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Sacked with a smile – Alan Pardew gives season’s greetings to Crystal Palace’s axe swinger

Scrooge of the Year goes to the woman who criticised young cancer sufferer and Sunderland fan Bradley Lowery

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 December, 2016, 12:42pm
UPDATED : Friday, 23 December, 2016, 8:14pm

On the Italian island of Sicily, they say your assassins come with smiles. They do the same in the south east of London. Just ask Crystal Palace Alan Pardew, who was sacked three days before Christmas Day after a miserable run of only one win in 11, leaving the club 17th in the Premier League.

As recently as December 3, after Palace’s 3-0 win over Southampton, Pardew thanked Palace chairman Steve Parish for his support through the hard times.

After the third goal, Pardew gave a thumbs-up gesture to Parish in the executive box, who responded in a similar fashion; smiles all round. Then on Thursday came the gift-wrapped bullet.

Pardew should have known the Christmas spirit is a rare commodity inside Selhurst Park. Two years ago in December 2014, the manager Pardew replaced, Neil Warnock, was sacked with Palace in the relegation zone.

A former Palace player, Pardew left Newcastle United to return to his native south London and his appointment was cheered among supporters; here was one of their own and an FA Cup winner to boot. Results improved as Palace went on to avoid the drop comfortably by finishing 10th – their best final position in the Premier League era.

Pardew became the first manager of a Premier League club to secure a top-half finish after being in the relegation places at Christmas.

And though the campaign this season has been a struggle, few doubted he was more than capable of turning things around before spring.

It’s a shame the owners of Palace do not share the same never-say-die, optimistic spirit of the Selhurst Park faithful, who earlier in the week were voted the best for atmosphere making, often turning their modest turf into a fortress.

Still, that’s football for you. The Premier League can be as dog-eat-dog as the Victorian London portrayed by Charles Dickens, who famously noted how Christmas brings the best and worst out of people.

The Scrooge of the Year award goes, however, not to the mean Palace board, but to the as-yet unnamed 24-year-old woman who was arrested this week for posting an abusive social media message about terminally ill five-year-old Sunderland supporter, Bradley Lowery.

Football-mad Bradley was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in 2013, aged two, and has been bravely battling the deadly disease ever since. He once claimed victory with the cancer going into remission. But now it’s back.

Over the past few weeks, he has made headlines after being made the mascot for The Black Cats’ showdown with Chelsea.

He led his team out and warmed up with the players of both squads, passing the ball to the likes of Diego Costa, Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and Jermain Defoe.

And both sets of fans united to sing: “There’s only one Bradley Lowery!”

Before kick-off, Bradley scored a penalty past Chelsea reserve keeper Asmir Begovic. The electronic scoreboard also displayed the back of a Sunderland shirt with “Lowery” and the number five on it.

Clubs across the country have shown their support with Everton donating £200,000 towards his specialist treatment, which is not available in the UK.

A treat and generosity for a very sick boy that only the dream-maker that is football could make come true.

However, this week Bradley’s mother Gemma revealed treatment would only give him a little more time in his already ridiculously short life.

Then out of the primeval mud crawled a smart phone-owning woman with access to the internet and social media, spitting ignorance and vitriol.

To add injury to insult, she posted her vile words - among them “I hope he dies soon” because she was fed up hearing about him in the news – on his Facebook page.

How low can you go, let alone at Christmas? How decayed must be your heart to scrape so desperately the bottom of the depravity barrel?

Free speech is unnegotiable in a democratic civil society. But how long before telecoms companies must make a stand for decency and vet customers with a humanity tests and oath before allowing them digital access to the global community?

Troll is too good a word to describe such morons, and if found guilty, the best Christmas present for sanity’s sake is for this woman to be named and shamed – so as to punish her and deter others from acting out similar narcissistic and cowardly delinquency from behind a touchpad keyboard.

Her attack only served to stiffen the resolve. There has been ample proof this week that this was more lightness than dark at the end of this ghastly year.

More than 200,000 Christmas cards and gifts from well-wishers have been sent to Bradley’s home, and there is a campaign for his penalty against Chelsea to be crowned the Premier League’s December’s Goal of the Month.

We can cast this annus horribilis to the history books knowing supporters of all colours not only saved Christmas but restored some faith in the sport and humanity itself.