Clock is ticking for Palace in the final countdown
Sunday 02 May 2010
Promotion and relegation, success and failure, joy and despair. That has been the staple diet for Crystal Palace supporters ever since Arthur Rowe's enterprising team ended the club's 36-year stay in the bottom tier of the Football League in 1961. Unless they secure the draw they need at Sheffield Wednesday today to avoid relegation from the Championship – Wednesday must win to stay up – Palace will change divisions this summer for the 17th time in the past 50 seasons.
That, nevertheless, presumes that the 105-year-old club will still be around come August. Palace are in the relegation mire due to a 10-point deduction after going into administration earlier this year. A group of local businessmen are trying to put together a deal to save the club, but the clock is ticking. The administrator has said there is no funding to run Palace beyond the end of the season.
The club's financial situation is grim. They have debts of around £30 million and do not own their ground. Any new buyer wishing to reunite the club with their home of the last 86 years – Wednesday, ironically, were the first visitors to Selhurst Park in 1924 – would need to purchase the stadium from separate administrators.
In some respects Palace's position is all too familiar. A decade ago the Eagles spent a lengthy spell in administration following Mark Goldberg's brief but calamitous reign as owner. Simon Jordan bought the club, but within a year they were in exactly the predicament that they find themselves today, needing to win on the last day of the season to avoid relegation to what is now League One. Dougie Freedman, the current assistant manager, saved the day then with a late winner at Stockport County.
For all their ups and downs of recent decades, Palace have spent only three years in the third tier of English football since 1964. Under Malcolm Allison they suffered a second successive relegation in 1974 before Terry Venables took the "Team of the Eighties" back into the top flight.
Wednesday know all about financial worries. The Yorkshire club have struggled ever since losing their Premier League status 10 years ago, which was followed three years later by relegation to League One. By 2005 Wednesday were back in the Championship, but their long-time financial problems have remained.
An American investment firm is currently in talks to take over the club. While it is understood that relegation would not scupper the deal, it is hardly likely to help.
"It's not like last time, when we went into a complete free-fall and had no assets, but it would be a massive opportunity missed," Lee Strafford, the Wednesday chairman, said. "The feeling is that next season's Championship will be the biggest opportunity in years, given the quality of the clubs coming down and the financial restructuring."
The stakes today could hardly be higher and Strafford upped the ante last week with his suggestion that clubs which go into administration should be automatically relegated. He also claimed that Palace had missed their "big chance" of survival by only drawing at home to West Bromwich Albion on Monday.
However, Darren Ambrose, who would have sent Wednesday down had his injury-time shot not been cleared off the line by an Albion defender, insists Palace's spirits are high.
"We've said all along that we don't deserve to be down here, but we are here and we need to get our heads round this game," Ambrose said. "They have to beat us, but we're not going to go for a draw. We're going to win. We deserve to be higher than we are in the League and we know that."
While Wednesday have lost nine Championship matches at Hillsborough this season, Palace have lost only five times away from home and are unbeaten on their travels in 12 matches against teams outside the top 10. Yet both teams know that League form will count for nothing today. "It's a cup final. That's what we are working towards," Ambrose said.
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