Colin Randall writes: Our Crystal Palace interviewee, my badminton-playing friend Keith Marriage*, ‘got it in the neck’ from Mrs M for spending too long on replies to our questions and not doing the washing up. But there appears no risk of the Marriages consciously uncoupling (how could they with that name?) and Keith reckons it was a ‘fun exercise’.
As afterthoughts, he wondered whether David Moyes is still shell-shocked after his Old Trafford experience and has ‘lost his managerial mojo’ and declared that Sunderland way outshone Spurs, ‘sadly just in the garish kit stakes’. It’s a long read but includes some fascinating insights …
Salut! Sunderland: Crystal Palace’s list of owners seems to grow longer every time I look. Is the ownership structure pretty sound in your view?
Keith Marriage: Ha! That is a good question, I will have to make a quick check on them! Prior to any deep research my belief is that the ‘Gang of Four’ local businessman fans/co-owners who saved the club in 2010 are still around (Steve Parish, Stephen Browett, Jeremy Hosking and Martin Long) however some of the minor parties would like to withdraw back to being the fans they were before it all went bang. Meanwhile 2 American sports investors (Josh Harris and David Blitzer) have now bought into the club bringing more funds plus, hopefully, some sensible sports management acumen. A while back I sounded out American friends about them and they said they were perceived as OK. It is said that they liked the double Wembley experience and want more, hence being the force behind buying Benteke whilst Steve Parish is naturally more cautious. They weren’t keen on the big slump last year though and I think Parish has been summoned over for a ‘Gentle Q and A’ once or twice!
Back in the dark days of administration in 2010 I spoke to the administrator (Brendan Guilfoyle) in the period leading to the successful escape and he thought that having 4 local businessmen would be good, and indeed it has been, so much so that some fans are unsure about whether bringing in the Americans and their money is a good idea and that we are better off as we are with (for once) sensible expectations and living within our means. After all having gone bust 2 or 3 times before, we are unlikely to get many favours if it happens again!
Personally I think the ‘Gang of Four’ have done an absolutely fabulous job since they took over. They drove a very hard bargain to get the club out of administration AND reunited in ownership with the ground. Since then there has been a little more managership merry go round than anyone anticipated, however in no time at all we have gained promotion via the play-offs (which we are rather good at), and stayed up (never achieved before in our other 3 Prem attempts) and been to the Cup Final. Since 2010 the atmosphere at Selhurst has been just brilliant, everyone just so grateful to be still in existence and playing in the Prem too! Unsurprisingly last year the atmosphere became a little less forgiving, as 2010 recedes from the memory. However after the Cup Final and a spirited couple of home games it seems back with a vengeance. Poor old Stoke!!
Alan Pardew, not necessarily the most popular fellow if you were to ask Sunderland supporters, had a good start, then tailed off. How do you see his managership?
Another good Q!! We had been linked to him several sackings beforehand so I think it was inevitable that he would be here sometime or other. His start was fantastic and he clearly enjoyed being somewhere where he was loved and the above mid table finish was excellent. Around that time others asked me what I thought and I said then to ask again after 2 years which we are heading towards now. Well has hasn’t scarpered to another club, or to England (Yay Big Sam!!), and right now the team spirit seems to be still in place so yes, I’m still positive about him. Unlike some of our recent managers, he is up to the Premiership mentality AND he is trying to play bright football.
You didn’t have a great start to the season but then won two in succession to reach eighth. Do you sense a season of struggle or midtable security?
Before the start of the season I knew we needed both a few new players, and also to raise the general standard, and also to allow some of the players who were ageing to move on with thanks. Although I felt that there could have been more activity it now seems like we had a ‘pretty good window’ all told. In particular having Mandanda in goal, and Benteke up front, we now have to be taken seriously as a Premiership team. So……. steady mid-table it is! By the way, don’t knock last season, flirting with Europe at the start, relegation dogfight towards the end, and two trips to Wembley only ruined by Clattenburg not understanding the ‘advantage’ rule. For a Palace fan, what’s not to like? You should know that a SUCCESSFUL relegation battle is way more exciting than a safe 14th place.
Are you conscious of the advantage Palace has over bigger but geographically less appealing (to players and their Wags) clubs? Does being in London makes it easier to recruit?
Hmm, not so sure about that one. I am sure that there are some great clubs and bars in Newcastle? (That’s not to knock Sunderland by the way, I don’t think our stars live in down town Croydon either!!).
How much will your season depend on the likes of Benteke, Cabaye, Remy and Townsend? Who else is important to you?
Cabaye and Remy who…? Well I certainly hope that we do get to see the best of them for sure. I think Cabaye has not been at his best for a while now, too many injuries have taken away his edge a bit. Sad indeed to see Bolassie go, however Townsend, although probably a little less gifted, is so much more focused on what is required for the team to score goals and win matches. I hope that this rubs off on Zaha and he becomes a useful member of the team rather than just entertainment. Benteke is great to see in South London, wow, I think he will succeed here and the team with him, and Mandanda, as I alluded to above, gives us a real quality goalkeeper at last. Sadly Hennessey, although a good shot stopper, is just not reliable enough, and Pardew has clearly decided that Jules (Speroni) is too small, too old to be no.1 any more.
One more mention, James MacArthur. He is seriously our main man and we so missed him during the time when we fell back last season.
And how are Connor Wickham and Fraizer Campbell doing?
Was Frazier Campbell one of yours in the past [Yes- Ed]? He tries hard enough but is really not much of a threat in the Prem, and not just in Pardew formations either. Often plays in the early cup games.
Connor Wickham is well liked. After Glen Murray slowed down (and he wasn’t fast before, but well canny), we hoped he would be the effective centre forward we craved. At times he looks the business, fab against Watford in the semi-final for example, other times not sharp enough however the service has been poor from the wings and midfield, hence buying Townsend for a start. He is too often out with injuries as well and so with Benteke on board will probably be used off the bench.
What will be the top four in order?
After 5 games / an 1/8th of the season I feel like I’m cheating here but here goes;
Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal. Ooops, no Man Utd, such a shame!
And the bottom three?
Stoke, Burnley, Hull. There you are, you can relax!!
Who have been the greatest players you/ve seen turn out for Palace?
That’s a nice question. I’ve been going to Selhurst since 1969 so many eras have been and gone. I too have been going pretty consistently all that time save for 2 1/2 seasons abroad (when we were rubbish anyway), and again when the kids were young and I could only make about 3 games a season, (always 0-1, boo). Anyway my point is that I well remember my early seasons, and then the epic Coppell years of the 90s, and then the recent adventures since 2010 the best so will pick heroes from these.
Goalies: John Jackson – we had 4 years in Div 1 from 1969 and if we could get the opposition to shoot from outside the goal area we thought we were doing great, he had a lot of practice!! Nigel Martin – a big rock, and Julian Speroni – from zero to hero.
Defenders: Jim Cannon – 532ish games, Kenny Sansom – still lives around the corner, and Scott Dann – a bit handy with those corners!
Midfield: Steve Kember – for a while the most expensive UK football transfer, £77 – 15 shillings and 6d I recall. Scored the first Palace goal I ever saw (3-1 vs Portsmouth, Easter 1969. Geoff Thomas – great player and all round great guy. He was maligned for the worst shot in English football history but by the time he played for England he was probably already past his peak and perhaps his leukaemia had started? Darren Ambrose – another player who oozed quality during a couple of seasons when it was in well short supply.
Strikers: Ian Wright and Mark Bright – never lost for words! Wilfred Zaha – always teasing both the opposition and the home fans alike!
Special mentions: Attilio Lombardo – probably couldn’t believe the dross he was surrounded by but gave his all on the pitch, even pressed into being manager by the end of the season. Peter Taylor – great player especially for scoring a free kick to order at Chelsea which enabled me to get away from the skinheads who were going to kick my head in at half time. Andy Johnson – many great goals, esp against Brighton!
And the most forgettable?
Well I’ve forgotten them of course! I guess all clubs had a few expensive signings who didn’t put in the effort, right up there is Michele Padovano, maybe he was fit for 2 games at most. He sure wouldn’t have been up for a cold, wet, muddy night in Sunderland! I think our statistically most unsuccessful player must have been Butch Wilkins who played 45mins only of the 1st game of the season home to Liverpool, and by the time he went off we were already 0-3 down, it ended 1-6, and our season was over. Urgh!
Your own high and low points as a supporter?
Palace were a small lower tier club until just after I started supporting them from when I was a 15yo. Since then it has been pretty good really and I wouldn’t support anyone else (of course duh!). The low points have been the quiet seasons in the second tier, however generally we do not do mid-table so relegation dogfights have featured large and have more often than not been successful (OK, apart from in the Prem until 2010!).
It has been a big disappointment to have lost 2 Cup Finals, but even then we gave our all on and off the pitch, and we have had several Play-Off final victories to savour. So, pretty good really. One of the Palace songs is ‘South London’s No.1’, and most often we are, perhaps that lacks ambition or perhaps it is appropriate ambition?
Any thoughts on Sunderland – the club,the fans, the city and region, David Moyes?
Sunderland – well we have shared relegation and promotion battles with you over many years. I honestly consider that Sunderland are historically a bigger club than Crystal Palace but nowadays on average we punch about the same weight. The similarities carry on, you are the unfashionable side of ‘Tyneside’ (you all know what I mean) as we are to London however we both have attitude and a sense of humour vs the so called illustrious neighbours (hmm, yours aren’t very illustrious are they?!!). I didn’t really know the region until 2 seasons back when ‘away to Sunderland’ and ‘away to Newcastle’ came out of the computer a week apart, so, obvious really, me and my mate booked an AIRBNB in Gateshead and and had rather a jolly time of it! Football was 0-0 with you, and 0-0 until the 95th min at St James Park when they scored, of course their fans had all ****ed off home so didn’t have the pleasure.
Club versus country: which is more important to you and why?
Save the ink on this one. Shame that England are such complete bollocks. I went to Brazil in 2014 for a hol with football, fortunately missed all the England games as we had to pick the matches before the draw was made. South American/Latino fans, brilliant!
Diving and other forms of cheating: so widespread we may as well stop whingeing and just do it better or still worth trying to stamp out?
Well no point in whingeing, although we all enjoy it of course. Personally I agree with a bit of an attempt at a clamp down on cheating every few seasons. Looks as though the defenders are on the receiving end this season.
Best Premier ref, worst in your view?
The best you don’t notice much, we always notice Clattenburg. He hates Palace for some reason
Is football less fun that it used to be before all the money started sloshing about?
I don’t agree with that because the last 6 years for us have been as fun as any. The vital thing is having your players wanting to play for the team, if you don’t get that then the fun is out the window. Generally much more of a risk to the big clubs than Sunderland or Palace. See comment on Padovano above, it’s nothing new.
Will you be at our game and what will be the score?
Ordinarily I ‘teach’ English in Soho on Saturday lunchtimes, then rush off to Selhurst via the Railway Tavern, however I have an unexpected day off…… And we did play rather well last week…… And you do owe me a beer for all these insights, so yes, the train is booked and the game ticket is winging its way as we speak. That will probably put the mockers on it!
* Keith Marriage on a life wedded to Palace:: ‘Who are ya, who are ya….’?!! I remember the ’66 World Cup in B&W, just! My family hail from near Croydon and I was brought up near Kingston (the London one) and all my school mates were mainly Chelsea or QPR however I wasn’t having any of that and after serving my apprenticeship with Sutton Utd started to follow Palace in 1969 and the romance continues!
For work I used to manage the packaging development for Lucozade and Ribena, I still get a swell of pride when someone chucks one of my designs on the pitch! Probably a good thing that we changed the bottles from glass to plastic though. Nowadays I have a season ticket along with my daughter Charlotte and mate John and we try and make 2 or 3 away games each season. I think the £30 away cap is a great step forward and this year will therefore try and get to a few more especially where we have friends we can visit as well. Leicester, Swansea and Liverpool watch out!
For media I recommend a dose of the ‘Five year plan’ on Twitter and Web-site/pod cast and finally to help you understand the rivalry with Brighton here are links to the brilliant A Palace Minute …
Good luck and get the beers in ready OK!
Interview: Colin Randall