Crystal Palace's season went from a promotion campaign to a fight against relegation yesterday after the Championship club were put into administration, triggering a 10-point deduction.
Palace were ninth, two points off the play-offs, when the move was announced yesterday. The deduction, which the Football League have confirmed will be imposed today, left them 20th, just above the relegation zone.
Ironically, the news broke as Palace were flying north in readiness for tonight's league match against Newcastle United. This was not a case, however, of living the high life as the club crashed to earth. Manager Neil Warnock had arranged for a sponsor to fund the journey last week. The first he, and the players, knew of the situation was when their mobile phones began ringing after they landed. They are understood to be shocked at the timing of the decision as the club looked to be on the brink of an injection of income through the sale of Victor Moses, the club's coveted winger.
Manchester City and Arsenal lead the posse of teams tracking the England under-21 international and Jordan hoped to realise a £5-10m fee. That would have bought the club breathing space to find a buyer. Another possible windfall on the horizon was a potentially televised FA Cup fifth-round tie against Aston Villa, should they beat Wolves in next Tuesday's replay.
Palace have been in financial trouble for some time with estimated debts of around £30m. Owner Simon Jordan, who is owed a significant sum himself by the club, has been actively seeking a buyer for months. He had hoped David Gold, who lives locally, could be interested but that hope was dashed when the millionaire bought into West Ham last week. Another blow is the failure to sell Moses. The only player Jordan has been able to sell in this transfer window has been centre-half Jose Fonte, to League One Southampton, for £1.2m. That enabled Palace to pay December's wages, which had been delayed, but appears not to have been enough to stave off a hedge fund which is among the parties to whom the club owe money.
The club has thus been placed into administration with Sheffield-based insolvency specialists P&A Partnership, who took charge when Luton Town suffered similar problems. Brendan Guilfoyle, one of the administrators, said: "This club has been in the spotlight for some months with creditors pressing for payments and players anxious about their wages.
"Our role is to find a buyer quickly to provide certainty for the employees, players and fans. We hope our appointment will be short-lived as we understand there are many interested buyers."
That may well be true. Potential purchasers have been waiting in the wings confident the administrators will sell more cheaply than Jordan, who hoped to get his money back. However, as one of the main creditors, Jordan will have a say in what price the administrators can offer.
The flamboyant Jordan is a Crystal Palace fan who was born in nearby Thornton Heath and was on the club's books as a boy. Having made his fortune in mobile phones he bought Palace a decade ago at the age of 32. As now, Palace were in dire straits after enthusiastic but misguided overspending by another owner-fan, Mark Goldberg, who lost his fortune. Jordan initially bankrolled a successful push into the Premier League, but has been a parsimonious owner more recently, hoping to avoid following suit but also wanting to be remembered fondly.
The situation is deeply frustrating for Warnock who, in the circumstances, has worked a minor miracle. He has been working under a transfer embargo for most of the last year. His last cash signing was Alan Lee, from Ipswich, in August 2008.
Whether the administrators, or their successors, retain Warnock is yet to be seen. Relegation would render the club less attractive to buyers but as a high earner he will be vulnerable should the administrators enforce a cost-cutting regime. Clubs will now hope to snare Palace's talented youngsters cheaply. At Luton, P&A conducted a fire-sale of players and sacked manager Kevin Blackwell.