We Had The Want, But Not The Win
Late night, Redhill station. I had just got off a train that was filled with stragglers from Wembley still decked in red and blue.
Among the other people leaving the train were three guys, an older man in a kilt, and two younger guys with their faces painted.
I had optimistically worn my Don Rogers replica shirt for the day as it was the kit we wore the day we beat Manchester United 5-0 back in 1972.
‘Were you at the game?’ he asked in a thick Scottish accent.
‘I don’t know what to say’ I replied, ‘just bugger it’.
He smiled. ‘Well I’m a Hibs fan really, the boys are Palace …’
‘So not all bad today then…’
He smiled. Good for him. It was nice to hear something positive, because it had been an enjoyable day in many ways.
I got home soon after, and went to the BBC website to look back at the day.
I saw two things. One was a photo of the kilted man (although you cannot see the kilt – just take my word for it!) and the two boys looking heroically glum, as the picture (the second one from the bottom) must have been taken just after the game:
The second thing was the news that United were going to replace Louis van Gaal as manager with Jose Mourinho.
I know that the Mourinho news was hardly a surprise, even if the timing was.
But it showed that the winning the cup was not that important to Manchester United, something that ran counter to everything I had seen from Palace.
That lack of importance seemed to be the case with the United supporters at the ground. Of course they wanted their team to win, and of course they celebrated afterwards. But the day was not treated with the same exuberance and sense of occasion as it was by the fans at the other end.
The United team on the pitch certainly wanted to win. This is not a vintage United side, and while they created more chances than us, they were never especially dominant.
I have not watched the highlights or read many match reports, but I thought Wayne Rooney played okay, as did Michael Carrick and Antonio Valencia while Antony Martial looks very sharp, and will be a great player once they stop wasting him on the left wing.
And having had a sleep or two now, I will not remember the day particularly for the football. I had a great view of Punch’s goal and I loved his erratic, joyful, almost disbelieving celebration. I’ll stick with that from the football side of things.
Instead I’ll remember the day from watching the Palace fans heading to the ground, then lifting the occasion with the amazing show of support, then later and later, resigned and tired in defeat.
I’ll remember Palace fans of all ages making their way from all points south and very occasionally North. Elderly couples hand in hand, grandfathers, fathers and sons altogether. Raucous fans yelling familiar songs at the tops of their voices while nervous fellow travellers wondered what on earth was going on.
I’ll remember fans following their own different routes to the ground, because everyone had their own quickest route or knew the best pub to drink in before the game.
I’ll remember bumping into old friends, the ones you only ever see on these occasions.
I’ll remember the guy in the beer queue in the fan zone who liked my shirt and wondered if it was the oldest kit there.
It wasn’t. By the end of the day I had seen every Palace kit from the Johnny Byrne kit of the early sixties, through the claret and blue promotion kit from 1969, my 5-0 shirt, the first Malcolm Allison red and blue stripes, the 1976 sash, the 1990 Fly Virgin kit, and every subtly different variation of stripe width and sponsor since.
I’ll remember seeing Bill Nighy dressed not in red and blue, but instead dressed as a perfectly tailored Bill Nighy, happily stopping for selfies and autographs after the game, and giving those of us in Queue A some brief distraction from the tannoy voice of doom.
Of course I’ll remember the brilliant show of colour behind the goal at the Palace end, and the contrast with the apparent apathy for the day at the other end.
I won’t recognise the Tiny Tempah song the next time I hear it, but I’m sure he’ll cope. I’m proud that I knew more words to the National Anthem than the girl paid to sing it. I may even have applauded Sir Alex Ferguson by accident because it was impossible to cheer for Sir Steve and boo for Sir Alex while they carried the cup onto the pitch together.
At the start of the game it was great to see the owners, the team on the pitch and the fans were all focussed on winning the day. The want was there!
For ninety seconds in the second half, and then when Dwight Gayle made that brilliant run onto Wilf’s pass at the start of extra time, I thought we had the cup.
In 26 years time I’ll be 73 years old, one year older than my Dad, who I sat next to on Saturday, is now. On that basis, I reckon I have one more cup final left in me. Next time though, I hope everyone around me will stay for the lifting of the trophy.
If I am going to lose hours of my life in Queue A at Wembley Stadium station, counting the number of times I am assured Chiltern Trains want to get me the hell out of there, I want to do it in the glow of victory.
As a club, we had the want on Saturday. We just didn’t have the win.