By now I am sure you would have heard, or at least read about, our exclusive 90 minute interview with Dougie Freedman. It felt like a fitting way to end our shows for the season and we really can’t thank Dougie enough for his time and the way in which he approached our conversation.
Amongst the stories and insight we were all hearing for the first time, you will have heard Dougie talk a number of times about not being the sort of person who likes to look back – that he believes that it is much more important to move forward. When we first started discussing approaching Dougie for theinterview, it is fair to say our hopes were that we could put to bed a lot of the speculation and negativity – so we could have “our Dougie” back – and that this might enable us to move on from the shock of him leaving for Bolton.
As we have seen with past heroes – Ian Wright springs to mind in particular – there are few more unforgiving people than a Palace fan scorned. There will always be some for whom what has happened will sour their opinion forever, but it is pleasing to see that for many, the discussion has left them feeling free from their past grievances and able to enjoy just how much he did for us.
I’ll leave the discussions around content for other articles and the message boards, but I thought I’d take a moment to write about the reactions to what has been said.
Firstly, the strongest immediate reaction came from Bolton fans. Within minutes of broadcast, the a tweet appeared on @burndenaces – Link – quoting the comments pertaining to Dougie’s admission it was an error to join Bolton and that he regretted it almost from the first moment. This was swiftly followed up by an article on another Bolton site – with the quotes.
The social media spread of such things meant that within moments, the angry reaction of Bolton fans dominated what was a substantial interview for Palace fans. Dougie clearly was never going to be on anyone’s Christmas card list at Bolton, but not only did the quotes not acknowledge any of the context, but the truth is that it was a perfectly correct statement. It was not a dig at Bolton, or their fans, it was a statement of fact from someone who left a club where they were revered as a hero and went into an environment that was not right for someone of his managerial experience.
Reading the comments from Bolton fans, anyone would think that their current malaise were all the fault of Freedman. The truth for them is that it began a way before that, just like it has this season in the Premier League for Villa and Newcastle, who have seen mismanagement from the very top over a number of seasons leave them with a squad of players who either aren’t good enough or who simply don’t care enough – and for whom there is the security of a well paid, long contracts which strangle any incoming manager’s attempts to change things.
For Dougie at Palace, he got to build a squad – and he told us exactly how he did that. His options in his first season at Bolton weren’t too bad and he nearly got them into the play offs, but financial implications of missing out on that final day meant that there were such severe restrictions on his options to rebuild a club on the decline. Subsequent failure from Neil Lennon proves just what a tough task it was and continues to be.
So whilst I understand why a Bolton fan might pick up on those quotes and think Dougie was sticking the boot into their club, I think it’s important to point out that in context, we are simply talking about the regret of leaving a job that he was suited to and where he had built something that was working, to a much tougher position – and that he had to make the choice in 24 hours. The regret, I suspect, hinges on the notion that with more time to think it over, a different choice may well have been made.
The next thing I want to address in the conspiratorial comments. The idea that this interview was part of a charm offensive or a bridge building exercise to smooth over a potential Palace return. Quite simply that is not the case. We approached Dougie via a friend of one of our team to float the idea of a chat. He had been the most requested guest in our end of season survey and his recent chat with Rich Cawley in the SLP and his appearance in the Palace end at Wembley made us think that it might be something he would want to do. We asked, and fortunately the timing was good from his perspective and we were able to do something.
As he said himself, it’s not about looking back at the past – particularly when we have come off the back of an FA Cup final appearance and an unprecedented 4 th season in the Premier League. You can never say never in football, but it doesn’t feel to me like ideas of Dougie returning to Palace are on the agenda.
Finally, I wanted to add a personal reaction. Dougie leaving Palace for Bolton was something that came as a shock to me and, in all honesty, a huge disappointment. The change in the team by the end of his tenure was massive and we were flying in the league. Yes, there were question marks as to how it would be sustained and also harking back to how we finished the season before and started the one in question, but the interview reinforced to me that once Dougie got the right players in place, the team functioned exactly how he wanted it to and as a result we were a real force in the league.
To walk away from a team he had got working and a club where he was held in such high esteem seemed illogical. It left people with either the straightforward opinion that it was about money or feeling there was some greater conspiracy at work.
What was explained in the interview, although obviously the choice to keep specific details private must be respected and is a very sensible one, was certainly something that bears a couple of listens. For me, the speed at which events unfolded was the key – I am not so sure that either Dougie or indeed the board had the necessary experience of such events to handle it in the way they would have liked. Perhaps I am wrong and am reading something into it that isn’t there, but it almost felt to me like both sides thought it wouldn’t come to manager and club parting ways and both called each others bluff.
However it came about though, I thought the humility Dougie exuded in that moment and in other areas of the interview when talking about the kind of person he was, and perhaps still is, was hugely enlightening. The humanising of this mercurial figure who has written himself repeatedly into Palace folklore was something I personally gained a huge amount from. He was a warm and funny character to talk with as well as an an insightful person and a clearly deep thinker about the game.
Management may have come earlier for him than he expected, but it is obvious that it is something he has always been preparing for. The desire to be on the training pitch, to coach players to improve, to build a team of leaders, to build a structure at a club and to wheel and deal off the pitch are all things we benefited from and in many ways still benefit from. They are also things which I think will stand him in good stead when he gets the right opportunity to get back into the game.
I think that next opportunity will be away from Palace but I can’t help but feel that Dougie’s Palace story has a few chapters left yet.