It’s been a relatively boring close season at Crystal Palace FC. A couple of signings. Some renovation at Selhurst Park. But less than forty-eight hours before the season kicks off, it has all kicked off with the departure of manager of the year Tony Pulis. Cue the pundits spouting clichés – this will destabilise the club blah blah. Well of course it will. Palace have pressed the self-destruct button.
Palace fans have been here before, of course. The team of the 80s. Alan Mullery. Ron Noades’ race row. Exclusion from Europe. Relegation on 49 top flight points. Relegation having finished fourth from bottom. Thomas Brolin. Mark Goldberg. Terry Venables. Administration 1. The public implosions under Alan Smith. Simon Jordan’s feuds with everybody. ‘Chrystal Palace’ on our shirts. Col Gaddafi. Administration 2. It’s what we do. But we are never stronger than when our backs are against the wall. Ask Lloyds Bank whether fan protests made a difference back in 2010 when the club was hours from oblivion.
A year ago I wrote that I was pretty ambivalent about Palace’s then potential promotion to the ‘EPL’ gravy train. In reality there was plenty to get excited about last season – but only once we had, in typical Palace style – made it ridiculously difficult for ourselves.
I don’t want to support some identikit club with a soulless bowl of a stadium. Let Palace be Palace. That means Selhurst Park, with modern facilities, sure, but with what is now its famous atmosphere. That means passionate, noisy fans. And that means an academy known for developing players and blooding them in the first team. It does not mean a board that decides who the manager should pick to play. But it does mean a club that never again spends beyond its means because a third administration might be the one that takes our Palace away.
Tony Pulis, for all his brilliance, didn’t always seem to buy into that. He was justly proud of his record and had the confidence and necessary arrogance that is commensurate with having made his own success. But he never talked about long-term ambitions for the club. We supporters – having suffered plenty of heartbreak – are highly sensitive to picking up the signs of non-committal stars. Pulis referred to Palace as ‘they’. And now we – not they – will pick up the pieces.
Now the season is starting. COME ON YOU REDS AND BLUES.