In my five decades supporting Crystal Palace I’ve seen 34 managers* come and go (not including caretakers). Some resigned, others were sacked or left by the euphemistic ‘mutual consent’. One appeared to retire only to be reappointed this week - welcome back Roy! They ranged from the ‘aargh!’ (Alan Mullery and Steve Bruce) to God (Steve Coppell, four times our leader). Only once have I been filled with a profound sense of sadness at a managerial departure, however, and that was Patrick Vieira’s last week.
I’ve been privileged to meet a good number of those who have sat in the dugout and stood in the technical area at Selhurst Park. Often they have belied their public persona - Sam Allardyce especially. Vieira though is a standout for his decency, humility and dignity. What you see on camera is exactly what you get behind the scenes. Even the kick aimed at the pitch-invading Evertonian who goaded him last season somehow burnished his image as a leader who has what it takes.
“I see only 11 players that play for themselves… Tottenham's story is this. 20 years there is the owner and they never won something, but why? The fault is only for the club, or for every manager that stays here?“ Antonio Conte takes a contrasting approach to leadership, publicly laying into his players last weekend
Vieira’s image of course includes his ethnicity. With his sacking the Premier League is once again left without a black manager. Crystal Palace is located in an ethnically diverse, relatively deprived corner of London. PV spoke often of the area reminding him of the Paris suburb he grew up in.
There have been times this season when nine of the Palace first team on the pitch have been black. Not because of Patrick Vieira, but because that is CPFC and has been for some years. Little wonder that on appointment in the summer of 2021, although reportedly not the board’s first choice, Vieira seemed emblematic of the club.
None of which of course is sufficient in the football results business. That PV has been treated like any other manager on a losing streak says as much. It will be little comfort that in a perverse way it proves that he has broken through a racial barrier that undoubtedly exists - and which Vieira himself has spoken so eloquently about.
“It troubles me a lot. It’s difficult for me to get it and to understand it, and I think that just shows there is still a long way to go.” Vieira in February on being the only black Premier League manager
As an opposition fan I was bewildered when at the end of the 2018/19 season Brighton & Hove Albion sacked Chris Hughton, another rare black manager at the highest level. Very shortly after, I heard Hughton speak with great dignity at a League Managers Association dinner. If ever there was a manager deserving of another crack at the Premier League…
Brighton have been on an upwards march ever since. Results alone say the club made the right decision. Hughton was out of work for over a year until he joined Nottingham Forest, then in the Championship. Sacked eleven months later, he is now head coach for the Ghana national team. Easy to shrug and say ‘that’s football’, but has Hughton had the breaks he deserves, and if not, why not?
If parallel universes exist, I’ve no access to them. We never know whether persisting with a manager would have resulted in a better outcome than sacking him. All parties can only of necessity look forwards, especially when matches come thick and fast. But do clubs ever conduct a rigorous, cold-headed post-change evaluation?
I’d say, as a Palace fan and chair of the club’s charitable foundation, that we owe a great deal to Patrick Vieira. For delivering a 12th place finish in the Premier League last season. And for 12th again so far this time round (albeit on a very poor run of form lately, which explains his departure). Just as importantly, for the work he did for our foundation and the stature he bestowed on the club. I think now what I thought of Hughton at that LMA dinner back in 2019. If ever a manager deserves another crack… I hope one comes PV’s way very soon.
* 25 different individuals make up those 34 managers, such has been Palace’s propensity for reappointment - must be something in the water in SE25
Wanted: knight in white leathers
The tapes go up on the 2023 speedway season this week. The sport clings on in Britain. The Premiership now comprises just seven teams. Its nearest venue to London is in Oxford, 54 miles from Marble Arch. The capital once boasted nine tracks and the last ever meet at Wembley in 1981 attracted over 92,000 spectators.
Money, needless to say, is tight and optimism in short supply. But there are still those who believe. Roddy McDougall, author of the excellent book No Breaks, gets in touch to alert me to a peppy interview with Phil Morris, new CEO of the Premiership, in Speedway Star magazine.
“I believe the product itself is as good as any other sport. We have to do something that’s a bit more dynamic. A bit more attractive. We need to make it a bit cooler.” Phil Morris
Sounds like Morris could do with a knight in white leathers to back his ambitions with hard investment.
I last watched speedway back in 2017, dragging my wife along to Eastbourne on our wedding anniversary. The Eagles have since folded, going the way of so much of the sport. Oxford, though, is testament to the tenacity of believers, reopening last year after a 14 year absence. I’ll be heading there soon and will report back. Will the sport still exist in ten years though? Five even? Catch it while you can.
You can buy Roddy McDougall’s No Breaks here
Share prices don’t lie
After only a couple of races, the F1 season is already shaping up as a battle between the two Red Bull drivers, so far is their team ahead of the other nine. Not a good look for the sport. But F1’s value is unruffled, sitting at $27 billion if you believe the capitalisation of Liberty Media’s share class that tracks its F1 ownership.
Liberty bought the sport for just $4.4 billion only seven years ago. There was a close season spat this winter after the president of the FIA - motorsport’s regulator - questioned F1’s value via Twitter. Mohammed Ben Sulayem could always short the shares if he’s that sceptical.
Palace and speedway in one stack. Love it!