Being a Crystal Palace fan carries with it two certainties:
1) We never win any important trophies.
2) We almost never have a dull season.
The first point will certainly hold for at least one year longer, and the second has rarely been better proved than what’s going on right now. A Crystal Palace team that was lying in the relegation zone – 22nd position – at the beginning of November, is now in a play-off spot – 6th place – following an unbeaten League run of fourteen matches, the club’s best for some 29 years. Tears of sorrow in November have been swapped for tears of trepidation: could we be really be playing Man United and Arsenal again next season?
The turnaround falls fairly and squarely on the shoulders of Neil Warnock, who took over from the disappointing short reign of former Palace star Peter Taylor as coach in October. Warnock’s initial results seemed doomed to continue the club’s recent mediocrity, but they gradually picked up steam, two consecutive defeats giving way to some unglamorous draws, the draws slowly turning into one-goal victories, every one of which raised the team another spot or two in the table. On Boxing Day, a dozen games into the unbeaten run, the Eagles finally won a match by a clear two goals, and an early exit from the FA Cup seemed only to increase the resolve to vie for a Premiership spot: last Saturday, Palace beat Wolves, away, 3-0, to climb into sixth place. Even by the standards of a ‘Yo-Yo’ club like Palace, this is an astonishing turnaround. And to Warnock’s credit, he’s done it with essentially the same players he inherited.
It’s surely just coincidence, but America’s Fox Soccer Channel showed two Palace games over the last week. One was a 2005 mid-season yawner, in entirety, between Palace and Sheffield United, notable primarily for the fact that Warnock was managing the visitors that year. The other was the opening day of the first ever Premiership season, in August 1992, when Steve Coppell’s great team scored a last-minute equalizer in a 3-3 home draw with Blackburn. I didn’t recognize the ground at first: the Holmesdale was still a terrace. As was pointed out at the end of that game’s thirty minute highlights, the season ended in tears for Palace, who were relegated – by Arsenal, with former Palace idol Ian Wright delivering the death blow in insulting fashion – on the last game of the season. I was in South London that fateful day, at the wedding reception party for my best friend Tony Page. Most of the guests (though not the groom) were hardened Eagles fans, and the mood turned positively somber (but not sober) for the rest of the evening. Born Palace, you die Palace, and especially when you’re in London, you take this stuff very very personally.
It’s been easier for me in recent years to brush off the bad results, especially with Palace not being in the Premiership: it takes effort to figure out when FSC will show any of the lower division goals and if Palace aren’t scoring them anyway, then what’s the point? But between this recent run of impressive results, and FSC showing two old Palace games as part of their cheap programming, I’ve been scouring YouTube for videos of the latest goals. On Monday evening, after the kids went to bed, I found the 3-0 win over Wolves, and the performance looked impressive indeed: who can’t wish they were in the shoes of Clinton Morrison, scoring his tenth goal in twelve games, or 17-year old Sean Scannell getting on the scoresheet, or Jamie Scowcroft, whose 20-yard volley was impressive stuff indeed?
In the 36 hours since I saw that clip, the Football League has taken it down from YouTube for copyright reasons. As such, much of what you see on YouTube is shot by the fans themselves – like this clip of the Palace supporters celebrating on their way out of the ground (turn your camera around next time mate!).
Still, the current League busy-bodies can’t stop old games and TV clips from showing up online. The black hole that is YouTube soon enough found me enjoying moments of great nostalgia, like the famous Palace-Burnley victory of 1979, when almost 52,000 fans packed Selhurst Park to see what was almost a youth team take Palace back to the top flight – and almost every one of those fans, myself included, invaded the pitch before the final whistle. But it was just as encouraging, for an exile like me, to see the devotion with which the new generation follows the club: several ‘Best of Palace’ compilation YouTube videos feature the team only of the last decade, years with which I have but a passing familiarity.
I was pleased, too, to see that old rivalries die hard. Someone put up a clip of Palace scoring a last-minute equalizer against Millwall, taken from the far corner of the Holmesdale, honing in not on the field but on the ecstatic home fans and then the away supporters trying to push through the police line to no doubt congratulate their south London neighbors in their own inimitable way.
Having clicked on a Millwall game, it’s like switching ends. Suddenly it’s no longer about football. Now you’re amongst the Millwall fans at what looks like the same Palace game, then you’re amongst the Millwall fans in the streets, then you’re watching a documentary about Millwall agro (who could forget Harry the Dog?), and finally, and incongruously, you’re watching Steve Jones – yes, him of the Sex Pistols – narrating a wink-wink nudge nudge recent documentary about the “terrible” return of football aggro, with enough footage of people getting their heads kicked in to make some of us very glad we now spend our Saturdays on the ski slopes and not the football terraces. At least I had no one else to blame for my concussion last year!
But that’s YouTube for you. I finally peeled back to a moment that will bring some heart to football fans around the Premiership. For amongst Palace’s most famous victories is the ‘72-73 mauling of Manchester United, 5-0, with Alan Whittle scoring on his debut and Don Rogers running rampant in a splendid impersonation of an absent George Best. Brian Moore, who always had a soft spot for Palace, was commentator, and the football is fantastic blood and thunder long-ball stuff with moments of individual brilliance that, really do rival that of the modern-day Ronaldo. I have this game on a VHS somewhere, but there’s nothing like being able to click on YouTube to relive the moment instantaneously. Enjoy.