word got out that Crystal Palace wanted to take Alan Pardew from Newcastle back to his old Selhurst Park haunts to replace Neil Warnock, there was much chin-scratching and shaking of heads.
Why oh why would the Premier League’s second-longest serving manager give up his job in charge of the Geordie nation’s beloved club – complete with its 52,000-capacity sell-outs in its sparkling citadel perched proudly above the city – for a much smaller, unfashionable outfit on the fringes of south London?
Put like that, why indeed? But there was much more behind Pardew’s eventual defection than comparing stadia size and season ticket sales. As soon as Warnock was sacked after Palace’s defeat against Southampton on Boxing Day, the game was up. Chairman Steve Parish wanted Pardew and Pardew wanted out.
But why? Well, dear reader, I can enlighten you. Rewind to early October and I was having a spot of lunch in Soho with a good friend and mutual pal of Pardew when the smooth grey fox walked in and joined us. He looked remarkably chipper for a bloke at the centre of a campaign by his own fans to have him fired. Some Toon fans even set up a website – Sackpardew.com – but he had just had a break.
His team had snatched an unlikely 2-2 draw at Swansea from the jaws of defeat, having trailed 2-0.
I congratulated him on the point and also for the finishing of striker Papiss Cisse who had claimed both Newcastle goals. That got Pardew talking about his lot on Tyneside.
Yes, one goal in particular was well taken, but Pardew had reservations. He had wanted to sign French striker Bafetimbi Gomis in the summer but had missed out to Swansea who bagged him on a free transfer. When Pardew led his team into the Liberty Stadium for that game, Gomis was there to remind him, taking his place on the Swans bench.
“How can it be that Swansea, with crowds of 26,000, can outbid us on Gomis’s terms?” he queried, “I can’t get my head around that.”
There was more. Pardew wanted to sign the big Belgian defender Toby Alderweireld from Spanish champions Atletico Madrid. Lightning struck twice as the summer window closed with Alderweireld choosing to join Southampton on loan ahead of Newcastle.
Personal terms again were the crucial factor, not a fee. The player visited both Tyneside and the south coast and Pardew was snubbed again.
Big club Newcastle? Pardew could only wonder. As the Toon Army held up their “Sack Pardew” placards through the bleak autumn, the seeds were sown for his split from Mike Ashley’s cost-conscious regime.
When Parish made his move to buy out Pardew’s Newcastle contract in the dying days of 2014, Pardew could see something much bigger than a 52,000 St James’ Park sell-out.
He could see the club where he enjoyed himself as a player; as a celebrated cup finalist. And he could see the chance of a little bit of warmth from fans and employers who wanted to share his vision and football beliefs.
Biggest, clearly, is not always best.