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In-depth with Palace Ladies' chairman Richard Spokes

28 April 2019

Chairmen at the top table of English football typically land their place through wealth, power, influence and a driven head for business.

Their journey there is often hard-fought and requires dedication, large swathes of time and hours committed outside of the routine nine-to-five.

They don't tend to land the role in an attempt to support their 11-year-old daughter's desire to play football.

For Palace Ladies' chairman Richard Spokes, however, this is exactly how his eight-year tenure began and, today, despite its unconventional early roots, his is packed with the same dedication as any other chairman's role.

Speaking ahead of the Ladies' clash with Charlton Athletic Women this Sunday, Spokes explained how his roundabout path to chairing the club began. He said: "As regularly happens, I had a daughter who played football. So, I live down in south Kent and my daughter played football for what was effectively a boys’ team until she was 11, when the FA said that no girls over that age can play with boys.

"Before that time was up, we looked to find her a club and being a Palace fan through and through, we saw on the matchday programme that there were trials for girls’ teams [at Palace]. She went along and loved it, so we started doing the 110-mile round-trip each time there was training or matches and she never looked back."

Already chairing Smeeth and Brabourne FC in Kent, it was perhaps inevitable that Spokes would somehow wind up involved in what was then a small-scale, volunteer-led club which relied on people such as himself with any experience they'd be willing to share.

Laughing, Spokes elaborated: "Within a year, the existing committee at Palace Ladies got wind of the fact that I was chairman of another Ladies club nearer my home and before I knew it, I’d been voted into the committee. The first year I was vice-chairman and from 2010 onwards, chairman.

"When I took the role on, it was very much looking from the top downwards about how the club could create its identity. What we wanted was to give Crystal Palace Football Club a women’s team they could be proud of.

"Where we were back in 2010, that was never going to happen in the immediate term because the structure wasn’t in place. So we had to build the club from the ground up."

Now, however, having built the club from the ground up, Palace Ladies are competing in the English Women's Championship alongside the likes of Tottenham Hotspur Ladies and Manchester United Women.

They regularly play matches in front of vocal crowds of several hundred and have signed experienced first-team players to bolster their campaign to become a settled, second-tier side.

Spokes continued explaining how the team has grown, saying: "We had other players outside the club saying, ‘you know what? What’s going on there is pretty good, I’d like to be a part of that.’

"We then eventually got to where we are now and even today, we still work with the same ethos: we want players that look at what we’re doing and say, ‘I want to be a part of that football club’.

"Because we like to think that we do things in the Palace way, where we’re one family and everybody feels a part of what’s going on.

"I feel immense pride. I’m a Palace fan and I really believe in my football club and I love my football club. So to be a part of the growth of something that is making our football club proud of what we’re doing is incredible on a personal level."

And it's being a fan which keeps Spokes going, despite working 25 hours a week on top of a full-time job to support the club.

"I love it!", he exclaimed. "I was born with red and blue blood, there was no option. Both my parents came from south east London, in fact, my dad was born in Crystal Palace Road in Dulwich and the family were all Palace.

"Even if I’d wanted to be different, there was no choice: I was Palace. I absolutely love it and I sometimes have to be reminded as to when I’m a chairman and when I’m a fan."

But that's all part of the pull surrounding Palace Ladies: it's a club for Palace fans just like the first team, followed by the same vociferous crowd.

For those Palace fans yet unfamiliar with the experience of supporting the Eagles' other side, Spokes delivered a message they'll be keen to read.

He said: "Crystal Palace Football Club have embraced girl's and women's football and are keen to see it flourish as much as it can. Pretty much everybody that’s ever spoken to us [who were] thinking about whether to come down or not that ended up coming have kept coming back.

"Fans are close to it, they’re a part of it, they very much have that engagement with the players. It’s a really good opportunity for our Palace fans to be in as part of the development of something, to say that they were there at the start and were part of something significant. We get a huge amount of credit from other teams in terms of how our fans are.

"I’d say to fans, come down, come and give it a go, it’s hugely welcoming, it’s an enjoyable experience as much as it is a match because we do everything that goes on around it."

So, to those thinking of coming down, Palace Ladies host Charlton Athletic Women today at Selhurst Park and you can buy tickets here!

The Ladies will be boosted by all the support they can get, so buy your tickets now!

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