Earlier this year, when Crystal Palace were still in the running for the FA Cup but looking pretty poor in the Premier League, someone asked me whether I’d rather win the cup or stay in the league. Now, no doubt you remember just as well as I do that our 1990 cup run, which saw us take Man Utd to a thrilling 3-3 draw before losing 1-0 in a heartbreaking replay, was one of the most exciting times there has ever been to be a Palace fan. What’s nice about the cup is that winning it is its own reward: when we won the playoff final at Wembley a year ago today we knew it meant we had a tough season ahead. But a cup victory is pure, sweet joy. (I am guessing, we’ve never won the cup. I’m not, for the purposes of this discussion or indeed any other, counting the Zenith Datasystems Cup.)
But winning the FA Cup over staying in the Premiership for the first time ever? No contest. Winning the cup would give us a point in history, a lifetime’s worth of memories, a shared experience that we would treasure forever. Staying up would keep the club in business and stave off ever-present fears of bankruptcy and administration. The club is well-run these days, but if you watched that game at Hillsborough four years ago and spent the last ten minutes not breathing, knowing that if we conceded another goal there was a good chance we’d go out of business altogether, you know why the chance to consolidate a top-division presence is worth ten cup finals. It’s not as exciting, it’s not as romantic, but survival trumps sentiment every single time for us fans of small, struggling, teetering-on-the-brink clubs.
Of course, the problem with being a football fan is that you’re never satisfied. I got my wish and we stayed up for the first time ever, and now I want a top-ten finish and a cup run for 2014/15, and if I don’t get it I’ll be disappointed, even though a year ago all I was hoping for was to finish in 17th. If I start to become one of those supporters who approaches every competition with a planet-sized sense of entitlement you will let me know, won’t you?
3 thoughts on “Love 1 – 0 Romance”
Leaving the game against Man City a few weeks ago, I heard a dad and his son solemnly saying: ‘It was better in the Championship, wasn’t it? I mean at least then we had a chance of winning something.’
Now I quite liked the Championship (more games for your money), but that attitude just seemed totally wrong. You’ll often see the Ultras in the Holmesdale End with their ‘Against Modern Football’ displays – by which they mean that the game has been distorted by money. And it’s true enough. But despite the gap in wealth between City and Palace, for 180 minutes every season they walk out on a level playing field. And both teams compete as though their relative means don’t matter. That’s surely the whole bleeding point of the sport.
And as a result, you get brilliant games like the one against Liverpool a few days later. Liverpool were so fast, so technically adept, you couldn’t see a way for Palace to get back into it. But they just seemed to say to themselves, ‘Well, if we’re going to lose by six, so be it. Let’s give it a real go.’ And they did, and it was amazing.
I meant to write about the Liverpool game, and how it was about as tense in the final minutes as Hillsborough in 2010 or Wembley last year, even though there was nothing at all riding on it. It *was* amazing.
But it said something about the spirit of the team and the way, as supporters, we carry ourselves. The noise didn’t stop. The team didn’t blink. It *was* a cup final in a way. It was a total validation of Palace being in the Premier League in the first place: what the team give us and what we give the team.
For all that, I was a bit sorry for the Pool. They have that insane purity of purpose that Keegan’s Newcastle had. And for an hour they were just awesome: the best attacking side I think I’ve ever seen. Luis Suarez is impressive enough on telly; when he’s twenty feet away from you, he’s something else entirely.
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