Promotion lays to rest Goldberg's memories of £40m nightmare

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The Independent Football

He was sitting about 10 rows from the front, behind the goal at the heart of the Crystal Palace end, alongside his young son and two friends. He was wearing a tee-shirt and jeans, his son a Palace shirt. When the teams ran out he threw his red and blue balloons in the air, when Neil Shipperley scored he leapt up in celebration and after the final whistle he joined the other 30,000 Palace fans in a hearty rendition of "Glad All Over".

If Saturday's play-off victory was a day of joy for the Palace fans after six years out of the top flight, it was a cathartic experience for Mark Goldberg, the fan who blew £40m on the club in less than a year and presided over their collapse into administration.

"I hope a cloud from the past has lifted over the lives of Palace fans, because we've had a lot of disappointments and turmoil in recent years," Goldberg said after the game. "Winning promotion has certainly lifted a cloud from the past that's been hanging over me. I feel it's helped me to bury the ghosts, to put the past behind me."

Goldberg, who still talks about Palace as "we", bought the club he had supported as a boy early in 1998 with some of the millions he had made from his IT recruitment business. At £22.8m the purchase price raised plenty of eyebrows, particularly as it did not even include the ground, which remained in the hands of the departing chairman, Ron Noades.

Palace were relegated from the Premier League at the end of the season and any thoughts that Goldberg might revise his expansionist plans were rapidly dispelled with the appointment of Terry Venables as manager. A series of transfers in and out of the club failed to improve the team's fortunes, however, and by January Venables had been sacked. Two months later Palace were in administration, where they remained for more than a year. Closure seemed a real possibility until Simon Jordan saved the club in the summer of 2000.

Four years and six managers later - Steve Coppell, Alan Smith, Steve Bruce, Trevor Francis and Steve Kember had spells in charge before Iain Dowie arrived - the wheel has turned full circle as Palace, watched by the man who oversaw their fall from grace, earned a place back in the big time with victory over West Ham.

If the fans blamed Goldberg for their club's troubles, there was little sign of it at Saturday's match. "Some fans recognised me," Goldberg said. "But the fans who came up to me gave me a big hug and said they were pleased to see me. They said it was nice to see that I was a true Palace fan.

"I know that some fans doubted my loyalty, but I used to stand on the Holmesdale Road end as a kid, dreaming of playing for Palace, and my support never wavered.

"Then I lost £40m of my personal fortune in trying to help the club. I went bankrupt and got divorced - I lost absolutely everything. But I don't blame people when they question my loyalty to the club, because I made a lot of bad decisions and I know how upset the fans were by what happened.

"There were a lot of reasons why it all went wrong," he added. "I never wanted to buy the club outright on my own. The idea was to bring in a number of other investors. Unfortunately I didn't secure that money before I took the club over. Then, when things started to go wrong, the other investors decided they didn't want to go ahead - and my pockets just weren't deep enough for me to keep the club afloat on my own. Not securing the freehold of the ground from Ron Noades was also a problem."

Particularly after his own experiences, Goldberg is full of admiration for his successor. "Simon Jordan has done a fantastic job," Goldberg said. "He's put his money where his mouth is and he's now got his reward.

"The appointment of Iain Dowie was obviously a master stroke. Palace are so well-organised. I'm really impressed with the way the manager has imposed discipline on the squad. I'm sure that gives the team confidence.

"We will obviously need to strengthen the team in the Premiership, but maybe not as much as people think. Besides, I don't know how much will be available to spend on the squad. Although getting into the Premiership is a big boost to your finances, the money doesn't go a long way in football - as I found out to my cost."

After paying the price for his errors at Palace, Goldberg moved on to a new career. For the last five years he has been working at a City-based media services company. He still lives in Bromley, Kent and watches Palace. "I've been to about a dozen matches this season," he said. "I'd like to go to more, but I run my son's Under-11 football team and that often clashes.

"I've been rebuilding my life, both professionally and personally, and one of the things I have learned is to keep things in perspective. When you look at your kids and you see that they're happy and healthy, whatever regrets you might have about decisions you've made in the past become insignificant."

Goldberg met Jordan in Spain at the end of last year. "One of the things we talked about was how the right appointment of a manager can make all the difference. He was very confident then that Iain Dowie was the right man."

Thinking, no doubt, back to his own ill-fated recruitment of Venables, Goldberg added: "Maybe if I had brought Iain Dowie to the club it could have been me celebrating winning the jackpot this weekend instead of Simon Jordan."

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