By Ed Barrett
For Crystal Palace supporters of my age, manager Neil Warnock’s departure to Queen’s Park Rangers brought back unhappy memories of Terry Venables’ sudden departure to the same club 30 years ago. In 1980, he took half the team with him to West London, and the Eagles were destined for a decade of financial chaos. In 1999 the nightmare returned, as TV’s second spell ended with another swift exit and the club in administration. Now, as history repeats itself yet again, it makes me wonder whether the game is worth the candle.
When Portsmouth FC was on the brink of winding up recently, it was criticised for winning the FA Cup at the expense of the club’s future. But with Palace on the verge of collapse, I find myself in sympathy with those who put glory before financial prudence. Better that than the double-whammy of failure on the pitch and financial ruin off it.
When I started supporting Palace it was a new breed of club. No history of success, but with good support and the chance to recruit more from a huge, modern catchment area. This myth of a golden future persisted stubbornly through a series of false dawns – roughly one a decade – in which the club would reach the top division and implode. Meanwhile, the big clubs mopped up local support and left Palace with its long-suffering, hardcore fans.
As a kid, I awaited the day when we would win the league and even – who knows? – the European Cup itself. I was a glory hunter, of course, but I was prepared to put up with whatever it took, and I didn’t complain when we spent most of the seventies and eighties outside the top tier. I looked forward to a lifetime’s journey with the club with plenty of rewards along the way. I always hoped it would come good in the end, and I knew that it would be all the sweeter for the suffering.
Back in 1969, these expectations weren’t particularly far-fetched. Palace had just been promoted to Division One for the first time,
along with Derby, who would win two championships in the next six seasons, and were denied the European Cup by a combination of corruption and bad luck. Shortly afterwards, Nottingham Forest won promotion, then the league, then two successive European Cups – all in the space of four years. No one expected clubs of this size to do it forever, but most fans would settle for a single triumph in