Crystal Palace's owner, the bombastic Simon Jordan - as now spun by Max Clifford - declared this week he wants to buy Selhurst Park, which Palace still rent from Ron Noades's company Altonwood, although Jordan is loath to negotiate with Noades because, according to Jordan, Noades is a "bully".
What Jordan did not mention was that he has just emerged from a long legal scrap with Noades over how much rent Palace must pay, hardly the best preparation for the pair to agree a deal for Palace to stay at their home. Amid the impenetrable tangle of detail in the case - arguments about percentages of gate receipts, whether a play-off semi-final is a cup or League match (the answer is a League match, according to Mr Justice Lightman), whether Noades's slice of season ticket money must be paid immediately or when the relevant matches are played - one clear, hugely significant, fact rang over the proceedings: Palace have only five years left at Selhurst Park.
When Jordan took over Palace, the club had been in administration since 1998 following Mark Goldberg's brief, catastrophic ownership. Altonwood had kept hold of the ground - Noades offered it to Goldberg for £7m, on top of £22.8m for the club, but after paying Noades £17m, Goldberg never came through with more money.
On 5 July 2000, having himself paid £10m for Palace's debts and player contracts, Jordan agreed just a 10-year lease of Selhurst Park with Noades, the minimum security of tenure insisted on by the Football League.
Palace fans have always known that Noades's company still owns the ground, and is paid a cut of the club's income, and now the court case has shone some light on the details of that agreement. An "Initial Basic Rent" of £156,000 is payable from the club, in quarterly payments of £39,000, or, if it is higher, Palace must pay quarterly "Turnover Rent", 10 per cent of their gate receipts from League matches, their share of cup matches, or any other matches played at Selhurst Park.
One of the disputed issues, the amount payable for last season's First Division play-off semi-final against Sunderland, which Palace won on their way to their miraculous, Iain Dowie-inspired promotion to the Premiership, illustrates how large these figures add up to.
Palace took £398,436.60 from the 25,000 crowd which turned up to watch Palace beat Sunderland 3-2 in the semi-final's first, home leg. Altonwood, who first sued Palace two years ago, argued they were owed 10 per cent of the gate receipts, £39,843.66, but were instead offered £9,690.61.
Palace claimed in court that the play-off semi-final did not qualify as a League match, but was, instead, a cup match, for which home sides receive less than in League matches. However, in his judgment, Mr Justice Lightman came to the momentous conclusion that: "The Sunderland match answered the description of a League match, for it was a first-team competitive match played under the authorisation of the Football League." The League pools all the income from the play-off semi-finals, takes 50 per cent of it for distribution to all Football League clubs, and the participating clubs receive only one eighth each of the receipts. Nevertheless, the judge ruled that Altonwood are entitled to a straight 10 per cent of Palace's receipts on the night, over £30,000 more than Palace paid them.
The other main issue which went against Jordan was Altonwood's entitlement to a share of season ticket receipts, which Palace are now selling many months in advance, and for more than one season; offering two, three, five and even lifetime season ticket deals. Noades claimed Altonwood should be paid its 10 per cent when Palace receive the money, while Palace argued they should be allowed to wait until the relevant matches are actually played. On this, Noades won again, and Palace will now have to account for all their advance season ticket sales immediately and pay a tenth to Altonwood.
Palace did successfully defend claims from Altonwood for money allegedly owed when Wimbledon moved away from Selhurst Park to Milton Keynes, and for the remarkable claim that Palace should not be credited for extra rent they had paid Altonwood by mistake. Overall, however, the result looks like a substantial payment due to Noades's company, plus interest at four per cent over base rate. Altonwood told me Noades himself, who also owns Brentford and their Griffin Park ground, will not comment until damages and costs have been finally decided by the court.
This is not, in a nutshell, the best atmosphere in which Jordan and Noades can be imagined sitting around with coffee and digestives, amicably deciding what happens when Crystal Palace's tenure at Selhurst Park runs out in five years. Noades has told friends that he will not deal with Jordan - and he could get up to £25m if the club moved out and the ground was sold for housing. Although relocations to a site near Gatwick Airport and elsewhere have been floated, these are far from concrete, and while the headline earnings when Jordan and his partner, Andrew Briggs, sold their Pocket Phone Shop to One2One in 2000 was £73m, Palace's accounts make far from inspiring reading.
Jordan, whose registered address is in Marbella, owns Palace through a company, Aspiration Holdings, based in the offshore tax haven of Jersey. Crystal Palace's most recent accounts, for the year to June 2003, showed they lost £9.2m, had debts close to £23m, and liabilities exceeded the club's assets. Jordan himself had put in a £2m loan, and charged £108,000 interest in the year. Promotion to the Premier League will have been a huge financial boost, particularly as Iain Dowie has been given very little money to spend in the transfer market, but last week Palace dropped back into the relegation zone, whose three places are now occupied by the three clubs which came up from the Football League last season.
Of gravest concern to Palace fans is where the club is heading, worries not helped by the state of Selhurst Park itself, which is in dire need of modernisation and has become something of an embarrassment. A spokesman for the 1,000-strong Crystal Palace Supporters Trust, the first trust formed with the help of the Government-backed initiative Supporters Direct, told me: "We're extremely concerned about the future, with only five years left on the lease and the club's owner and landlord at loggerheads. We have told Simon Jordan we would like to help the search for long-term security, but so far he has not taken up our offer." Simon Jordan was not available to talk to me, about Selhurst Park, or the court case.Reuse content