PROFILE ON PALIOS
Tranmere defender-turned-owner Mark’s life inside and out of football
IN HIS playing days with Tranmere and Crewe, Mark Palios dreaded long trips to Carlisle and Hartlepool – but it wasn’t the stiffness, nor the boredom. It was the endless queue of team-mates awaiting financial advice. “They’d all be there, waiting in line with their tax returns,” recalled Rovers’ legendary manager John King. “And Mark would help them, one by one. He was like that… a bit different.”
Different doesn’t even come close. At 16, Palios was just another teenage dreamer on Tranmere’s books, scrapping his heart out to win a contract. Forty-six years on, the Birkenhead boy owns the club.
In between, he earned a degree in psychology from Manchester University, qualified as a chartered accountant, represented Tranmere at the PFA, became one of the country’s most respected insolvency specialists and overcame a heart attack to be named chairman of the FA – only for a tabloid scandal to bring his brief reign crashing to a halt. His is a life that started at the coal face, scaled the ivory towers and returned to the dark pits and seams of a League Two relegation scrap. “I wouldn’t have done it for anybody else,” he said after buying the club in August. “But this is my club. I couldn’t let it die.”
Those who played with Palios remember a midfield dynamo who, in the words of football writer Brian Glanville, was a “good second rate player”.
“He was very fit, very brave,” said Richard ‘Dickie’ Johnson, with whom Palios used to play Mastermind on away trips. “He wasn’t the most skilful player, but he made up for that with endeavour and effort. He was 100 per cent in everything he did – he would tackle anything that moved.”
Those thoughts are echoed by another ex-Rover, Owen Brown. “We called him ‘The Greek’,” he said in 2003.“I remember him as a tireless, committed player who wouldn’t think twice about put- ting his foot in. He loved the physical side of the game.”
There were high points, the most notable a famous FA Cup victory over Arsenal at Highbury in 1973 which saw Palios nullify England star Alan Ball and clear off the line in stoppage time.
But over nine years at Rovers and three at Crewe, he was relegated twice, knocked out of the FA Cup by Non-League opposition three times, given three free transfers and never played above the Third Division.
Conscious of his limitations, Palios combined his playing career with academic study (inspiring Tranmere team-mate Steve Coppell to take a degree in economics), first graduating in psychology, then training as an accountant.
He had planned to use his qualifications in football management but, with five daughters to sup- port, finance was a surer bet and in 1986 – two years after leaving Tranmere for the second time – he became a partner at accountancy firm Arthur Young.
Three years later he was working for industry giant PWC and over the next two decades Palios grew to become one of the UK’s leading business recovery specialists, winning several awards along the way.
Yet football always held an allure – as evidenced by the fact Palios kept playing for two years after recovering from a heart attack at the age of 48 – and when the FA asked him to replace Adam Crozier as chief executive in 2003, he could not refuse.
His achievements were significant: Banning Rio Ferdinand for eight months following a missed drugs test, facing down the resultant threat of strike action by England’s players, overhauling the disciplinary process and refinancing the disastrous Wembley Stadium project.
Yet all were overshadowed by his demise, a tabloid frenzy that revealed both Palios and England manager Sven Goran Eriksson were having an affair with the same woman, FA secretary Faria Alam.
Though both single men – Palios maintained to the end that he had done nothing wrong – the accusations of sleaze stuck and while Eriksson survived, Palios was forced to step down just 13 months into his dream job.
Even at the time, many felt a progressive leader had been lost. “The modernisation of the FA started with Mark Palios,” said sports minister Richard Caborn. “In terms of restructuring the FA and dealing with the finances, he did a first-class job.”
And that might have been that but for a chance remark last April when Palios’s wife, Nicola, told her husband to stop moaning about Tranmere’s struggles and “do something about it”. Now they are co-owners of the club – and determined to keep Rovers out of the Conference.
“In my career as an insolvency practitioner, I only lost two businesses,” said Palios. “I have no intention of letting Tranmere fall into disrepair on my watch.”
PENNY FOR THEM: Mark Palios’ Tranmere are fighting for their Football League future
BIG TIME: Palios in his role as FA chief executive in 2003