Paul Newman: Palace on Tour Day marks fans' trust in latest set of owners

The Football League Column: Three thousand Palace fans were at Coventry – as if they were going for promotion
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The Independent Online

On the face of it there was not much for Crystal Palace supporters to shout about at Coventry on Saturday. A 2-1 defeat – their 12th loss in 16 away matches this season – left Palace just one place above the Championship relegation zone, while Steffen Iversen's late consolation was only the third goal Dougie Freedman's men have scored in five matches on the road since the turn of the year.

Nevertheless, there were some 3,000 Palace supporters at the Ricoh Arena, making the sort of noise and spectacle you would expect of a team going for promotion. Eagles fans had chosen the match as "Palace on Tour Day", a celebration of their devotion to a club which has twice gone to the brink of extinction since the turn of the century.

Despite their present predicament, Palace fans believe they have plenty to be happy about. After the reigns of Mark Goldberg and Simon Jordan, the club's two previous fan-owners, had both ended in administration, the Palace faithful believe the latest supporters to take the helm – a group of businessmen led by Steve Parish and Martin Long – can steer the ship into calmer waters.

The days of high-profile managers and high-maintenance players may well be over for the time being, but the fans are confident their club is now in safe hands.

Although the playing squad has been reinforced following significant departures last summer, several new arrivals have been signed on loan or on short-term deals, limiting long-term commitments.

An equal source of optimism is the fact that Palace have owners eager to maintain a dialogue with fans, whether by appearing on website forums or meeting supporter groups.

The Crystal Palace Supporters Trust (CPST), which helped pave the way for many other trusts by setting up as an industrial and provident society during the club's previous financial crisis, felt they were sidelined by Jordan.

The CPST have quickly built a good relationship with the new owners and are discussing a project under which the fans would buy a new training ground for the club, who would rent it back on more favourable terms than at their present premises at Beckenham.

Having conducted a feasibility study and identified potential sites, the trust will make a presentation tomorrow to Freedman – who is a long-standing member of the trust – and his coaching staff. A meeting of trust members later this month will be asked to back the plans.

The trust may need up to £2.5m to finance the project. The money could be raised through loan notes or through a community shares scheme similar to that pioneered by FC United of Manchester.

Rent payments from the club would – in theory – enable the trust to give a return to those supporters willing to provide the capital.

Palace are also pursuing plans to leave Selhurst Park and build a new stadium at the nearby National Sports Centre.

West Ham's proposed move to the new Olympic stadium, which would retain an athletics track, has given fresh impetus to the idea as there would not be the same pressures to keep a mainstream athletics venue on the site.

The club have proposed building a new 40,000-seat football stadium, with a smaller athletics facility constructed alongside rather than inside.

Both the club and supporters are determined to avoid a repeat of past financial crises. "Two administrations in 10 years is just totally unacceptable," Alan Palmer, the trust's chairman, said.

"Any reasonable fan wants the club to be sensible and live within its means. The new owners are sensible businessmen who are not going to throw their money around. The fans know that.

"At the moment we are just grateful that we have a club to support. I have every confidence in the present management steering us away from relegation, but even if the worst happened I doubt there would be any backlash from the fans."

Palmer added: "Having a good relationship with the club has actually taken some getting used to. But dealing with the new owners has been very refreshing. They are very keen to involve us. We believe we can help them and provide real added value."

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