Monday, May 2nd marks six years from that fateful afternoon at Hillsborough when Paul Hart’s Crystal Palace secured Championship survival by the skin of its teeth after salvaging a 2-2 draw against fellow relegation strugglers, Sheffield Wednesday. That Palace team was a side on its knees and stripped to the bone by the wrath of administration.
Six years on, Palace have all but guaranteed themselves a fourth consecutive Premier League season and are gearing up for an FA Cup final against Manchester United. Pedigreed players like Yohan Cabaye now wear South London’s Red and Blue and Crystal Palace are becoming a brand recognized around the world, a stark contrast in comparison to the club that was saved from falling into oblivion by Steve Parish and his fan-led consortium CPFC 2010.
Few things have remained constant since 2010: Speroni, the fans, the colours, and the board, namely Steve Parish. Parish’s work cannot be overlooked when chronicling the club’s rise.
In recent years, the tide has been against club owners and chairmen. While foreign investors have brought money and glamour, many have brought reckless spending focused on brand image and revenues instead of football. Unlike the rest, however, Steve Parish deserves a lot of credit and has shown the footballing world what a good club chairman can still be in the modern world of English football.
Due to the overwhelming wealth of Premier League clubs and increasing value of TV deals, the gap between Premier League and Championship clubs is growing. Established Premier League sides have more and more money to spend each summer and are able to attract big-money names from all over the globe. Championship sides, when promoted, have hardly a fraction of the revenues that the big clubs do.
In trying to match up, some teams take a rather mercurial approach and buy in bulk, overhauling the promotion winning side. Instead of assessing all options, chairmen sometimes go for reputable players, in many cases beyond their sell-by date, who contribute more to a club’s image than the matches themselves. Wage bills rise drastically and while Premier League TV money will keep the clubs expenses balanced, going down can be disastrous when the club no longer has the inflow of cash to maintain its new expenses. These clubs ignore the more financially responsible approach of quality over quantity and showing faith in the men who achieved the promotion into the top flight.
QPR, under Tony Fernandes, spent lavishly yet did not survive long in any of their two recent stints. In 2014, after a drop in revenue due to life in the Championship, the club’s debts had surpassed £170 million. The club could not maintain its Premier League-caliber spending and are now struggling in the championship as they try to balance the books and earn promotion again in the coming seasons.
Parish’s approach has been more cautious and methodical. Parish has always based his actions on his vision for the club, a self-sustaining local club in the Premier League. Today, the South Londoners have no external debt and have gone two consecutive seasons making profits. In 2014, Palace made no crazy signings but instead went for quality in hiring Tony Pulis as manager to achieve safety.
In fact, some of the promotion money was spent on long-term infrastructure such as the purchase of the club’s training ground in Beckenham.
Today, Palace’s wage bill is rising, however at a pace proportional to the club’s growth. Palace is bringing in the famous, and costly, likes of Yohan Cabaye and Emmanuel Adebayor but at the same time are pushing for the FA Cup and may be in the Europa League next season.
Moreover in terms of financial growth, the club recently struck a deal with American investors, Josh Harris and David Blitzer. Despite much skepticism in the stands about foreign ownership, Parish has been sure to consolidate the Red and Blue’s current administration and keep the club close to its fans.
Parish is currently in the next phase of his master plan for Crystal Palace: creating a global brand. With the annual growth in the international audience that the Premier League gets and the increased exposure for the club, Palace’s name recognition has hit new heights. Within in the US nowadays, Crystal Palace’s name is understood by the vast majority and people now recognise there is no link to Disneyland. Parish’s deal with Harris and Blitzer demonstrates the chairman’s interest in expanding the club’s fanbase into the US and beyond.
Steve Parish is not selling the world any old generic sports team. Steve Parish is selling the world one of South London’s gems. The club continues to stay true to its roots. Parish mentioned his intentions to inject around £30 million in the youth academy and secured £50 million in funding in his deal with Harris and Blitzer for planned renovations of Selhurst Park.
And unlike other clubs trying to broaden their appeal, the board have not pulled any ridiculous stunts for the sake of “global appeal” like Vincent Tan’s decision to change the club’s colors to red as he claimed shirts would sell better in Malaysia, or like Blackburn’s absurd trip to India to market themselves in the latter stages of a relegation dogfight.
Parish has grown the club at a rapid yet manageable rate in a responsible manner. As Wickham, Jedinak, Bolasie,Zaha, and Pardew get plaudits, remember the man who gets the drubbing, when things go wrong, rather than the praise, when everything’s going smoothly, more often than not. Evidence from this season suggests that the responsible approach is working better for promoted clubs. Bournemouth too seems to be following the responsible approach and should be in for another top-flight season. Stoke City and West Brom also show the value of methodical club planning, neither club’s management has pulled outlandish maneuvers in the running of the clubs. This goes to show that there is more to management than spending money and increasing debt.