Crystal Palace are riding the crest of a wave at the present time, and seem to have been doing so ever since winning promotion in the 2012-13 play-offs. Then Ian Holloway was the man at the helm as Kevin Phillips scored an extra time penalty to give the Eagles a slightly unexpected victory over favourites Watford.
After a rollercoaster season and a severe dip towards the finish, Palace came good in the end but didn’t have the greatest of starts in the Premier League. Inevitably, Holloway departed – ending up just down the road at Millwall – and Tony Pulis took over the hot seat for the rest of the 2013-14 season.
Almost overnight, Pulis gave Palace a transformation and turnaround that was like something from Roy of the Rovers. They finished the season in eleventh position with 45 points, a legendary 3-3 draw with Liverpool that left Luis Suarez in tears, and Pulis named as Premier League Manager of the Year.
Stability had come to one corner of South London. But then, as seemed typical of Palace in the past decade, Tony Pulis walked out on the eve of the new season, to be replaced by the controversial Neil Warnock. By Christmas though, the Eagles form had dipped, and Warnock too was on his way out the door at Selhurst.
Then, even though Easter was a few months away, cue the return of a Messiah for some Palace fans, and a Judas for others! Alan Pardew, former Palace midfielder and scorer of another legendary goal that beat Liverpool, returned to south London from a five year stint in Newcastle. Before then, of course, he had managed two of Palace’s London rivals in the form of West Ham and Charlton.
Each of those stints had ended acrimoniously after bright beginnings, and there’s still no love lost between Pardew and the fan base of Charlton, in particular.
Despite this Pardew does have a good reputation in the game for what he achieved at Reading at the start of his managerial career, for taking West Ham to an FA Cup final in 2006, and for steering Newcastle to fifth position in the Premier League in 2011-12, after a series of shrewd summer signings.
It was no surprise then that in the second half of the 2014-15 season, he turned Palace into a force to be reckoned with, getting back some of the steel they had shown under the management of Tony Pulis, and going beyond that to finish tenth in the Premier League with a total of 48 points.
No wonder then that Palace fans should be excited about the new season, and the summer signings of players such as Yohan Cabaye, Patrick Bamford, and Connor Wickham. Added to that they got off to a great start with victory over newly promoted Norwich. But still there are some amongst the fans of Pardew’s former clubs who might be expecting him to repeat some of his past history.
They will point to bright beginnings at West Ham, Charlton, and Southampton, and argue that at each of those clubs he lost the support of fans along the way. Though the same could be said about Newcastle, he probably didn’t ever have a great relationship to begin with, for reasons outside of his own control.
Bringing in big money signings doesn’t always guarantee success, as Pardew and Ian Dowie before him learned at his former club Charlton.
Are Connor Wickham and Patrick Bamford, for example, better than Dwight Gayle who is still very much a work in progress, but proven at Premier League level as somebody who knows how to find the back of the net. Palace fans are fond of him too, even if he needs to improve his work rate and consistency.
Selling a player who is popular with fans and team mates can sometimes set in motion the sorts of disruption to team morale than can come back to haunt you as a manager later in the season. Then again, if Patrick Bamford can repeat his performances for Middlesbrough in last season’s championship, in the dizzier heights of the Premier League, Pardew might have nothing to worry about.
History though does suggest that he can take teams from a comfortable position one season to a state of struggle the next, as happened with West Ham, Charlton, and Newcastle. In 2007-08 Charlton finished a comfortable twelfth in the Championship, in the season after their relegation from the Premier League.
By the following November, as the club spiralled towards a second relegation in three seasons, Pardew was gone, replaced by his assistant Phil Parkinson. Similarly, just a few months after taking West Ham to the 2006 FA Cup final, the club went into freefall in the league.
Yet there may be something different about Pardew’s relationship with Palace. One of his problems at other clubs has been a growing distance over time between himself and the fan base. When the fans get uneasy, the mood spreads to the players, and things get uncomfortable in the dressing room too. This happened at Charlton with criticism of the supporters in public, and then public criticism of the players, at times when he needed to bear responsibility.
Palace fans though seem to see Pardew as one of their own, and can even forgive him the sins of managing their rivals and neighbours. The support base is likely to stick with him, even if form dips and results suffer, because there’s a sense that he actually wants and loves this job. He’s seen as a Palace man, much the same as Chris Powell was seen as a Charlton man, though of course that doesn’t always guarantee security in the job, especially in a relegation battle.
But, barring a situation where the team become odds on certainties for relegation, I can’t see Palace’s owners parting company with Alan Pardew in the same way as they did with Holloway and Warnock.
Hard as it is for a Charlton fan to admit, I think Palace will consolidate their position somewhere between tenth and fourteenth. There are half a dozen clubs that look far more likely to occupy the bottom three places, and I can’t see any of the newly promoted clubs finishing above Pardew’s men.
Perhaps then at last Palace have found stability, and Pardew has found a place where he can sustain the positivity and the buzz that he brings with his charisma when he first arrives. Sadly for many of his clubs, the relationship has faded over time. Maybe at last though, he’s found the place where he feels most at home.
PAUL BREEN is a writer, and recent author of The Charlton Men, a work of fiction set against the 2011 London riots and the subsequent football season. The book is available through Amazon at the following link – http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Charlton-Men-Paul-Breen/dp/178308166X
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