise of work, so that I could go to games! So for her to actually get me to voluntarily miss games, something I have never done in any previous relationship, is a massive indication that I truly love her, yet, she will never understand it! All of this, will seem like I have massively digressed, and, in a way, I have. However, in another way, I haven't, because I wanted to emphasise just how much our clubs can mean to us, and therefore just how much grief the Bury fans must be feeling at this time.
With Bury gone, and Bolton on the brink of joining them, something needs to change. It is time that the greedy and the corrupt who sit in their ivory towers at both the FA and the EFL, realise that some blame lies at their door. They claim to be helping, to be righteous and transparent, but in reality, they are corrupt as hell and have blood on their hands. They are too busy thinking about how they can make more money, to actually realise the chaos that they are allowing to unfold at a lower level. The Premier League is the cash cow, we all know that. It hogs all the money, all the fame, all the glory, and allows those beneath it to kneel, bowl in hand, hoping to catch the scraps. Hell, even in the Premier League itself, this still happens. The rich get richer, and those less well off hope to just hang on. Each Premier League spot, is worth £1million more than the one below it. Why? Clubs like United, City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea, they are wealthy clubs. They already have money, and finishing in European spots brings them more money, for then competing in European competition. So why on earth, should they get even more money, for their league position? They don't need it, but the clubs down the table, could really do with it. The simple solution, would be that the money gets spread evenly, so no matter where you finish in the table, the payout is the same. Personally, I would go one step further, and I would switch it. Bottom gets the highest, top gets the lowest. The bottom three clubs need it more than the top three. They will likely have just busted the bank trying desperately to stay in the league, because it's the golden ticket, and so need the extra financial protection as they drop out of it. They do something like this in the NHL. The lower you finish, the better draft picks you get, while the teams at the top get the lower draft picks. It is designed to keep the competition fresh, and competitive, without dominance by just one team. You can have a couple of tough seasons, but get the better draft picks, enabling you to try and build a side that will then compete and step up. It stops the team that has just won, because it had the best team, from then nabbing all the best young players and getting even better, while struggling sides get scraps.
It won't happen, of course it won't, because that is not how the organisations want it. They want their big clubs getting bigger, and doing well in Europe. Money for those clubs, means money for them. This has been abundantly clear in the Women's game, as recently as last season. Man United had not had a team since 2005, but because suddenly the Women's game was getting attention, United wanted in. They formed a team, immediately made it professional(which only the teams in the WSL are), and gave it a £5million budget. They applied for, and were granted, a spot in the newly formed Championship, so the second tier in Women's football. They were given it over teams that have been around for years, working their arses off on shoe strings. Why? Because Man United is a money making franchise that lines the pockets of the FA. They basically skipped the entire league system, bought their way into the league, and then bought their way straight out of it into the top league, because no one else could compete. The fact that Spurs also got promoted, I am sure had the officials skipping round their office, because it put the big name teams in the big league. Meanwhile, WSL side Yeovil, were relegated from the top league. They don't have a rich, successful men's team to support them, so they fell into financial trouble last season. The solution from the FA? Double relegation, as they no longer met the criteria to qualify for the Championship. This is the state of affairs, that football's governing bodies in the UK are allowing. I mean, you look at our ladies team, made up of people with full time jobs, dedicating their spare time, grafting voluntarily to keep the club going, while David Sullivan bought West Ham Ladies, and just gave it to his 18 year old son Jack to run.
Something has to change. There are now 91 professional league clubs in England, and the governing bodies neglect far too many of them. People sit and scratch their heads as to why we have so few young talented English players coming through from grass roots, when the reality is that grass roots is starved of the financial backing, in order for the rich clubs to get richer. How can lower league clubs invest and flourish, when the money distribution in football starves them, and leaves them merely fighting to survive? The answer is, they can't. So instead, you have clubs like Chelsea who just hoover up all the young prospects, then have too many of them, and stagnate their progress. How many times do you watch an FA Cup match, with a lower league club in it, and hear the commentators say about how the money from the game will really help that club? They say it like it is a positive thing, yet, in reality, why is that situation being allowed to exist in the first place?
It isn't just monetary distribution where the issue lies. When someone is trying to take over a club, they are supposed to undertake a fit and proper owners test by the FA/EFL before it is ratified. This came into play, because unfit owners were getting their hands on clubs and running them into the ground. The thing is, whoever designed the test, clearly did not do a very good job. I don't know what on earth it consists of, but what I do know, is that far too many unfit owners seems to get through it. Leeds United have been through a handful of owners and financial struggles since relegation from the Premier League, one of which was Massimo Cellino. He originally failed the test due to a conviction in Italy, but then passed it on appeal, only to be booted out when again convicted in Italy! Blackburn Rovers have suffered at the hands of Venkys, who seemingly just wanted a football club, with no desire to actually invest in it. Charlton are another, who have seemingly been held hostage by their owner, who just watched them slide down the table into financial difficulty, with no actual desire to be a proper football club owner. Similar happened at Leyton Orient and Blackpool too I believe, Owners, who had no desire to back the club, but no desire to sell it either, leaving the club and the fans in limbo, and decline. How many clubs have to be allowed to suffer, before the governing body pulls its finger out and does something about it? Bury are now the precedent that have been set, and I fear that Bolton will follow them in 14 days time. If that happens, I sadly don't think they will be the last, and I worry what the future may hold for English football. As I have said earlier, I have no idea what the fit and proper test actually consists of, but if it turned out to be simply sliding an envelope stuffed full of money across the table, I would not be surprised.
Something needs to change. There needs to be some sort of safety net put into these deals, enabling the governing body to seize control of the club and oversee the sale of it, if the owner is deemed unfit to do so themself. The FA, the EFL, they need to start taking responsibility for the clubs they govern, and the role they play in the demise. I mean, come on, these are the people who allowed Goldberg to buy us from Ron Noades, when he never actually had the money, and never actually paid for us!!If the EFL had done more in the early days, if they had been more robust, more intrusive, more supportive, then maybe Bury may still exist today. Maybe, Bolton might not be facing liquidation in 14 days time. Instead, these clubs are just left to wither and die, until they become a visible problem that the governing body has to deal with.
Football is full of passionate people who care about their clubs. In both of our administrations, we saw players battling the odds to survive. You have players, management and staff at these clubs, carrying on, without pay, to keep the clubs alive. Last year, despite the financial mess, Bury won promotion from League Two, how incredible is that?? Yesterday morning, they had fans volunteering at the ground, working to get it ready for a game of football. By the end of day, they no longer had a club. These are people, passionate people, who care about their team, being let down by the governing body supposed to protect it. Oh, and don't even get me started on Sky Sports News running their countdown like it was transfer deadline day, using the plight and suffering of others to push themselves; absolutely disgusting. SOMETHING HAS TO CHANGE.
This has probably been a rambled piece, so I apologise for that, it has simply been one full of emotion. So let me end it by saying, that to all the Bury fans, my thoughts are with you, and I hope you find a fresh start, form a new Bury to build and grow, and that you come back fighting. As for the Bolton fans, I hope that in these 14 days, you get a new owner, and insure the clubs survival. As for me, just for today, I am going to not focus on the problems that do exist at our club, and just focus on my delight that come Saturday, I will be attending Selhurst Park to watch my team play.