For sale: club on the brink of closure (stadium not included)

Crystal Palace place advert in <i>Financial Times</i> after buyers prove hard to find
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The Independent Online

Crystal Palace earned the distinction of appearing in yesterday's Financial Times when the club's administrators advertised the club for sale in the famous pink pages. With last season marked by Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley hawking his club on its own website and Tranmere Rovers' brokers resorting to the internet auction site, eBay, the move by administrators, P&A Partnership, at least brings some class back to football fire sales.

The "long established South London club" – to use the advert's own modest puff – were forced into administration on 26 January. The club has reported debts of £32m and twice this season has had to take out emergency loans to pay staff wages. Chief among their creditors is owner Simon Jordan, who is owed £20m and has been looking for a buyer for the club without success since July 2008.

A week ago, P&A Partnership's Brendan Guilfoyle was confident of finding a buyer and even spoke of "mounting a campaign to get into the Premier League". But yesterday's FT advert, which appeared alongside an offer for 55,000 metric tonnes of Albanian crude oil, appeared to be an acknowledgement that all conventional routes had been exhausted.

Stephen Schechter, founder of specialist investment bank Schechter & Co, who made his name raising record levels of capital for Leeds United and Newcastle said: "At least a club like Liverpool has yet to stoop so low. Seriously, in reality the administrators are merely demonstrating to their creditors that they are taking all reasonable steps to find a buyer but at this stage there isn't much room for optimism."

The text of the advert plays up Palace's "success in the FA Cup (next match against Aston villa in the fifth round)". However, with debts topping £30m, the £247,500 they will earn from the tie will hardly have investors beating down the gates to Selhurst Park. On which subject the advert reads "stadium FREEHOLD available", which simply translates as the ground is not ours to sell. In fact, the management of the ground was taken on by PricewaterhouseCoopers, acting on behalf of Lloyds Bank, after Rock Investment Holdings Limited, the previous owners of the stadium, went into administration in June 2009.

And while the advert boasts of a capacity of 26,300, this season's average attendance is a mere 15,186, down 37 per cent on the 2004-05 figure, when Palace were last in the premier League. The other main assets are the "26 players on professional contracts". Last month, Guilfoyle appointed the Wasserman Media Group, the company behind the infamous Michael Owen brochure, to seek buyers for players during the transfer window. While teenage forward Victor Moses' £2.5m move to Wigan provided a short-term lifeline, a buyer is the only long-term solution.

But where have all the buyers gone? Despite the fact that Portsmouth are on their fourth owner for the season, there is very little appetite for investment in football clubs. West Ham have bucked the trend thanks to the rescue package put together by the Davids, Gold and Sullivan. Even then Gold said, "You have to say I'm certifiable, potty. I would not have done the deal if it had been any other club. I've only done this because it's West Ham, my roots."

Keith Harris, chairman of investment bank Seymour Pierce and football's top financier, has recently had to give up the search for new owners for Everton and Newcastle. And if Harris, the man who advised Roman Abramovich on his purchase of Chelsea in 2003, cannot find a buyer for a top-six Premier League club or a Championship side with an average attendance of 42,390, then what chance Crystal Palace?

Speaking to The Independent last month, Harris admitted, "Football is facing a financial conundrum that's on the verge of becoming a financial crisis. It feels like an industry that is a bit broken. You can't rule out more failures."

When football starts making the leap from the back pages to the pink pages, it is a sure sign that all is not well with our national game.

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