In response to our letter to Norwich City FC regarding their ticket prices, FYP received a reply from their CEO, David McNally. The letter, dated 07/07/2015 was subsequently delayed in transit and only received this week. We have decided to publish it in full, with our thanks to David for taking the time to respond.
To all at Five Year Plan Fanzine,
Many thanks for your e-mail and open letter which I received this weekend and for the considered view and arguments you took the time to put forward. Apologies by the way for the somewhat impersonal address above, but no individual names were listed in the letter I received. Let me say we do of course have real sympathy with those who may find the cost of supporting their team to be a challenge at times and we are always extremely grateful for the fantastic loyalty and backing shown to this club by Norwich City supporters here in Norfolk and further afield.
We remain in turn totally committed to supporting our first team and serving our supporters, not least by always endeavouring to provide them the best possible value for the money they give their football club.
l'd like to mention some key points which we believe are worth bearing in mind when considering our ticket pricing policy. There is a unique financial backdrop which affects our ticketing strategy at Carrow Road, which we think it is only fair to consider when evaluating our pricing for any given match.
NCFC's Non-benefactor financial model
In Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones we believe we have the best owners in football, but not by any means the wealthiest. Unlike the majority of clubs in the Premier League, we do not have any ad-hoc sums of cash coming into our bottom line over and above the television incomes you refer to - except for any income we can responsibly generate ourselves as a business.
Thanks to this and, of course, to the Financial Fair Play rules, we cannot spend on the team sums which outweigh what we can generate ourselves. In order to compete with our counterparts in the Premier League and to give us the best chance of continuing to provide Premier League football to the people around the county of Norfolk, therefore, we work to a strong co-operative model. The commitment we make to our fans is that every spare penny we generate goes back into football to support our manager Alex Neil's work on and off the pitch.
22,000 season tickets at Carrow Road
We have once again capped our season ticket sales at 22,000 for games at Carrow Road next year. This means that more than 80 per cent of the crowd present at our games are season ticket holders, who will this year be enjoying Premier League football at a massive discount - with adults paying £26.28 per match in most standard areas and Under-12s in family areas just £3.67 per game.
Despite the fact that season ticket income is clearly a key revenue stream for us, we froze our prices this campaign for a second consecutive season as a thank you to our fans for their loyal support in recent years. Carrow Road will have one of the highest proportions of season ticket holders as a percentage of overall capacity (in our case c27,000) compared to other grounds in the Premier League next season - and therefore one of the highest proportions of fans watching at a significantly discounted rate.
Committed to supporting our travelling fans
Like your own club Crystal Palace and the other clubs in the Premier League, we will be committing resources this year to assist our fans who follow us up and down the country in huge numbers via a range of initiatives. ln the past these have included substantial ticket and coach travel subsidies and we will be announcing this season's initiatives in due course.
Away facilities - excellent standard
Unlike some of the comparable facilities found at other grounds, the away section at Carrow Road offers unrestricted views from every seat - and a choice of positions ranging from pitchside to a more elevated vantage point. None of the seats are in an upper tier hundreds of yards from the pltch as is the case at some clubs. The catering and toilet facilities are also of an excellent standard.
Price grading system - designed to fill Carrow Road
Our price grading system has not changed in many years now and is designed to enable us to flex the price depending on the opposition and other factors, such as the date of the game, whether it's our first match back in the Premier League following an exciting promotion campaign and so on. lt's worth remembering that under league rules the prices we charge away supporters are also the casual prices we charge our fans in comparable home areas.
Our strategy is always to set casual prices which help us to achieve our overall objective, which is to sell out Carrow Road. Our record in this regard in recent seasons, in both the Football League and the Premier League, has been very good and this is something we are very keen to maintain.
Norwich City v Crystal Palace - sold out
Our opening Premier League game against your club, Crystal Palace, on August B is, I'm pleased to report, already another complete home sell-out. Crystal Palace have taken their full allocation in the away end.
I hope the points raised above help to explain our pricing strategy not just for the Crystal Palace match in August, but generally. Sometimes it can be easy to single out a particular game and criticise the pricing policy without taking into account other extenuating factors. For example, we have been criticised by fans of one or two clubs for our prices at Carrow Road, only for our fans to be charged similar prices when they visit the clubs in question - and in the Premier League there may well be some clubs who charge our fans more to visit their grounds than is the case for the return fixture at Carrow Road.
Thank you once again for taking the time to share your views so eloquently and your passionate support for your club is clear for all to see. I very much hope you will be coming to support them at Carrow Road on August 8, when l'm sure a full Carrow Road will generate a fantastic atmosphere which will be a credit to both clubs and to the Barclays Premier League.
Chief Executive Officer
Norwich City Football Club
Palace broke their Shrewsbury hoodoo with what on the surface looked like an emphatic 4-1 win over the League 1 side. The result however belied some of the match's challenges, as Mark Gardiner explains in his match report.
A much-changed Palace took their time to defeat a limited but hard-working Shrewsbury side last night. There were not many performances that will encourage Pardew to make multiple changes at Stamford Bridge, and although the night’s entertainment needed an early goal for the League One team, for long periods Palace made hard work in creating chances, and were dragged into extra time. At least a decent crowd of over 10,000 saw plenty of goals in the end, and the level of support while Palace were behind & then when the tie was undecided was superb. Shrewsbury turned up in Argentina’s home kit and played more like the 1974 ultra-defensive version; sadly no Messi.
It is a little difficult to reconcile the declared aim of a cup run with the “second XI” selected by Pardew last night, even if it was packed with experience and international caps, and was hardly a Football Combination outfit. Only Ward & Zaha from Saturday’s starting XI were selected from the start, and Wilf played all 120 minutes – he must really have upset someone! Hennessey was in goal; Ward started at right back with Kelly at left back, although they swapped after about 30 minutes; Hangeland & Mariappa were central defence; the old boiler-house of Jedinak & Ledley played as holding midfielders; Zaha on the right & Lee on the left flanked Bamford in the hole, with Gayle the sole striker.
As a scratch side Palace were still finding their feet when the ball was conceded in the middle of our half, and Tootle escaped Ledley’s attentions to fire the ball past Hennessey. We old timers did all warm you of the Shrewsbury Hoodoo!!!! After that unsurprisingly the Shrews fell back and defended in depth, often with 9 men behind the ball. There were some good showings from the visitors: Grandison, built like a blockhouse at centre back, had a habit of making barnstorming runs through the middle; Junior Brown in left midfield used his pace to help close down Ward & Zaha; while Ryan Woods was a spiky defensive midfielder. Yet they did not force Hennessey into another save for the rest of the tie ad their main weapon was the siege-gun kicking of keeper Leutwiler, who took a leaf from Speroni’s book of taklng aeons over goal kicks.
Palace dominated possession but did little with it, and didn’t have a shot at goal for well over half-an-hour. Bamford & Gayle couldn’t strike up an understanding, and there was too much passing on the edge of the box, culminating in the crowd’s latent frustration first showing itself when Lee passed up two chances to shoot in trying to improve his position, and the ball was shuttled across the face of the area with each player unable to find space for an effort on goal. Zaha was working hard on the right but unable to find a telling cross and the closest we came to an equaliser was an early deep cross that saw Wilf fail to connect with a flying header. One major issue was that Jedi & Ledley were sitting far too deep – we didn’t need two holding midfielders against Shrewsbury, and we probably didn’t need one when they were sitting so deep, yet Jedi was often level with our central defenders in our half while Ledley looked well off the pace. It was notable that our pressure increased when Jedinak did step forward late on in the first half, and a one-two between Zaha & Bamford saw Wilf finally get goal-side of his man, and was unsurprisingly bundled over. Gayle coolly finished the spot kick – the goal-bound effort our first of the match – and Palace could have seized the lead in the few minutes remaining before the interval, Zaha’s fierce drive forcing a save from Leutwiler (although he was flagged offside), and then Bamford finding himself clear on the penalty spot but being too slow to turn and take advantage.
Half time saw Ward replaced by Souaré – a planned substitution we thought with Chelsea on the horizon – and the match continued much as it had in the first half. Shrewsbury rarely caused any problems to Hangeland & Mariappa, and none at all to Hennessey, but again Palace struggled to make superiority tell, and we didn’t have an effort on goal for the first 15-20 minutes. Pardew’s plans took a knock along with Jedinak’s knee early on, and Mutch came on; this did give the attack a bit more oomph on paper. Bamford’s game started to fall apart as he was pushed alongside Gayle and we felt that Murray would be a more appropriate weapon against this type of opponent; Patrick wasted a sublime moment of Zaha skill when snatching at a half volley and sending the ball over from 12 yards when he had plenty of time to set himself, and also missed another decent chance. At least now Palace started to make chances as Shrewsbury tired and Gayle put another effort from distance wide, but still too many moves broke down on the edge of the box. Finally Murray arrived for Bamford and the attack now had more focus, and as the Shrews ran out of gas we actually forced some saves from Leutwiler, who now looked flaky, saving one Gayle free kick with his knees when standing when even I would have bent down & picked the ball up. A fine run by Zaha ended with a cross shot just wide, and in stoppage time Gayle clipped the bar from 25 yards.
We all felt before extra time that Palace would now win 4-1 or 5-1 as Shrewsbury were on their knees compared to Premier League fitness levels, but it was grabbing the lead that looked the more difficult part. Actually it wasn’t, Murray finding space in the box with a turn and being dragged down by Sadler – a cast-iron penalty & red card but the referee probably felt he’d down his job awarding the second penalty, a matter of discussion between the official & Pardew. Glenn’s penalty was unstoppable and while the echoes of “Glenn Murray” ran around Selhurst, Gayle played in Lee who had an age to set himself and score the third. That was game pretty much over, and it was now a question of how many Palace would be satisfied with. Players with points to prove made sure we didn’t run down the clock, and a fine run & cross by Souaré down the left saw an excellent header from Zaha high into the net. Palace even ended with only 10 men as Gayle left the pitch unnoticed.
And for those of you who doubted the Hoodoo – well, we still can’t beat Shrewsbury in 90 minutes!
Hennessey – 5 – Only one chance to shine and was exposed too easily for Tootle’s goal. After that barely had anything to do.
Ward – 5 – Still looks off the pace, once having ten yards start on Brown but dawdled up the pitch and was robbed from behind.
Kelly – 6 – Little defending to do but did cause Shrewsbury lots of problems when running down the left side. Had far less attacking impact when switched to the right.
Mariappa – 6 – Very confident display until he looked to lose concentration in extra time and made three errors that Shrewsbury were too knackered to exploit.
Hangeland – 7 – Untroubled.
Ledley – 5 – Off the pace for much of the match, and was easily evaded by Tootle for their goal. Came more into the game as Shrewsbury tired late on.
Jedinak – 6 – Ran the game for much of the first half but far too deep to be meaningful. When he pushed forward it made a difference. Sadly injured so may be a doubt for Chelsea.
Zaha – 7 – It did look like another frustrating day for Wilf and us as his early penetrations down the right often ran into a thicket of blue-&-white shirts, and his crosses were either blocked or failed to find a target. Yet he worked hard for 120 minutes including doing some defensive work when occasionally called to do so. Switched to the left halfway through the second half. His skill earned the first penalty, he did have a fine run & shot late in the 90 minutes, and had enough energy & determination to meet Pape’s cross late in extra-time.
Lee – 6 – Poor first half when he played too indirectly, looking to pass or move sideways or backwards instead of running at defenders, summed up when he passed up a great opportunity for a shot while turning onto his stringer foot. The goal, which was gifted to him but he took very well, seemed to settle him down and, while never a decisive factor, he was better in the second half, when switched infield, although Shrewsbury’s heavy legs were a factor.
Bamford – 4 – Failed on his first big audition, never creating a link with Gayle from the no. 10 spot, and looking lost when pushed up as a striker. Not quick enough in thought or deed and the defenders found it easy to pick him up and take the ball off him.
Gayle – 6 – Not a factor for much of the first half and drew ire from the visitors for going to ground too often, before taking a fine penalty. As Shrewsbury tired Gayle’s habit of running at them started to pay dividends and started to make chances. Unlucky with a late shot from 25 yards that clipped the top of the bar.
Souaré – 7 – Didn’t have much to do defensively, although his heading ability improves, and was lucky with an awful scything tackle that on Saturday would see Hazard rolling in agony with a crowd of blue shirts hectoring the officials and Mourinho blowing his top; after a couple of reproving shouts his opponent got straight to his feet – they really have no idea how to play the game in League One, do they? More of an attacking factor and showed great pace & determination along with a fine cross for Wilf’s coup-de-grace.
Mutch – 6 – First touch as sub sparked an attack, but after that he was useful but not outstanding.
Murray – 7 – First touch 15 seconds after coming on was a foul. Then gave the attack a focus it had lacked, holding the ball up and bringing others into play, although like others was quick to go to ground. Won the second penalty with a good turn and smashed the ball home.
Need some Palace chat in your life? Of course you do! And fear not, because the FYP podcast is here!
All change! JD is back but he's in a guest's chair instead of the presenter spot! Whaaaa!
Rob Sutherland continues hosting duties and Andy Street is also there to add some pessimism.
The boys chat Aston Villa, Shrewsbury and Chelsea.
They also answer your Twitter and Facebook questions.
Click on one of the links below to download!
A win of any sorts - at Selhurst Park - has proven to be a bit of a rarity for Palace fans durign the last season and a bit. Mark Gardiner reviews the action from a hard-fought defeat of Aston Villa.
For all that the display against Arsenal was encouraging, it’s not results against the “Big Clubs” that will define our progress this season. We need to start getting results against the mid- & lower-table clubs at home which were poor last year – IIRC of teams that finished below us only Leicester & QPR went home pointless. We struggled to break down teams that played much as we did away from Selhurst, denying space and sitting back; of course this also helps explain our success away from home. Before the match I thought we’d win 2-0 or 2-1 but hopefully with some more creativity & attacking flair. Well, the result was OK but the performance was oddly disjointed with some questionable choices in terms of players, positions, substitutions & formations.
The initial team news brought some sideways glances: Bolasie & Wickham didn’t even feature in the match day squad – Yannick for reported person reasons, & Connor for... well, does anyone know? Injury? Illness? Anyway that saw Murray return up front and a debut for Sako. The assumption was that Sako would play on the flanks, and initially it looked like Bakary was on the left, where he made one good move with Souaré, and Wilf on the right, where he drew a couple of early fouls. Cabaye and Puncheon were making some good initial moves in midfield, an exquisite feint by Jason and a defence splitting pass from Yohan the pick. This initial good feeling was soon spoilt, in part by a Villa team who were more robust and less flaky than last season, even missing Benteke & Delph. Gestede & Delaney were having a rare old battle, one that saw Damien take an early standing count in addition to an excellent early block. I couldn’t make out if Villa were intending to play wing backs or if Sánchez was just playing a really deep midfield role, but they did seem to have a lot of possession around our box, helped by the number of times Palace coughed up possession cheaply.
Palace’s normal formation soon morphed into something very different but horribly rickety. Wilf moved to the left, where he made some good progress without creating many chances, but Sako, who hadn’t really featured much, looked to move infield, where despite a couple of good runs & touches he appeared a little lost. On the right McArthur was trying hard to help Ward, whose shaky defensive play continued on from Arsenal, but Villa often unhinged our right flank with Amavi overlapping and Agbonlahor drifting wide. Still it was unexpected when Dann presented Villa with a chance (or perhaps not – he did gift Benteke the winner last season) only for Agbonlahor to scuff his effort that was blocked by McCarthy. Palace attacks were spasmodic, Murray nearly setting Zaha free inside the box only for the chance to be snuffed out. Villa had a second choice to seize the lead but McCarthy tipped over Grealish’s rising shot from an angle. Come half time Villa probably had a slight points lead.
Two substitutes came out stripped for action during the interval, and a couple of idiosyncratic choices they appeared: Mutch, who is not the flavour of the month; and Gayle, who is feted but understandably wants away. Murray was one withdrawn, which worried me as Dwight has a poor record when not partnered by Glenn. The other brought forth much head shaking – Zaha, whom Pardew had been seen wagging his finger at in the first half, but in the absence of Bolasie and with Sako pretty anonymous seemed to offer our most potent attacking threat. Lee or Bamford looked more attractive options on paper. At least the formation change made some sense, with Mutch on the right and Sako on the left, and Puncheon back in the middle.
Last week a home debutant nearly scored straight after the break; this time Sako’s effort from a tight angle appeared from the Whitehorse to strike the post, although it was credited as a save by Guzan. The chance came from a fine piece of wing play from Mutch. Palace appeared far more settled and Villa carried far less threat. Then came the breakthrough when a fine pass by Puncheon (?) set Gayle free inside the box; he turned and from our angle smashed the ball past Guzan. We celebrated, the PA announcer celebrated, the players celebrated, the Villa fans were disgruntled, the referee ran back to the centre circle, and the Villa players berated the linesman en masse. To some amazement the referee, who had been happy with the goal, was persuaded to speak with the linesman, who had not flagged, and then awarded Villa a free kick. The Villa fans celebrated, the home fans were disgruntled, etc. I can only guess there was a “Bournemouth” after the Premier League’s letter, although it looked like the referee indicated handball. By the time you read this we’ll all know how wrong I was!
That actually sparked some real atmosphere inside the ground, aided by the ref who had booked Cabaye for an admittedly cynical foul but had been the victim of 3 or 4 such challenges that went unpunished. Palace won a corner and Puncheon’s delivery was flatter than the usual floated efforts from him & Cabaye; Dann won a fine header and despite a goal line intervention the ball went into the roof of the net. Palace were paying quite well now, with some fine triangles down the left featuring Sako, Puncheon & Souaré, and Sako again brought a good save from Guzan. Ironically it was this strength down our left that in part brought about Villa’s equaliser. A fine overlapping run by Souaré was wasted when Sako’s final ball went behind; as Pape trotted back he appeared to lose concentration, chatting with Delaney as substitute Traoré sped into acres of space down our left. Finally aware of the danger too late as Traoré reached the goal line, Souaré’s attempted block was deflected in at the near post past a wrong-footed McCarthy.
For a few minutes Pape looked to lose his focus as Traoré ripped into our left flank & it looked like the momentum was swinging Villa’s way. Even Pardew looked to have doubts, replacing Cabaye with the steely Jedinak, perhaps shoring up a shaken team. But Palace continued to make good work down the left, Souaré looking to make amends. The late winning goal was a strange affair: a poor Palace set piece conceded possession with our big men up front; Dann, who had prevented a quick throw by Guzan, was still making his way back when Amavi dithered on the ball and allowed Scott to rob him of possession. With Villa caught going the wrong way, with a fine touch for a central defender Dann outflanked Villa on the right and a good cross found Sako, whose shot across Guzan found the far corner. Villa’s hearts sank and they never looked like coming back again, and Palace ran the clock down in possession. So, kudos to Pardew for the substitutions, as the reshuffle worked well, or some head scratching at the initial team?
McCarthy – 7 – Fine performance with two good important saves at 0-0 from Agbonlahor & Grealish. Looked in command of his box when coming for crosses, and had sense not to come too far and get caught between Gestede & Delaney. There were a couple of poor kicks, at least one when our preferred short pass from the back was closed down.
Ward – 5 – Another shaky performance at the back, and worryingly there was another header in the first half that he backed out of. Was caught napping a few times and there looked to be confusion between Joel & McArthur. Didn’t face anywhere near the problems after the break, for which Mutch deserves some of the credit.
Souaré – 7 – There was a five-minute spell when Pape looked to have lost his concentration & composure under pressure from excellent prospect Traoré. I swear he was chatting with Delaney, possibly about having to dash two lengths of the pitch for nothing, in the build-up to their equaliser. Unlucky with the deflection but really should have closed his man down well before that, and his state of mind was shown by conceding a dangerous free kick minutes later for a foul on the same player. For the other 85 minutes he had a fine game, offering a lot down the left, although there is room for improvement in his crossing, and in many ways effectively replaced Wilf’s threat down that flank.
Delaney – 7 – Real battle with Gestede that Damien won on points despite an early clash of heads seeing him needing treatment. Did make one poor pass in the second half that was picked off but his fellow defenders bailed him out.
Dann – 7 – Nearly gifted Villa the lead when giving the ball away to Agbonlahor, but that was about his only mistake. With a goal & an assist to add to his defending Scott turned in the sort of display that must soon attract Roy’s boys.
Cabaye – 7 – Good but not quite as good as last week. Still astonished by the amount of work he pouts in defensively; obviously I drew the wrong impression from his time at Newcastle! There were some excellent passes in midfield that set the attack free but found the attentions of Grealish a pain. Booking seemed undeserved given the treatment he received at Villa’s hands.
McArthur – 6 – Did a lot of defensive chasing down the right that reduced his effectiveness in the first half. Less frenetic in the second but again gets through a shed load of work.
Puncheon – 7 – Some good touches in the first half to set Zaha and Murray free, including a lovely dummy turn that switched the entire line of attack, and good close control most of the time, although did turn over some possession cheaply. More influential in the second half when restored to a more familiar central attacking role, setting up Gayle’s “goal” and delivering a good corner for Dann’s.
Zaha – 6 – Frustrating day for Wilf, who often managed to beat his man but was often double- or triple-manned, and never quite created a clear chance for himself or others. Pardew’s ire was obvious but not that understandable, and it was still a surprise when he didn’t reappear after the interval.
Sako – 7 – Quiet first half when he looked lost in what I assume is an unfamiliar central role, although there were a few good touches. Looked different player in the second, only denied by Guzan / the woodwork twice. Forged a really good partnership with Pape down the left and took his goal excellently.
Murray – 5 – Only broke free twice, once finding his way to goal blocked, the other almost setting Wilf free in the box. Aside from that Glenn had a quiet game, in part due to the team’s increasingly disjointed first half efforts, apart from conceding some silly & cheap free kicks. Not greatly surprised he was subbed.
Mutch – 6 – A much improved display in a right-sided role as sub, starting with an awful first touch then immediately making amends with a good run & cross for Sako’s early chance. There was far more that was good than bad so perhaps we are starting to see the real Jordon.
Gayle – 6 – Didn’t do that much as Murray’s replacement, although he did find the net only for the latest of disallows to rule it out. Strange that he was preferred to Bamford given the transfer situation.
Jedinak – 6 – Came on to bolster the midfield following the blow of Pape’s own goal and looked at home.
There aren't a huge number of memorable games against Aston Villa, but for Darryl Murdoch, the draw with the Midlands club in 2010 was one that he personally remembers vividly.
February 2010 was grim for Palace fans. At the tail end of January, the Eagles were plunged into administration and were forced to sell star players Victor Moses and Jose Fonte to keep the Brendan Guilfoyle shaped wolf from the door and it looked like curtains for the club. It wasn't looking good for me either around this time. I was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease in January after a period of ill health and found myself waylaid in hospital as our FA Cup 5th Round showdown with Premier League Aston Villa came around.
At the time, I genuinely thought this could be the last time I got to see a 'big team' come to Selhurst so I focused on getting well enough to be discharged by the Friday so that I could take my place on the gantry to cover the game as co-commentator for Palace Radio. Friday afternoon came and went and according to the docs I wasn’t well enough to go home, but they would review me in the morning – they did, and again ‘Sorry Mr Murdoch, you’re not well enough to be discharged’ was the message.
Sod that! No way was I missing such an important game, so against doctors (and my future wife’s) advice and wishes, I discharged myself and headed home. I rocked up to Selhurst the next day for the game and I was glad that I did – Neil Warnock’s Palace took the game to Villa and were only a few minutes away from knocking out the former European Champions! Johnny Ertl gave Palace an early lead but it was the Eagles’ second goal that made me glad I had ignored the doctor’s advice!
With 20 minutes to go, and the scores locked a 1-1, Palace were awarded a free kick around half way inside the Aston Villa half after Nick Carle (remember him?) was fouled. Up stepped Darren Ambrose and the rest, they say, is history. From fully 35 yards, Dazza smashed the ball into the top corner of Brad Friedel’s net, the big American unable to keep the ball out despite getting a big, and if you know Brad, you know that means, BIG! Hand on the ball. Palace were in front thanks to another Darren Ambrose wonder strike and looked to be heading to the Quarter Finals until Stiliyan Petrov's late equaliser denied the Eagles a spot in the last eight.
Palace went on to lose the replay up at Villa Park by three goals to one just before Neil Warnock left to join Queens Park Rangers. Palace went to on, largely thanks to the goals and influence of Darren Ambrose, to survive a last-day relegation shoot out with Sheffield Wednesday and preserve their Championship status. The club was saved from liquidation in June and five years later, things couldn’t be any more different as we welcome Aston Villa back to Selhurst with Palace the favourites to pick up the win!
In a change from the usual Away Fan Angle, Patrick Stevens tells us a little about his mate, an Aston Villa fan that has taken a shine to Palace...
George Guest is 24 and lives in the same town as me in Hertfordshire and works in London. His family on both sides hail from the Black Country and Birmingham and are all Aston Villa fans. Villa has been traced through his dad’s side back to 1888, and as George states, “he did not choose, he was chosen”. George follows the Villa home and away and has been to over 200 games since his “debut” (a 0-4 home defeat to a Chris Sutton inspired Blackburn Rovers in August 1997).
I’ve known George for years, as one of the few genuine football fans in the town. I’ve known his dad since our playing days and George now manages and plays for my old famous Sunday League side Gossoms End FC. Bumping into George, our conversations inevitably gravitate towards football, and in particular Palace and Villa.
George has developed a soft spot for Palace, through my constant facebook posts but mainly due to what he describes as “the best home support I’ve seen in the Premier League”. He cites the Holmesdale Fanatics as something he hopes Villa’s fledgling Ultra group, Brigada 1874 can aspire to.
“The Holmesdale Fanatics are probably the reason I enjoy watching Palace - because it’s certainly not Pardew! The constant noise, the original sounds and the bouncing means I’ve struggled to concentrate as an away fan on the previous two trips to Selhurst Park: You can’t take your eyes off them.”
George, like me, is concerned that atmosphere's in the premier league are deteriorating and cites how he recently watched Villa at St Mary's and was amazed at the lack of atmosphere: "Southampton were five nil up in 30 mins and about to confirm their highest ever Premier League finish, yet you could hear a pin drop". He also remembers how awful it was at Stamford Bridge "8 nil up and the loudest roar of the day was when Guzan saved a penalty!" For such reasons, he is convinced that Ultra groups are a force for good in football, “When the Holmesdale Fanatics are on form, it generates atmosphere, defibrillating the opposition support into action.”
George is disappointed with the lack of atmosphere at Villa Park in recent years, citing dwindling attendances due to poor football and a real lack of identity at the club, which seemingly only exists to stay in the Premier League. He is one a dying breed who would gladly have sacrificed the apparent holy grail of premiership status for that one afternoon at Wembley, with his family, watching Villa lift the FA Cup. “Our Cup run last season was the best thing to happen to the club in years. Although ultimately, it ended in failure, beating our ‘rivals’ ('we barely notice them in reality' he quips) from West Bromwich in the Quarter Final, and then outplaying Liverpool in the Semi, despite being so-called underdogs, were truly memorable moments.” George has travelled to Germany, Holland and Portugal in the past three pre-seasons to say he’s seen Villa in Europe and it’s an experience he hopes he can fulfil if Villa really go for it in domestic cup competitions.
“I think there’s a strong perception of Palace at this moment in time, a great survival story in the first season as well as a very steady performance in the second after Pardew’s arrival. But really it’s the fans who’ve put Palace on the map.”
George has been to a number of European grounds as a neutral fan, Villa fan or England fan but lists Goodison Park as his favourite as “it feels like it’s about to fall down every time Villa score”.
“I’ve booked my tickets for Palace away in August already and hopefully we can keep the Holmesdale Fanatics quiet with another smash and grab 1-0 win!”
Dream on George; without Benteke and Delph that seems even further away than a dreamed of win in May. Despite that, admiration of the atmosphere at Selhurst, and a belief of how important the noise we make is, is something we both share. And even though with Villa as visitors George will oppose us as loudly as he can, he will also hope it Palace fans continue to inspire more fans to get back to what they do best, and follow the dreams of old, year after year.... Just like me and George.
This weekend's game against Aston Villa brings Tim Sherwood's newly re-shaped side to Selhurst Park. Jack Pierce takes a look at what Palace can expect.
As our famed song alludes to, supporting Palace is something most inherit from a family elder.
If, and I thank my lucky stars that it wasn't the case, I'd had the misfortune of being born into Aston Villa supporting stock, I think I'd have chosen a life of spending my Saturday afternoons in garden centres.
During the last five or six seasons, there's been something inherently boring about Aston Villa. They've, despite having some very average players, managed to stay up and avoid dropping into the second tier and Randy Lerner, in spite of making his wish to sell the club plain for all to see, cannot manage to find a buyer for what remains a sleeping giant.
Villa's fan base and infrastructure should make them a top six club or at least that should be the target. Yet a lot of pre-season talk about Villa has been about them battling to stay up again. Whether a group of new players will gel quickly enough for the team to get points on the board and alleviate pressure on Tim Sherwood - a man facing his first full season in charge of a club – might prove one of the stories of the season.
Sherwood was pretty much spat out by Tottenham a year ago and despite being linked with every managerial job that became available, including the one in SE25; it wasn't until the February of last season that Tactics Tim was appointed by Villa.
Having dismissed Paul Lambert for being Paul Lambert, they replaced him with his polar opposite. From dour Glaswegian to cheeky chappy; from shirt and tie to a gilet.
Sherwood has his fans, himself one of the most ardent, but there were doubts as to whether he possessed the tactical knowhow to guide Villa away from the threat of the drop. To his credit he did and despite finishing in 17th and just avoiding relegation, when he was appointed, Villa supporters would've accepted Premier League survival however it came. With a cup final to boot, Sherwood’s half a season in charge was actually relatively successful. However, having reached a cup final and beating Liverpool in the semi final on what was one of the club’s best days in a long time, their performance against Arsenal in the final was abject.
If players, the majority of whom will have never played at Wembley before, cannot get up for an FA Cup Final there is an issue with the changing room psyche. Sherwood, a midfield battler in his playing days, will have been embarrassed by the meekness of their performance that day and will demand a hardier spirit this season.
This season started with a heartening win at new boys, Bournemouth. Many actually viewed that as an upset and expected the Premier League newbies to see of Sherwood’s side so Rudy Gestede scoring the winner probably upset quite a few accumulators.
Gestede is one of many summer arrivals at Villa Park, but arriving from Blackburn, his signing bucked the trend. Much like Newcastle’s recruitment policy of 2010/11, Villa have looked across the channel to poach a few of Ligue 1’s best young talents. The trio of Jordans – Amavi, Ayew and Veretout - and Idrissa Gueye all flourished in the French top flight last season and Villains will be hoping that they adapt to the Premier League quickly. Big things are expected of Veretout in particular and he has been tipped as a future French international.
Most recently, Sherwood has added Adama Traore to his squad. A product of the famed La Masia academy in Barcelona, Traore made only the one appearance in Barcelona’s first team but has had a fair bit of experience playing for their ‘B’ side. Sherwood, in true Sherwood fashion, has tried his best not to raise expectations too much and referred to his new signing as a ‘mixture of Messi and Ronaldo’.
No pressure then, Adama, but anything less than 25 goals and leading Villa to the title and you’ll have been a flop I’m afraid, pal.
Sherwood most likely made the comments in jest but as with most of the stuff that comes out of his mouth, the press and social media jumped on it. With time he might mellow but for now Sherwood seems a man quite confident of himself in front of a camera and with that comes the possibility of looking a bit stupid at times. As the man himself may say, it’s only ‘banter’.
Villa haven’t just looked at the continent for additions. Micah Richards, new club captain, has arrived on a free from Manchester City after failing to make an impression while on loan in Florence last season and Scott Sinclair had his loan move made permanent. Both players, if they manage to recapture the form shown in years gone by, could prove very good acquisitions.
Despite the large numbers of incomers, Villa have started this season without, arguably, their three most important players of the last season. Ron Vlaar, one of the best defenders at last summer’s World Cup but ravaged by injuries during the club season, has been released, Christian Benteke was snapped up by Liverpool once they agreed to pay his release fee of over £30 million and Fabian Delph jumped at the chance to sit on Manchester City’s bench for the next couple of seasons. Having seen how the likes of Scott Sinclair and Jack Rodwell benefited from moves to The Etihad, who can blame Delph?!
Without those three players, Villa would most likely have been relegated last season. Such was the importance of Benteke, Delph and Vlaar, the players that the club have bought in as their replacements must prove their worth. And do it quickly.
Hopefully not by Saturday though…
We've not seen much of Mile Jedinak in the Palace side, and there's a belief among some fans that he's much missed. Jack Pierce takes a look at the issue for us.
When Mile Jedinak arrived in SE25, Palace had just avoided relegation to English football's third tier.
Four year on and Palace have begun their third season in the Premier League and are looking upwards.
Since the end to last season, there has been a lot of talk about what's in store for the skipper and whether he has a future in red and blue. As far as I'm concerned, 'Jedi' remains one of the club's most important players and figures.
Competition for places in Alan Pardew's preferred three man midfield has never been fiercer and with the likes of Yohan Cabaye walking through the door, the calibre of midfielder has never been higher.
Joe Ledley , James McArthur, Jordon Mutch and Jason Puncheon along with Jedinak and Cabaye are all looking for a starting berth in Palace's engine room and all have their merits. Unfortunately for them, seven doesn't go into three. While Mutch, Cabaye and Puncheon can play further up the field, at this moment in time it seems the Australian is in direct competition with McArthur and Ledley for starts.
Ledley, a player of huge worth since signing 18 months ago, hasn’t even made the bench for the first two games of the season.
Jedinak himself has been on the bench against Norwich and Arsenal but will have known that his starting place now isn't as secure as it had been during the past two campaigns. Pardew's clearly looking for a more pleasing style on the eye - a style in which the likes of Cabaye, Puncheon and McArthur should and hopefully will excel in. Jedinak's approach, despite being very effective, isn't based upon neat passing and hitting teams on the break, the team's most impressive features of Pardew's 21 league games in charge.
Pardew’s given the impression that he rates the Aussie skipper; he's spoken very highly of Jedinak in the past. That said, Pardew has recently stated that Cabaye will be the player he speaks to most during games; a role that the Aussie undoubtedly had under Messrs Holloway, Pulis and Warnock.
The defensive midfielder’s stats for the last two seasons have been outstanding. He's often topped Premier League lists regarding most successful tackles and interceptions. He's done what many don't and won plaudits for doing the uglier side of the game very well. Under Pulis, he was exceptional and provided a vital cog in the well driven machine that the baseball capped one turned Palace into.
A key turning point came last January. While the form his club showed while he was away captaining his country at The Asia Cup pleased all Palace fans, it did highlight that Palace could win top flight games without Jedi's presence at the base of midfield. Ever since that run of games, there has been an air around the club that Jedi's role isn't as vital now as it was when we first came up.
Cabaye's signing has signalled the next stage of the club's evolution but that isn't to say Jedinak shouldn't and doesn't have a role in and around the squad.
During his time in South London, Jedinak has become highly regarded both domestically and internationally. As his national side's captain, he's led his country at a World Cup as well as to victory in this year's Asia Cup. Such experience and leadership can only help a changing room of players on the verge of doing something very special. If managed well and with a little luck, this Palace side could become the most heralded in the club's history.
A character like Jedinak will remain vital in a squad in which expectation will be heightened and that's without contemplating the impact he can still have on the pitch. There aren't many better defensive midfielders in the league.
On Sunday, against a quick passing Arsenal side, we could’ve benefitted from Jedi’s presence in front of the back four. If not from the start, when Yannick Bolasie was withdrawn at half time, the Aussie would’ve tightened things up with the impressive Cabaye slotting in behind Connor Wickham. Instead, the introduction of Jordon Mutch did nothing to add any steel to the Palace midfield and Arsenal continued to move the ball at will.
Whether it's from the start of games or coming on later and shoring things up in matches we're ahead in, our captain can still play an instrumental role in any success we might have ahead of us.
Nobody will believe that more than the man himself.
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