Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Next... Palace at home

Today’s the day!

I have been looking forward to this game since the fixtures came out. The win at Selhurst was great, but the comments afterwards and the sheer jubilation shown by the players at the final whistle make me believe that we have a new passion for derbies that was always missing under Curbishley.

This all bodes well for us, not just for tonight, but moving forward. It clearly doesn’t guarantee that we will win, but it does mean that we will give it our all – and then some – and that’s all we can ask for as a fan.

Before I review the game I will provide a quick summary as to why I hate Palace. I will exclude all the obvious reasons as they are, well, obvious. Dave Peeps has provided a good list for those of you that want reminding.

Imagine, if you will, our golden eras. Sam Bartram, Jimmy Seed, back-to-back FA Cup Finals, average crowds in excess of 40,000, finishing as runners up in the First Division behind Man City – thus above all the current top four and Everton and Spurs etc, crowds in excess of 75,000 packed into The Valley, that Play-Off Final in 1988.

We are not Man Utd, we don’t want to be, nor do we claim to be. We have won just one FA Cup in our history, and we have never competed in Europe, but we have a great and varied history. We have even had a great amount of adversary to deal with, and the fans have had a huge impact with the ‘Valley Party’, the various finance raising initiatives, and Target 10,000, which soon became Target 40,000. We are not a huge club, we are not a team that has won much, but we are a team with character, and characters. As well as Jimmy Seed, we have had Lennie Lawrence, and more recently Alan Curbishley. All great managers that were also great characters. I never saw Sam Bartram play, but I have heard stories (many of them) about him. He, for those of you that don’t already know, had a sports shop just outside The Valley.

Now compare that with Crystal Palace. One FA Cup final which they lost, Malcolm Allison, Ian Wright, the 1980s – their decade apparently. Palace spent a total of two of the ten seasons in the 1980s in Tier 1. Let’s not forget they won the Zenith Data Systems Cup in 1991. Now Ian Wright was with Palace for over five years, and he did score some goals, but he couldn’t get out of there quick enough when Arsenal came knocking. When ever Wright is on tele he is described as ex-England and ex-Arsenal. No-one ever mentions his Palace days. History? What history?

Now I don’t expect Palace fans to recognise that they are a rubbish little club that has had a few false dawns but always returned to where they belong, but to behave as though they are a Big Club is just nonsense. There is nothing wrong with being a modest local club with ambitions, just as long as you know your place, and they clearly don’t.

I was at The Valley on that fateful day in September 1985 when Reid (not Andy clearly) scored two and missed one penalty in our 3-1 win. My Dad had explained how they were our rivals as they played just a few miles up the road. It was the last game that we played against them before out clubs were inexplicably linked with hatred and rivalry. I was also at Selhurst the following January when we lost 2-1 (again Reid scored a Penalty). I was fifteen at the time and I had never seen such anger as I saw in the faces of the Palace fans with their white woollen hats with red and blue eagles on them. That is an image I have remembered for over twenty years. It was brought home to me recently when I read about a group of Palace fans terrorising a boy of eleven on a train last September.

We weren’t even considered their rivals in 1985. I mean, what sort of club picks a team a massive 47 miles away on the coast as their rivals. I think that before 1985 they were so insignificant that no-one liked them enough for anyone to hate them. I’m not sure quite why I hate them so much but they are, without doubt, the team I hate the most.

Memories of Palace that stick out in my mind are the 2-1 Boxing Day win at The Valley that saw us go on that twelve game win in 1999/2000, the 2-1 defeat in the first leg of the play-offs in 1996 and the second leg when Houghton scored early to effectively put us out. I have a special place in my heart for the day we sung “We’ll never play you again” at Selhurst that Title winning season. However my favourite memory was the 2-2 draw that saw them relegated. It was a rubbish game and a rubbish performance, but we sent them down.

I’m still trying to think of an event or a reason to hate Palace as much as I do. Yes they are a rubbish club that has ideas well above their station. Yes they have defeated us in games that were really important to the club over the years - but so have many other teams. Yes we used to ground share with them – but to be fair in The Valley was in a mess in 1985 and the board couldn’t afford to get it fixed, and they did give us our own Portakabins and put our crest on the back of the Members’ Stand. Their Chairman likes to make love to his hand, and I could make a good case out of him, but to be fair to him I hated his rubbish little club long before he got there.

No. Sorry. I cannot find a defining moment in my life that makes me hate Crystal Palace. I can also not find anything specific about the club that makes me hate them.

You’ll just have to take my word for it. I just hate them. I just hate them!

So, tonight’s game. Well, after a run that saw them climb from the relegation zone to the top six, Palace have fallen apart a little bit with just one point from the last two games. We, on the other hand, have had a good run up to last Saturday with draws against West Brom twice and Watford, and wins over Blackpool (convincingly) and Stoke. We seem to perform better in the more high profile games which is a good omen, and my doubts about Pardew being able to get the players interested in “easy” games shouldn’t be a factor here.

Honestly I have no idea how we will play from game to game this season. We have been consistently inconsistent, which makes a prediction all the more difficult. All we can ask for is that the players appreciate how important this game is and give 100% for the whole ninety minutes.

Oh, and of course they must win!

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