I’ve hit a grand old-ish age and Palace haven’t so much hit form as whack it in the face like Mateta at a Millwall corner flag.
Can we freeze this moment in time? Set it in stone, chuck it in a capsule, and let our great grandchildren release this relic as a soothing antidote to virtual reality 10 team global soccer tournaments that occupy ten seconds of their metaverse days.
It’s always wobbly being a Palace fan, describing it is as difficult as sticking jelly to the wall. From turning nine and seeing a humiliating poem in the paper about ‘falling king Ernie Walley’s trouble at the Palace’ (ha bloody ha) plunging us into a laughing stock; to turning on the telly post game last night to see if that really happened; it’s been a complicated journey. We’re bound up by history, high-highs and low-lows, identity and context. Friends still locate the 9-0 Liverpool loss in ’89 as the greatest night of their lives. Seriously.
So, as we sit ninth in the table before the Easter eggs have hatched, with pundits purring at our playing style, and thoughts of a semi-final seizing my every second thought, the hope and euphoria feel like they need bottling and put in storage. What could be round the corner may crush us.
Palace fans’ wonky relationship with the definition of nostalgia is the problem. We suck it up in a Shakespearian way - pride before falls, redemption, revenge (‘weeds) - and let it seep into our veins; our narrative is littered with literary nods far too pretentious to unpick, but we all know the drill. For every peak there’s been a trough. Third in the top tier with our only trophy to boot – the aptly named ‘Zenith’ Data – and we all know what happened next. Just thinking the words ‘Ian Wright is leaving for Arsenal’ is still torture.
It’s a conditioning we can’t live without. The lap of honour at home to Ipswich in 1993. And repeated again fifteen years later v Burnley. Different drivers, same outcome: Avoiding relegation and favourites for the play-offs fuelling the happiness, before failing at both and glum reality bashing us over our silly heads.
Then there’s the appearance of Mark Goldberg within seconds of Hopkin’s curler hitting the net. Noades pissing himself laughing at how Goldberg was ‘wetting himself with excitement’ saw the former take the latter to the cleaners and the fans to the depth of despair. Years later we had Jordan saying he’d bought the ground and celebrating it as a defining moment – before the reality of having not bought it pretty much defining what was meant by administration.
Post 2010, things are less acute. Far less. But we still have Dougie’s departure, followed by ‘you what, this would make an Amazon documentary!’ promotion. The post Puncheon Pardew dad-dance is devastating and in this meme universe we populate, pops up to ruin a day fairly regularly. ‘Sad face’.
Then 2017 and we’re down, definitely 100%, chairman-in-the-dressing-room-post Sunderland 4-0 loss-at-home down. Only to stay up. Eh?
More recently, some peace, calm, composure. Though permanently peering below us in the table whilst assuming the punching above our weight behaviour has to come back and bite us at any point.
The hero of Roy. True, statue-deserving statesman whatever the haters proclaim. But who wasn’t battling his heartwarming Arsenal farewell with the cold reality of what the hell to do with this aging squad and seemingly drifting squad.
Taking a step back to survey the scene several months in, whilst slapping myself in the face, and I want to say things are different. And praise the Lord they are. Too much feels right in this football club to warrant anything but a wave of positivity. Progress breeding a future proof club. And vice versa. Or is it?
Because on the flipping flip side of this so-called stability, as we enter our finest hour, the rumour mill spins like Bolasie in his pomp, with tales of our deep pocketed owners having been seduced by that farcical West London shower of a club. And so our emotions swing back into fear of the future and waste-of-time worry.
So let’s just wallow in our difference. What makes us Palace fans. Fallible humans who wear their authenticity on their sleeves, while they still can. It helps that we are one of very few clubs at our level who have a connection with an owner who lives and breathes the club in exactly the way we do. When he says custodian he means it - his vision is sound, his achievements at the club too many to detail and totally amazing, quite frankly.
And this being football, it’s one of the few areas of life where I relish a moral high ground - in the moral compass-free football landscape, our needle is still intact. It may not be one day and to coin modern day parlance, ‘our truth’ may lie in tatters. But ho-hum, normal rules rarely apply in football.
We’re a club defying corporate modernity in many ways. Call me a dinosaur for roaring my approval for our rickety ground. Old fashioned appeal is what makes us stand out anyway. Humour and rough and readiness is alive and kicking at Selhurst more than at any shiny corporate space. Who else has half time entertainment comprising the finest Finn of all time, Aki Riihilahti, slide tackling non-cheesy, funny and smart front man – unafraid to dig out opposing fans - Chris Grierson.
So the fact is, with knuckles white, heart in mouth, and brain chemicals a mess, I am placed as well as I can be to let this Palace ride never cease.
After all, I can no longer freeze time as stop my addiction to Palace till my time on this planet is well and truly up.