PRO­FILE ON PALIOS

Tran­mere de­fender-turned-owner Mark’s life in­side and out of foot­ball

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE - By Chris Dunlavy

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”.

Com­mit­ted

“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.

Frenzy

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.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

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

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