Palace vs Wednesday: The Tension Mounts

Palace vs Wednesday: The Tension Mounts

By on Apr 28, 2010 in English League Football, Finance, Latest | 10 comments

With Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion having already secured promotion back into the Premier League, the last day of the season in the Championship this weekend might have threatened to be something of a damp squib. At the top of the table, however, there is still one play-off place to be fought for, and anybody that has raised their eyebrows about the recent promotions of Burnley and Hull City into the Premier League from the Championship play-offs may well have more to get excited about if Blackpool, of all people, can beat Bristol City to secure the fourth play-off spot on Sunday afternoon.

The main event of the weekend, however, will come at Hillsborough, where Sheffield Wednesday take on Crystal Palace. If Palace win or the match end in a draw, Wednesday will be relegated. If the home side can win, however, they will stay up and Crystal Palace will drop into the bottom two divisions of the Football League for the first time since 1977. It promises to be quite an occasion. The BBC will be covering the match live and, with tickets on sale for just £10, it is expected that a capacity crowd of almost 40,000 will be there for it. For the two clubs concerned, both of whom have significant financial problems, it is an absolutely critical match.

Crystal Palace had a chance to ensure their survival on Monday evening, but they could only draw at home against West Bromwich Albion. They would be in thirteenth place in the table were it not for the ten point deduction imposed when they entered into administration in January and, without a firm buyer having been found since then, the persistent muttering that this might even be Palace’s final match has endured. The major vulnerability for the club is the separation of club and stadium. Both are in administration independently of each other and the nightmare scenario for the club’s supporters is that Selhurst Park could be sold to developers, leaving them homeless.

The group that is interested in buying the club, CPFC (2010), will be more than aware of the massive financial drop if the club is relegated, and there are no firm guarantees that they will maintain their interest should Palace fall through the trapdoor. The administrators for the stadium, Price Waterhouse Coopers, are believed to wish to reach agreement to keep the club at Selhurst Park, but there are still many hurdles that would need to be cleared in order for this to be completed. The future of the club will remain uncertain no matter what division they start next season, but the prognosis for them would be considerably bleaker if they were to be relegated.

Sheffield Wednesday have been struggling under the weight of a massive debt for years. They are currently believed to be in the region of £25m in debt themselves, and the club has been “set for imminent investment” for some considerable time. They have sailed close to being forced into administration themselves and the prospects of attracting the investment that they so desperately need would be damaged by relegation back into League One. Their problems aren’t as serious as those faced by Crystal Palace, but their future remains far from secure and the club will remain unable to fulfil its potential until this debt is paid down.

Against this background, it is clear that there is more at stake at Hillsborough on Sunday than the mere pride of exemption to the Third Round of the FA Cup and the possibility of sneaking a place in the play-offs for a place in the Premier League next season. It will be tense no matter what, but this tension has hardly been assisted by comments made in the press by the Sheffield Wednesday chairman Lee Strafford this week. Strafford is apparently angry that Palace have entered into administration:

I don’t have sympathy for anyone at Palace other than the fans. There should be a bigger punishment and I think that should be relegation. If you mis-manage a football club to the extent where you end up in massive debt, administration should not be an escape route. We have suffered longer and harder than most clubs because we did not go down the administration route at a time when it may have been easier to do so. You have to feel sorry for the fans. They don’t deserve what has happened there. Administration twice is inexcusable.

On the one hand, Strafford’s comments betray a lack of understanding of Palace’s financial circumstances. Palace did not “go down the administration route” earlier this year in any voluntary sense. They were forced into administration by one of their creditors – the hedge fund Agilo – in January after they became concerned that a winding up petition from HMRC over unpaid tax was due to be served. Secondly, quite who the target or his ire is remains unclear. The first time that the club entered into adminstration was under the ownership of Mark Goldberg in March 1999, and the second time was, of course, on Simon Jordan’s watch earlier this year. To enter into administration is by no means good business practice, but we are talking about insolvency events that were eleven years apart and under completely different ownerships.

On another altogether more practical level, Strafford’s comments may have another – for Sheffield Wednesday – unwanted side-effect. Anybody watching the match between Crystal Palace and West Bromwich Albion would have been able to see just how dejected the Palace players, who had come within inches of securing their safety, looked at the end of the match. It may have required the services of a motivational coach that the club cannot afford at the moment to provide the service that Lee Strafford has this week. If the Crystal Palace players needed any more motivation for that infinitesimally small extra push over the line, comments like his surely couldn’t have been more finely crafted. If Strafford wanted to comment upon the rights and wrongs of entering into administration, he might have been better advised to leave it until after Sunday’s match.

To this extent, whether Strafford is right or not (and there is certainly a case to be made for saying that football is stuffed with clubs that are guilty of financial doping) is somewhat irrelevant. Indeed, the fact that Palace have fallen from being in a position of challenging for a Premier League play-off place to needing a result on the last day of the season since entering into administration (with all of the upheaval that it invariably carries) and its accompanying ten point deduction would seem to undermine his argument somewhat. And, most ironically of all, had Crystal Palace not entered into administration, Sheffield Wednesday would already have been relegated well before this Sunday. Even these considerations, however, are not really the point. With tension likely to already be high and a large travelling support making the journey up from London, ratcheting up the tension still further is the last thing that anybody needs.

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    10 Comments

  1. What exactly do you mean by “Blackpool of all people”?

    Why has this club been virtually ignored by the media all season?

    This would and could be seen as a great”angle” – a club favourites for relegation to Division 1 at the start of the season, now with a very real chance of promotion to the Premiership and never outside the top ten all season.

    Your really missing something here – this is the Championship NOT the Newscastle United League!

    Phil Calverley

    April 29, 2010

  2. what a brilliant piece , well written well thought out unlike stafford idiot (palace fan can,t wait to try and shove his words down his throat come sunday if i can

    jim

    April 29, 2010

  3. One of Strafford’s self selling points was that he was PR savvy compared with the previous regime, but he has also angered some Wednesday supporters this season by criticising the level of support when actually 20000+ crowds for such consistently poor football are little short of miraculous. The potentially backfiring remarks are just what we didn’t need and further the argument that chairmen should be seen and not heard. Still, come on Wednesday.

    Ken

    April 29, 2010

  4. Although it was obviously a throwaway comment, I kind of agree with what Phil said. The laziness of the mainstream media should not be infiltrating such a fine establishment as 200%. Here’s what a Blackpool fan has to say about such laziness.

    http://fansonline.net/blackpool/mb/view.php?id=348528

    Damon

    Damon

    April 29, 2010

  5. Mindless behaviour on Strafford’s part, especially given Owls’ own financial predicament – glasshouses and stone throwing should not be mixed. As you rightly say, a better motivational speech could not have been devised for Palace’s players.

    Palace looked a decent side before the points deduction and loss of Victor Moses and Neil Warnock, but I do think Wednesday will win this – it must have been torture listening in to the game on the radio on monday and they will feel they have gotten out of jail, especially as they are currently on a feeble 46 points – even a win would leave them short of the commonly accepted target to avoid relegation of 50 (some have even gone down with 52.

    As I have commented before on Two Hundred Perecent, Strafford’s openness can be double edged – his tendency to squat on message boards is perhaps unbecoming of someone holding the purse strings.

    Lanterne Rouge

    April 29, 2010

  6. I consider the accusation of being “lazy” to be extremely unfair, considering that I write over 1,000 words per day for this site for no recompense, but that is by the by.

    Blackpool being a surprise in the play-off positions isn’t, I think, in doubt and that is what the aforementioned “throwaway” comment was about – nothing more, nothing less. I am disappointed that there are people that feel that I am “lazy”, but you can rest assured that this is not the case. Of thirty-eight articles about (or largely concerning) the Championship this season, six have been about Newcastle United. Seven clubs – Barnsley, Sheffield United, Preston, Derby, Leicester, Doncaster & Coventry – haven’t featured at all, but we make no promises about being able to cover all clubs equally.

    admin

    April 29, 2010

  7. If I wanted to read gushing commentary on Blackpool, I’d probably be reading a Blackpool website.

    mimi

    April 29, 2010

  8. Would totally back Ian up on this – Blackpool’s place in the play offs is unquestionably a surprise but one that pretty much all opposing fans in the division are really enjoying (outside the Liberty Stadium of course). I saw the Tangerines lose narrowly but pretty miserably at Reading last season and they looked lower section of the table fodder: the turnaround has been heartwarming. Most of us are rooting for them to make it up.

    And keep up the good work Ian – your coverage of the Championship is excellent.

    Lanterne Rouge

    April 29, 2010

  9. If I were a Blackpool fan I would long for a general ignorance of the club to continue for the opposite is much worse and – should you be promoted to the Premier League – one doubts that you will enjoy the (inter)national media attention.

    Firstly you will be told abut your club by people who pass themselves off as experts. They will go through your squad and say who is good and bad as if it is they and not you who have been at Bloomfield Road for the last ten/twenty years.

    People you work with who once went to Old Trafford fifteen years ago but consider themselves to be “fans just like you” will read these comments and start to tell you about your players. They will tell you that defender x is “too slow” without having watched his ability to read the game time and time again make light of that failing.

    Your clubs recent history will be all but ignored but what is recognised will be streamlined into a single story that highlights the importance of people who might make an interesting angle for TV. Expect to hear about Big Sam’s role in the rise and hilarious comments about it not being “that” Robbie Williams.

    The ten/twenty years you watched up and down the country will be described as “years of misery” and dismissed.

    You will see footage of Stanley Matthews in grainy black and white, slowed down, with a wistful commentary, ad nauseum until you are sick of the sight of it and they way it boils your 100 odd years into a five second clip. As if nothing ever happened to you other than what the media decide is worth talking about.

    There will be three facts that every newspaper trots out about your club. You will begin to resent hearing them and realise that what passes for analysis in the press is just the reiteration of a few very obvious points. You will learn nothing new from the media and they will not ask for your opinion.

    Some hack will decide to make a name for himself at your expense. Your club will be disrespected and people like “Lawro” – in-between predicting you will be heavily beaten every week – say that the only reason anyone would join your club is “for the rock”. After that you will stop watching Football Focus.

    You will stop watching Match of the Day when you have come back from a lengthy round trip in which your team played poorly and every problem was highlighted by one of the Alans who tells you you have to “sort yourself out” and you scream at the box that they should have seen you last week when you beat Stoke and then you realise that they did, but they choose to paint a worse picture of your club because it makes better TV to have the dour scot chew your defenders.

    Unless you are lucky your chairmen and directors will become obsessed with trying to maintain this horrendous spotlight that falls on your club and the problem that come from that will haunt you for generations.

    And all the while this monotony of comment that seeks to reduce your club to a punchline, a minor part of the greater story the media tell about the march of other clubs who they decide are to the manor born while you are interlopers at your own matches reduced to simply “enjoying the experience” of watching other teams, while the continues it will be done so to a drone of your work mates, people in the pub, people on the net regurgitating the media’s tedious line that they have decided about your clubs.

    “They need a Matthews”, “The only reason to go to Blackpool is the rock”, “Get Big Sam back” and on and on and on as if the years watching your club were just time wasted because the real expert is the guy opposite you, telling you what he things that just happens to be what he just read in The Sun.

    Why has the club been ignored by the media all season? Because you’ve been bloody lucky.

    Michael Wood

    May 2, 2010

  10. A spot on analysis from Michael Wood. As a Reading fan I can confirm that many of these things happen for a newly promoted club – although we had nowhere near the history of a Blackpool. It’s also not much fun losing matches and the Alans saying it’s because your team is a bit rubbish and can’t defend rather than having spent a hundredth of the opposition on wages.

    Lanterne Rouge

    May 4, 2010

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