FA Cup Countdown: Goldberg flies high with Bromley after losing £40m in Eagles crash landing

Bankruptcy with Palace did not deter Mark Goldberg. He tells Paul Newman about his successful comeback as a manager
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The Independent Football

If Bromley lose at Gillingham in the first round of the FA Cup today you can only hope that events do not follow the same course as the last time their manager was involved in the famous old competition.

The man in charge of the Ryman League side is Mark Goldberg, who was chairman of Crystal Palace when they lost 2-1 at Newcastle United in the third round seven years ago. The result sounded the death knell for Goldberg's chaotic reign, which ended with the club going into administration and the chairman being declared bankrupt after blowing £40m of his own money in less than nine months.

An irrepressible optimist and football nut, Goldberg has bounced back. Bromley, whose chairman is one of his oldest friends, are unbeaten at the top of the Ryman Premier Division since he became manager this summer. Goldberg says he is over the emotional hurt from Palace, but the financial scars run deep. He is still paying off the £60,000 costs of the disqualification order - which remains in force - barring him from being a company director following his calamitous stewardship of Palace.

Having used the sale of shares in his IT recruitment business to buy the club in 1998, Goldberg failed to stop Palace's slide following relegation from the Premiership. Terry Venables was recruited as manager, a host of new players were signed, agents rejoiced and salaries rocketed. Goldberg had several co-backers lined up, but they withdrew as Palace's problems mounted.

"I think one of my last investors was waiting to see the outcome of that FA Cup game," Goldberg said. "I was on my way back from Australia. I arrived back that morning and I was too late to get a flight up to Newcastle. The weather was terrible and I just knew it was going to be a bad day for me. A Cup run would have made such a difference to our financial situation."

Within weeks Palace were in administration. The club teetered on the brink for the next 18 months until another boyhood fan, Simon Jordan, bought it. In the meantime Goldberg got divorced and lost most of his private assets.

He is the sort, however, who would not so much rearrange the deckchairs on the Titanic as see a business opportunity to rent them out. After Palace he went into television, helping to launch channels devoted to job recruitment, selling cars, poker and "adult entertainment", and is now in property. His big aim is to build a "sports village" - a complex of sports centres, retail outlets, cinemas, restaurants, apartments and hotels - to challenge the likes of Center Parcs.

Goldberg cannot recall whether he agreed to being barred from being a company director for seven years or for 14. "I don't know because it doesn't matter," he said. "I can be an owner and I can work for the company, as long as I'm not running it. I take great care that I do everything properly."

An outstanding schoolboy footballer, Goldberg went to America for two years on a soccer scholarship. A back injury scuppered his hopes of turning professional, but he became player-manager of Beckenham Town in the Kent League at 20 and ran Bromley's reserve team before his business interests took over. At 43 he still plays for Bromley's veterans and also manages their under-14 team, having set up an under-nine side when his son started playing five years ago.

He was helping to interview candidates for the job of manager of the senior side earlier this year when he thought: "Why not me?" The chairman agreed and Goldberg put together a management team with a strong Selhurst Park influence. His assistant is Murray Jones, who worked at Palace's academy, while Bobby Bowry, who made 50 appearances for Palace, is player-coach. Another former Eagle, Simon Osborn, who was twice sold for £1m, is seeing out his playing days at the club where he used to sell tickets as a boy.

Goldberg gives his chairman financial advice, but has no monetary involvement other than managing the budget for players. "Bearing in mind what happened at Palace I'm probably the best equipped person to negotiate a contract of anybody in the Football League or the Premiership," he said.

He has studied football all his life and believes he can make good use of his business experience managing a sales force of 150 and 2,500 contractors. "My first session here was three months before pre-season when I brought my management team into a seminar room," he said. "We got out the flip chart and spelled out everything we wanted to achieve for the year and how we wanted to achieve it. From there we mapped out every single pre-season training session. We looked at exactly what we needed in terms of fitness, rehabilitation, patterns of play and formations.

"There was a certain amount of pure organisation that I could bring in. The rest has to be your gut instinct and knowledge of football. You have to be able to recognise how you want to play, where you're going wrong and how to put it right.

"Every Monday night I sit down with my management team. I say where I think we've gone wrong and what I want to work on to put it right. Every training session is therefore tailored to that. Murray and Bobby will always know the relevant training drill, but I do know how to coach and I get involved in the sessions."

He says he learned much about management at Palace from watching Venables and Steve Coppell, who brought Reading to Hayes Lane for a pre-season friendly (other summer visitors included Palace and Gillingham, today's opponents, who lost 1-0).

Goldberg often bumps into Jordan in Marbella. "We always have a good chat and I find him good company," he said. "He's put his money where his mouth is, though I'm scared to think what it's costing him at the moment."

He rates a goal scored in 1976 at Chelsea by Peter Taylor, the current Palace manager, as one of his favourite FA Cup moments. "I was in the Shed with my Palace shirt on," he recalled. "I also remember a great goal he scored against Peterborough to give us a 1-1 draw. I ran all the way home from Selhurst Park."

Does he still feel any personal stigma over what happened at Palace? "Only from people that keep bringing it up," Goldberg said, with only a hint of a smile. He regrets having spent so freely - Ron Noades, the outgoing chairman, advised him to cut costs following relegation - but not the initial purchase. "My whole goal was to phone my Dad and tell him: 'I've just bought Crystal Palace.' That was a great feeling. What I should have thought more about was what I did with it once I'd bought it."

Did he feel he was taken for a ride by Noades, who sold him the club (minus the ground, which he recently offloaded to Jordan for another £12m) for £22.8m? Or by Venables, who negotiated a £135,000 fee just to open talks and eventually agreed a basic salary of £750,000 a year before tax? Or by the agent who charged £448,000 for bringing over two unsuccessful Argentinian trialists and a third who made only one first-team start?

"I was very excited and very open to being taken advantage of," Goldberg admitted. "They didn't know me, so why shouldn't they? Who wouldn't? Although I don't think I would treat anybody in the way that I was treated in certain situations, the bottom line is that I went in to play a game of business with Ron and he emerged as the winner."

Has he sought any advice from Noades, who is one of the only other League chairmen who subsequently went into management? "I think Ron will offer it anyway - you don't have to ask," Goldberg laughed. "I saw him recently at a golf day. The last time we'd seen each other we'd been fighting each other, but after the golf we had a really good lunch together. He asked me why I didn't take his advice at the time. I explained that I'd invested a lot of my money and wanted to do things my way.

"Ron offered me gold membership of one of his golf clubs. I said: 'Ron, that's not free. It cost me £22m.' We had a good laugh together and gave each other a big hug."