A new Crystal Palace documentary series airing Friday night offers a compelling insight into what it’s like to have a lifelong fan of the club as your owner.
Steve Parish carries such a heavy responsibility that he travels to away games with Mark Bright, desperate to amass all the snippets of knowledge he can.
When his hugely successful first manager, club legend Dougie Freedman, resigns and leaves for a better performance in Bolton and things start to falter, he can’t stop telling his successor, Ian Holloway, what Dougie is said to have done.
Steve Parish stars in a new documentary, When Eagles Dare, which charts how Crystal Palace went from the brink of liquidation in 2010 to an established Premier League club
Palace finished 14th in the Premier League in 2020-21, amply clear of relegation risk
“In the end I had to say, ‘For God’s sake, he left you,'” Holloway says in a memorable contribution to the film. “Shut up about Dougie.”
The timing of the series is impeccable, considering we’ve just come out of the season when the grasping, money-obsessed, spiritually remote owners of the so-called Big Six were ready to sail those clubs into a European Super League.
When Eagles Dare is the antithesis of all that: the story of how Parish and three other fans bought the club on the brink of liquidation and reached the Premier League within a few years.
“It’s very relevant today and all the things that happened,” Parish recalls.
In recent weeks, the elite clubs have shown where to hold onto their idea of superiority, with cup glory for Leicester and Villarreal proving that the more modest clubs really matter.
The Big Six pulled out of their European Super League break after furious fan protests
All six English teams withdrew from Super League proposals within 48 hours of launch
Villarreal’s win over Manchester United in the Europa League was a source of immense joy and inspiration for Parish.
“That’s what you need to create the sporting story,” he says. What a heart that gives to any football fan outside those big clubs to see the fans of that club who have won a European Cup in a city of 50,000 inhabitants.
“They believed and they climbed up, doing the right thing for their football club over many, many years to culminate in this one win over a huge, massive club like Man United.
“And who knows that isn’t a springboard for them to become a huge, huge club too? You need a Villarreal and a Man United.”
Parish doesn’t hide his disdain for the self-proclaimed elite and how they’ve patronized and looked down upon clubs like his.
Villarreal’s victory over Manchester United in the Europa League final delighted Parish
United, one of six who wanted to break free from English football, lost the final in Gdansk
“These are the 12 most indebted football clubs in the world,” he says. “They borrow more money to keep winning. They think that makes them kind of right.’
And yet the ESL fiasco was a source of liberation; the point she cut to size.
“It’s like coming out of a slightly abusive relationship,” says Parish. No more rolling eyes with every new TV deal. No more being patronized. Being told we all have to be beaten 6-0, because that’s what the investigation says.
“No more pseudo research that says 76 percent of people in Spain want a European Super League. So I really feel a lot of joy. I think we’ll look back and say this is the best thing that ever happened.”
No sooner had Parish emerged and blinked in this landscape than Roy Hodgson left the Palace stage and plunged into a recruiting process that keeps owners up at night.
The appointment of managers has not always gone smoothly for Parish. Holloway and Frank de Boer’s attempts to bring more adventurous football to Palace have brought the club into various kinds of crises.
Roy Hodgson has left Crystal Palace meaning Parish must hire a new manager
Despite the disaster of four games that Frank de Boer was, Parish would still hire a creative coach
Recruited at a time of new American investment when there was a need for more adventure, De Boer got off to a catastrophic start: no wins and no goals after four games.
And yet Parish still doesn’t seem averse to the idea of a more creative, ambitious brand than Hodgson.
“You have to be practical about what style you can achieve with what you have and what you can bring in,” he says.
“That doesn’t mean you can’t travel elsewhere. There’s an element you can fit in [the style you want] to the manager.
“If you want to be successful in this competition like us, you will have to play in different ways against different opponents.”
He will not discuss any candidates, although Nuno Espirito Santo is considered the preferred candidate if he is not influenced by Everton.
Nuno Espirito Santo, who just left Wolves, is considered Palace’s favorite candidate
Hodgson would lead the team into next season if he hadn’t decided to end it. “He had a chat with me and he said he felt like he needed to spend some time with the family,” says Parish.
“Sometimes we forget Roy’s age and with Covid there was a real risk to him in terms of continuing his work, especially as so much was unknown after the initial lockdown with no vaccines.”
The documentary shows how Sean Dyche, after Freedman left in 2012, especially impressed Palace, although he had signed with Burnley before Palace could make a move.
The 49-year-old’s part in building infrastructure in Lancashire seems to fit right in with Parish’s desire for who will share his vision of spending to improve Selhurst Park – rather than just sprucing up what an aging squad is what younger players need.
“You, someone who’s going to be a part of something better by the time they’re gone,” he says. “There are compromises, always. We also realize that we have to breathe new life into the team.’
Sean Dyche was wanted by Palace in 2012, but went to Burnley instead with great success
The dramatic core of the documentary – which charts the winning season of the 2012-13 Premier League promotion – is the form in which Holloway tried to make things bigger.
The players try to talk Holloway into a less ambitious football brand before Parish, after consulting some of them, told him to go back to the Freedman way.
There are priceless press conference footage of Holloway from Palace’s April dip that season. “You have to put an ice cube in the vest of terror,” he declares at one point.
Parish wants these kinds of dilemmas to be within the reach of supporters like him – rather than the self-selected oligarchs, sheikhs and hedge fund traders with half a billion to spare.
But that, he argues, requires a highly regulated financial system in which salaries are capped at a percentage of turnover and clubs are financially monitored in real time.
Ian Holloway celebrates Palace’s promotion to the Premier League in 2013
“We talk about these things as community goods and then we create an environment where you lose a lot of money running football clubs and the locals can’t afford to buy them,” he says.
“There’s a strong part of me that believes that if you want to give clubs back as a community asset, you should at least make a decent income from owning a football club.
‘So you forbid developers from buying football clubs. And you introduce salary caps: a sustainable way for these businesses to be run by a whole new set of people who care about them in the community and the club.
‘Not Financial Fair play blunt instruments that are at the end of three years’ [that you can lose a certain amount of money.]
“A decent salary cap and a decent regulatory department within the league asking, ‘Can you afford that contract?’ You protect owners from themselves.
“For people who have no roots in the community of a club and don’t really care about the club, football is a means of showing how smart they are or just something to do or just a way to transfer money to a more favorable environment.” move. .
“Why do these people buy football clubs instead of people who love them?”
Parish with palace legend Mark Bright in the stands at Selhurst Park in December 2018
Time will tell if ideas like this emerge from MP Tracey Crouch’s fan-led review of the governance of English football, as Parish would have liked.
The Manchester Uniteds of this world have the financial and legal power to make this a major task, although the course of last season has given clubs like Palace reason to believe that their voices count.
The documentary is uplifting as it cuts through the ego and muscle of the Leviathan clubs and shows that the old concept of football is not dead and that there is another way.
“In your life, something has to matter,” says Parish, reflecting on why he bought Palace in the first place. ‘What really matters, after your family? What matters? Your soccer team.’
When Eagles Dare will be available worldwide exclusively on Amazon Prime Video starting Friday, June 4.