Ron Noades on Crystal Palace, golf glory and life in Purley's Webb Estate
PUBLISHED: 11:31 11 April 2012 | UPDATED: 13:41 21 May 2014
Best known as the former chairman of Crystal Palace, Ron Noades is a colourful character who could give the cast of Footballers' Wives a run for their money...
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine in May 2007
Words: Alan Tovey
TRASHY TV series Footballers' Wives was a guilty pleasure for many - a series so gauche it was great. But for Surrey businessman Ron Noades it was the chance to combine two of his great loves; football and making money.
The outspoken former boss of Crystal Palace, Wimbledon and Brentford let his £2.75million home on Purley's exclusive Webb Estate to Shed Productions, who turned it into the lair of Jason and Tanya Turner, the Posh and Becks of the series' fictional Earls Park FC. It was his swimming pool with the mosaic of a footballer on the bottom that featured in the opening credits.
"My wife Novello designed it but it wasn't in the team colours for the series," laughs Ron. "The TV company must have sent down a guy in a snorkel to change it."
Although nowhere near as outrageous as the show's characters, Ron's larger-than-life personality leaves you wondering if he didn't inspire the writers: he's got a wife 20 years his junior, his outspoken comments frequently saw him on the back pages and he masterminded a complicated deal that saw him sell his interest in Palace for £22million yet stay on at the club.
More recently he's hit the headlines over his very public spat with current Palace chairman Simon Jordan over the sale of the team's Selhurst Park ground.
Reports that the Icelandic women's football team celebrated in the infamous pool during one of the Noades' parties only fuel speculation about his effect on the show.
Best known for chairing Crystal Palace from 1981 and 1998, Ron led the club through its brightest period, which included promotion to the top league and an FA Cup final. After selling the team, the father of five turned his full attention into making his golfing hobby his business.
"I used to play golf when I was in my 20s but work got in the way," he says. He came back to the game thanks to his wife. "Novello kept getting pestered by Palace's manager's wife to play. In the end, she had a go just to stop her - turned out she had a natural swing and she got me back into it."
Showing his forthright character, Ron built up the business after a run-in with golfing traditionalists. "Novello and I were members of a course with a men-only terrace. I was sitting there and Novello came to say hello. She was rudely told she wasn't welcome."
In the way that only those with a spare few million can, Ron decided to build his own course. "Sort of if I can't play with your toys then I'll get my own," he muses. And his own toys are bigger and better - his Altonwood group has quietly built up a £30million portfolio of Surrey golf courses.
The most recent addition was the £8.4million purchase of The Addington, Croydon.
But new challenges are on the horizon and Ron's moving into the hotel and spa business. The Georgian country mansion in Godstone that currently serves as Altonwood's headquarters is being developed into a 38-bedroom hotel, conference and leisure facility.
Ron's so confident of its success that he's hoping a rival arrives on the scene by the time the complex opens in 2009. "We can deliver a better product than any competitor and do it for less. I'd like a bit of competition just so we can be better."
As the talk turns to commerce, Ron becomes animated and is soon delivering a seminar on making money the Noades way. "The most important thing is staff. You can make money at anything as long as you have the right people. The sort of people that if there's bit of rubbish on the floor they don't walk past, they pick it up - whether they're the cleaner or the general manager."
His is a philosophy that might not gel with HR departments. "It's not cheap getting rid of people so you've got the staff you want. I'm told I don't suffer fools gladly but it can be cheaper getting rid of someone than keeping them."
And his years in football taught him another lesson in staffing - you'd better be on your way up. "I can't understand why lower-league clubs buy players who have failed at higher levels - we promote from within as much as possible."
A family game
Ron's personal interest in employees harks back to his days with Palace. When he signed foreign players, they weren't packed off to the nearest hotel but invited to stay at the family home.
And it's football that's still closest to his heart. "I left football reluctantly - some idiot wanted to offer me so much money and the fans thought it was worth it. There's so much emotion in football," says Ron with a sigh. "In fact, whatever the fans want you to do, you should do the opposite. Maybe I'd go back to Palace as a director - but only under a different owner."
So how is this archetypal 'Big Ron Manager' finding life without football?
"I miss it. I've run football teams since I was 11. I miss scouting, signing and developing players. We developed Selhurst Park on profits from player sales. Football's been good to me. I've been to Downing Street because of it. I had a great time."
And how does the soccer world compare to his golfing empire? "I'm not saying golf isn't a hard business. But in football your first worry is how many people come through the turnstiles. Once you've counted them you can start worrying about if you're going to win."