Thoughts From: Crystal Palace

I hate it when football fans describe anything as “typical [insert team here]”. Bad things happen to every team on the field. Every team loses games in stoppage time. Every team concedes stupid goals. Every team has decisions go against them. So stop it.

But off the field, the extra-footballicular spectacle is something unique to each club and, to be honest, it is usually better if it isn’t a spectacle. Often, as much of a club’s identity comes from this off-field tumult as what happens on the green stuff. Which is what brings me to Crystal Palace.

Crystal Palace have been, on average, a middling-to-upper Championship club for my entire life and probably longer. Fans have been happy with that. The occasional flirtation with the Premier League was fine but who likes losing every week and playing away at Sunderland at 5am on a Thursday? Nope, the second tier is perfectly comfortable thanks.

Normality was avoiding financial oblivion, not counting millions.

But all of this could change shortly, and there’s a feeling that nobody knows quite what to do with themselves.

It is worth mentioning that there have been takeover rumours with Palace before, and they’ve been a little unconventional. Colonel Gadaffi was linked to a purchase of the club. Puff Daddy reportedly even flew into London after showing an interest. All well and good, but none of those ever came to pass, even though Gadaffi probably fancied his chances of passing those notoriously ‘stringent’ Fit-and-Proper Persons tests.

This time, it is serious. And barring an extraordinary collapse, American billionaire Joshua Harris and his group will buy into the south London club in the next few weeks.

Inevitably, the fear among fans is that Stateside investors haven’t had great success in the Premier League. Randy Lerner’s was fleeting, the Glazers’ comes with a massive asterisk and FSG haven’t yet proven that they’ve taken Liverpool to the next level. Palace are stable for the first time in years, they’ve got a superb manager and the prospect of a Hicks-and-Gillettesque nightmare doesn’t seem like a risk the supporters are overly keen on.

“Some are worried that the club might lose its identity but I’m not so sure about that. It’s kind of clichéd but you need to spend money to stay in the Premier League and that is what the club has to do now,” says Jim Daly, founder of Palace’s best-selling fanzine, Five Year Plan.

“My understanding of this new chap is that he’s an investor rather than an owner, with Steve Parish likely staying on. In that respect I think we’ll be in quite good hands, retaining the ‘South London and Proud’ thing while being a bit better off.”

Plenty of people have enquired into the possibility of investing since Palace were promoted to the big time in May 2013 but serious talks with Harris have been ongoing since last summer, and despite one of the four current co-owners having been keen to sell up for some time, it has been a complex negotiation.

With the Eagles now almost certain to be in the Premier League for a third consecutive term, minds have instead turned to what is uncertain and what the new regime may look like.

Having attempted to contact Harris many times – to no avail, unsurprisingly – the best idea we can get of how a Harris-led administration may look is by considering the job he has done with his American sports franchises. And the conclusion is that he is a forward-looking, smart guy.

The Philadelphia 76ers, his NBA franchise, were named by ESPN as the major sports franchise that had most embraced analytics. That’s across all American sports. He appointed 37-year-old Sam Hinkie as his General Manager there, a man with an MBA and who has lectured on sports statistics at Harvard.

If that is the future of Crystal Palace (who just three months ago were managed by Neil Warnock, remember) then it is quite some change in direction. Of course, the club has been using statistics in recruitment and performance analysis for some time – occasionally to the irritation of its managers – but it is no coincidence that the Sporting Director role vacated by Iain Moody hasn’t been filled. Indeed, it could be first on the agenda when the Americans rock into town.

For a club that is currently quite stable for the first time in years, having nearly gone out of business twice already this century, the supporters are nervous, questioning the takeover. But for four reluctant fans who saved the club at its moment of need, there is the unique opportunity to hand their team over to people financially far better equipped to progress the club.

Where there is change, there is always uncertainty. But what’s the worst that could happen? Defeats? Relegation? Financial oblivion?

That would just be typical Palace, wouldn’t it?

You can follow Ed Malyon on Twitter (@eaamalyon)

Are you a Crystal Palace supporter? Are you concerned about the prospect of new owners? Or are you positively giddy about the whole thing? Let us know by emailing [email protected] 

Thoughts From: Crystal Palace
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