Love 1 – 0 Romance

Wrighty after the 3-3 draw
Wrighty after the 3-3 draw

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?


Football: an announcement

Crystal Palace fan
It’s tough being a football fan

Earlier in the summer, I confidently declared on Twitter that I was going to support teams from all four English leagues and all four Scottish leagues this season. After a certain amount of back-and-forth with interested parties (“If your SPL team’s not Hibs we can’t be friends any more”), I came up with two lists, which looked like this:

  • English Premier League: Crystal Palace, obviously. If you don’t know this already go back to the start of the blog and read it again.
  • English Championship: Sheffield Wednesday, partly because Sheffield is another one of those cities I have an inexplicable romantic attachment to without ever having been, and partly because they are a friend’s team and I got jealous when his season started a week before mine did, so I went along with him to the opening game at QPR, which they lost, and during which I was conflicted because my all-time favourite Palace player not including Jonny Williams and Julian Speroni, Andy Johnson, now plays for QPR so I had to sit on my hands and not celebrate his goal.
  • English League One: Colchester United, because I was a student at Essex in the nineties and we used to go and watch them play at the old Layer Road ground, which still had standing terraces. They have a new stadium now, which looks a bit like a car park.
  • English League Two: Southend United, because my friend Sarah was a mascot there in her youth, and because of a general familial attachment to Essex.
  • Scottish Premier League: Hibernian, for reasons alluded to above.
  • Scottish Championship: Hamilton Academical, because it’s a good name and because in the absence of other pressures my instinct is always to look for teams based in and around Glasgow, because I like it there.
  • Scottish League One: Stranraer, because it’s the best placename in all of football.
  • Scottish League Two: Queen’s Park, because of the Glasgow thing and, tenuously, because of the Andy Johnson thing. Keep up.

HOWEVER. A few weeks into the season, I find that I do not have the capacity to genuinely support eight sides at once. The commitment involved in following eight lots of Twitter accounts and eight sets of results is more than I care to give while I still have to find time to do things like eat and go to work. So I am revising my plans accordingly. I will support ONE English team and ONE Scottish team with all my heart and soul, and the rest of them will go on a list of “teams I look out for when I remember”. The English team is obvious and uncontroversial, but I may lose a friend with my choice of Scottish team, because I had a meeting in Glasgow last week, and the jolly, rogueish group of men I was with asked me whether I was Celtic or Rangers, and I knew at once that the correct answer was “Partick Thistle”, and as it turned out I was right and the rest of the meeting went swimmingly. So my Scottish team is Partick Thistle, with apologies to all my Edinburgh friends.

The rest of the sides listed above are hereby demoted to casual lovers, there when I need them but not a permanent fixture, with the exception of Hibs from whom I’m afraid I have to withdraw all support now that I’m a Thistle fan. Sorry.


Glad all over

The reason this morning’s advent song didn’t go up until midday is that I didn’t wake up until after 11am. The reason for that is that I didn’t get to bed until sometime after 4am, and the reason for that is that last night I went to Old Trafford to watch Crystal Palace beat Manchester United in the League Cup, in a night that I will remember for a very long time. As I said to the beloved on the way home, and I was only half-joking, who’d have thought the two best days of my life would happen within a fortnight of each other?

(I am not going to write about my wedding here: if you know me, there are a million photos on Facebook and if you don’t, you’re not interested.)

We travelled up by coach with 30-odd other away fans and club staff, on a package trip that included lunch at the hotel where the players were staying and a pre-match briefing from Lennie Lawrence, assistant manager at the club. There was also breakfast in the boardroom at Selhurst Park before we left, free CPFC goodies, a raffle and a quiz (we won neither), all of which was very exciting at the time, but it’s already faded in my mind, pushed out by the memories of the main event.

From the outside Old Trafford looks a bit like an out-of-town shopping centre, and inside it’s undeniably big but somehow not as mind-blowing as the Emirates or Stamford Bridge, for reasons which I can’t pinpoint. But it’s still Old Trafford and you can’t help feeling a thrill as you take your seat in the East Stand and look across the pitch at the Stretford End, slowly filling up with home support.

We had brought around 5,000 fans and the noise we made was fantastic, from well before kick-off until well after the final whistle. I don’t always join in with the singing – there is one song, especially, which I definitely can’t bring myself to sing along to – but away crowds are always louder, and I found myself carried away on a tide of excitement over which I didn’t entirely have control. I was a bit worried I’d have lost my voice today, but all seems to be well (I am self-medicating with chocolate, just in case).

I am not going to write a match report because I can never see who anyone is and I always miss at least half the action through looking the wrong way, but I will say that we looked as keen and as energetic as I’ve seen us in as long as I can remember: I don’t know what Dougie said to the players before the game, but it worked. Shaun Scannell especially was excellent before he went off injured, and I hope we can hang on to him for as long as possible. But I was even more impressed by our back four, who managed to keep United’s attacks contained to just two real chances, one which went wide and one which was saved by Lewis Price. Sky Sports’ post-match analysis told us that United had 68% of the possession, and I can well believe it, but although they had the ball for long periods, we never let them do much with it.

I don’t think I’ve ever watched a game in such a state of heightened tension, last season’s final-day showdown at Hillsborough possibly excepted. Before it started, I was more or less resigned to losing but having a jolly day out nonetheless. But as soon as it became apparent that we were giving them a run for their money, I was a quivering bag of nerves. As John Cleese said in Clockwise: “I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand.” I suspect I wasn’t a fantastically entertaining viewing companion during the game: all I can remember is hysterical laughter, the kind you imagine you might come out with if a bomb missed you by yards, alternating with white-faced shaking and hiding my face in my hands.

But I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. When the final whistle went and we all leaped in the air, screaming incoherently and hugging whoever was in grabbing distance, I remembered exactly why every single football-related heartbreak is worth having, because they make the moments of joy so much sweeter. I can’t imagine a quarter-final victory meaning as much to supporters of a side who routinely expect to win cup ties as it did to Crystal Palace, who haven’t reached a semifinal in ten years and haven’t beaten Man United in twenty-two. In moments like those, it feels like the happiest accident in the world that I support a team for whom a big win like this is a glorious surprise rather than par for the course.

I think the lasting memory that I’ll take away is of the away fans standing in an almost-empty stadium after the home support had melted away, singing “We’re going to Wem-ber-ley” high into the echoing rafters, and in that instant, feeling like we were the best team in the world. Maybe we will go to Wembley and maybe we won’t, but whatever happens for the rest of this season, nobody can take last night away from us.


Crystal Palace played local rivals and legendary nutters Millwall on Saturday, and lost by a goal to nil, leaving us second from bottom of the Championship. So why did the game leave me in a good mood? I think there are three reasons:

  1. There was a really good atmosphere, despite the segregation of the away fans in a heavily police-protected area of the Arthur Wait stand. Whole sections either side of the Millwall supporters were deliberately kept empty so as to provide a buffer between them and the home fans, and although somebody let off a smoke bomb at kick-off and a bunch of the fans swarmed one of the empty sections, we didn’t see any real trouble. Since we were accompanied by elegant American friends for whom sport is something that’s mainly meant to be fun, this was excellent.
  2. We had great seats – five rows back in the Main stand, close to the players’ tunnel and mere feet from the action. We only had one opportunity to catch the ball when it came out of play, but it was still exciting. And the three most notable incidents of the game (a goal, a sending off and the removal of a Millwall fan who had infiltrated the home supporters’ end) all happened in our corner of the pitch.
  3. All of our players are about seventeen, and although we lost the game, we looked the better side for long stretches of it. There’s plenty of surprises left in this season, and as Yazz once memorably said, the only way is up.*

* May not be strictly true.


We watched the first half of yesterday’s game at home, then we had to take a taxi to an industrial estate in Bermondsey, where we were rehearsing the music for a wedding we’re playing at later this month. It was raining heavily. I like to think it’s always raining heavily on industrial estates in Bermondsey.

The taxi driver took the scenic route, and it was already wildly optimistic of us to assume we’d make it in fifteen minutes, so it was about halfway into the second half before we got the TV at the studio working and were able to watch the rest of the game. I don’t think I’ve ever felt my heart beating so fast as it did in the few minutes after Wednesday scored the equaliser. By the end it wasn’t even really football; just a group of desperate men endlessly knocking the ball out of play. It wasn’t fun to watch.

Once the game was over, we went into the rehearsal room and played better than we’ve ever played before. I feel bad for Wednesday, but they’ll be back. And at least this result gives us the best chance of remaining a going concern, which was my main hope for the end of the season. Oh, football, you break my heart but I still love you.

Down to the wire

So. Crystal Palace’s survival in the Championship (what we used to call Division One, and before that Division Two – do keep up) will be determined by the outcome of our last game of the season – against the other relegation candidates, Sheffield Wednesday, at Hillsborough this Sunday.

We could have guaranteed safety by beating West Brom at Selhurst Park last night, but we could only manage a 1-1 draw, which under usual circumstances we would have thought a good result. These are not usual circumstances, though: the club went into administration in January and was docked ten points. Without the deduction, we’d have been basking in mid-table obscurity, like we do every other season.

As far as football goes, it hasn’t been a terrible season, you see. We’re not Portsmouth, which is why we still have a chance of staying up. Two chances, in fact: Wednesday are two points behind us, so a draw will be enough for us, whereas they need a win. When Portsmouth went into administration earlier in the season, they were docked nine points. Had our penalty been the same as theirs, last night’s draw would have been enough for us, because we’d be on 49 points to Wednesday’s 46, with a much better goal difference. They’d have needed to beat us by eighteen goals or more to stay up.

It’s OK, I’m not bitter.

As it is, if we are relegated this weekend the club’s unfortunate financial position means we’re unlikely to come straight back up again next year. We’ll become a third-tier club. It’s unthinkable! And that’s assuming the club survives at all, the alternative to which I’m genuinely not thinking about because it’s too horrible. But if it were to happen, the points deduction and subsequent relegation will have been the final nail in the club’s coffin, which rather makes me wonder what the purpose is of penalising already-struggling clubs in this way. After all, it’s the fans, not the the chairmen, or even the players, who stick around after the dust has died down and contemplate the mess that wasn’t of their making.

If you need me on Sunday, I’ll be hiding in a corner somewhere, feeling sick.

And they’re off!

The new season starts today, for people who follow proper football. We’re at home to Watford, and I can’t go because I’m on call for work, which entails being within fifteen minutes of a broadband connection at all times.

I’m predicting Palace 2-1 Watford. We went to watch a pre-season friendly against Fulham, which was actually Dougie Freedman’s testimonial (WHO LET THE DOUG OUT!), and, whilst it was a completely rubbish game, there were some points from which I thought we could take cautious hope. The two youngsters, Scannell and Moses, both looked good, as did a new signing from Bristol City, Nick Carle, who if he continues to play well I will forgive for acting like an arse in the away leg of the play-off semi-final last season, when he took five minutes to leave the pitch after being substituted.

Meanwhile, I’m watching the swimming, the builders who have been making car crash noises on the roof all morning appear to have disappeared, and Final Score is back this afternoon. It could be worse.

Update: it ended 0-0.  Still, a point’s a point.  Onwards and upwards!

Silver linings

  1. We don’t have to lose to Arsenal every week next season
  2. We get to play Charlton
  3. We run no risk of upsetting Derby County’s record of the lowest points tally and earliest relegation from the Premiership since its inception
  4. I don’t have to try and find a pub to watch the final in when I’m on away at the seaside for the bank holiday weekend
  5. The first one again

Bristol City, part two

I realise I was confused when I wrote about conceding goals “at home” before the last game, because as far as I know there’s no away goals rule in the play-offs, which means a 1-0 win tonight would be enough to take us into extra time and penalties.  I was caught out by this the last time we were promoted, when it ended up 3-3 over two legs between Palace and Sunderland but they had scored more away goals and I thought it was all over.  I think I was even about to leave the pub when I realised that the players weren’t leaving the pitch.

But I’d still rather win 2-0, please.  I can’t bear penalties, even during regular play, and a shoot-out is enough to send me outside, cowering with the smokers.

Oh well.  At least Man Utd won the Premiership.  I don’t love them, but I love them more than I love Chelsea (or Arsenal).


Well, I got the scoreline right, just the wrong way around. But we’ve got time to bring it back to a win tomorrow night – and, as my brother pointed out, if we don’t make it we’ll be able to stay in the Championship and win games, rather than having to play in the Premiership and lose 9-0 to Liverpool every week.

(We were rubbish, though.)