Football: Noades cast as Palace saviour

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CRYSTAL PALACE'S debts stand at pounds 20m, twice the level previously estimated, it was revealed last night. The news makes the return of Ron Noades, the club's previous owner, more likely, especially if Mark Goldberg, Palace's chairman, cannot find substantial funds within the next three months to bail out the club. Noades himself said yesterday that he believed Palace were likely to move from administration to receivership soon, and he added that he could not rule out the possibility of a return to the club.

Palace's problems were made clear on Wednesday when Goldberg was forced to call in Buchler Philips, a company rescue firm, in an attempt to enable the club to solve its financial problems. Estimates had put Palace's debts at pounds 9m, but sources close to the club said yesterday the figure was pounds 20m.

Up to pounds 5m of this debt is understood to be unpaid transfer fees owed to a variety of clubs and which were staggered in instalment payments. Palace are thought to owe substantial sums to Juventus and Strasbourg for the multi-million pound transfers of Attilio Lombardo and Michele Padovano from Italy, and Valerien Ismael from France last season. Aston Villa and Liverpool may also still be owed money from the purchases of Sasa Curcic for pounds 1m and Nicky Rizzo for pounds 300,000 respectively. As well as the transfers, a substantial sum is said to be owed to the Midland Bank - understood to be the club's main creditor - and money is still owed to Noades.

When Goldberg bought the club for pounds 22.8m last year, he borrowed nearly pounds 5m from Noades to help finance the deal, and also oversaw Palace taking out an option to buy Selhurst Park for pounds 10m from Noades, who still owns the ground. Goldberg must pay pounds 600,000 in May just to keep the option of purchasing the ground open, otherwise he risks losing that option.

Noades - who also still owns Palace's training ground and both the club shops - said yesterday that he could not envisage Goldberg ever being in a position to buy Selhurst Park from him. He added, however, that he would have no interest in selling Selhurst Park to other prospective buyers (including Wimbledon, Palace's tenants), even if Goldberg did not retain his option to buy it.

"As far as I'm concerned I will not allow anything to happen that will disadvantage Crystal Palace," Noades said. "The Selhurst Park ground is there for Crystal Palace to play on," he added. "I would not approve the transfer of the lease to Wimbledon."

When asked what he thought the prospects for Palace were in the near future, he said: "It will go into receivership." Asked whether there was any possibility that he might return to the club in that situation, Noades said that he was happy trying to secure promotion from the Third Division for the club he now owns, Brentford. He added, however: "In football you don't discount anything."

The arrival of the administrators means that Palace are protected from creditors seeking winding-up orders for the next three months, but large question marks remain over the future of the club. Many of the first-team squad are likely to be put up for sale and there may also be wage cuts and redundancies among the non-playing staff.

Goldberg has attempted to portray the arrival of the administrators in a positive light, insisting that their help will ensure that the club emerges "fitter, healthier and more efficient" from the experience.

He said yesterday that he was ready to sell some of his 85 per cent majority stake in the club, although he is not yet willing to surrender overall control. It is difficult to imagine, however, just who might be likely to want to buy any of Goldberg's shares if they are not ensured a major say in the running of the club, especially as those shares are technically worthless until the club emerges from administration.

A London-based company, Tramp Oil, are supposed to have increased their investment in the club over recent months but it is understood that the firm have simply lent the club money to cover sums still to be received from the sales of players such as Dean Gordon and Paul Warhurst.

That cash is repayable, while income at Selhurst Park, with season ticket and TV revenue having been swallowed up at the start of the season, is not thought to be nearly sufficient - without substantial transfer revenue - to cover wage costs.

Goldberg's own finances have, meanwhile, become stretched over the past year following a massive downturn in the share price of his computer recruitment business.

Buchler Philips, who have previously rescued Tottenham, Millwall and Barnet, may indeed be able to turn around the financial situation at Selhurst Park as well. Whether Goldberg remains in charge, or even involved, seems increasingly unlikely.

Although when Noades left the club last year there was a consensus among fans that his departure was a good thing, many might now have had a change of heart. Noades said yesterday that Palace supporters had already started contacting him to ask him return to the club.