Big Day Out
Crystal Palace’s trip to Vicarage Road later today will bring back one of the fondest memories in the club’s history.
Fan Chat recalls vividly that blisteringly warm Monday afternoon in May 2013. Up in the skies of Wembley, surrounded by equally nervous and fingernail ridden Palace fans, the opening 105 minutes of that memorable play-off final pushed us to the brink of intolerable anxiety.
Half-time in extra time. The pre-match and rushed half-time beer began to take its toll and, unable to suppress it any further, Fan Chat made a desperate lightning bolt dash to toilet to ease some of the pressure that had been building to tipping point.
Suddenly, a roar filled Wembley. Bodies all around began to race feverishly back into the stands, each having severely underestimated the time it took to change sides in extra-time and indeed the time it would take for them to see to their pressing business that forced them temporarily out of their seats.
In moments like that, it can be very difficult to decipher context to what was occurring beyond the walls of the surprisingly clean toilet. What had caused this uproarious outburst from the Wembley crowd and furthermore, could you be sure of the source of the fanfare? Had Udinese ‘B’ just nabbed a goal, or indeed had the might of the Red ‘n Blue Army nicked the goal that Aaron Wilbraham should have had in normal time?
What followed was a frantic dash, trouser welfare momentarily abandoned. By the time Fan Chat had managed to prise everything back into position, his own eyes suddenly became affixed on 78-year old Kevin Phillips calmly placing the ball on the penalty spot.
In an instant that seemed to last an eternity, euphoria was again replaced by anxiety. Kevin Phillips’ few steps as a he strode confidently towards the ball were akin to a super slow-motion Sky Sports teaser of a sporting moment that would require tuning in at a later time that day to witness.
With the rippling of the net, came a nano-second of stunned silence, followed by another cataclysmic swirl of noise. Sources to this day still cannot definitively conclude whether or not the goal actually occurred at all, such was the small minority of Palace fans who managed to create enough space between the fingers that had been covering their eyes.
Thirteen minutes remaining, fingernails nullified and toenails inaccessible. The longest thirteen minutes in living memory. What happened within those thirteen minutes is very much a blur. Fan Chat’s only concise memory is that of Joel Ward, putting his body and life on the line to head the world’s biggest and most fearsome boulder away from danger.
It has been speculated that had the boulder managed to connect with its intended destination, it would have spawned the creation of a black hole at the end of the stadium that had been so jubilant just minutes before. The timely reverberation of the final whistle, was music to the ears of the eager Palace contingent.
Fan Chat is not quite sure he heard the whistle itself, but sources linked closely to the whistle have confirmed that it did indeed occur and the game that kicked off that afternoon is not still being played out two years later.
Fan Chat went to work the next day bleary eyed, exhausted and triumphant. A freshly pressed memorable moment mixed in with all the gaps in memory the evenings celebrations had cemented itself firmly at the forefront of his mind.
Much like Fan Chat himself in the office the day after the play-off final, Crystal Palace march in to work today with their chests out, heads high and confidence brimming on account of their roller-coaster ride the past two years.
Football has an exquisite way of evoking nostalgic delight when ties like the one this afternoon come up. While the game this afternoon may not craft the sort of memorable moments the most recent meeting between the two sides did, it acts as a timely barometer of the scrapbook of moments we have accumulated supporting Palace.
From Pardew’s header at Villa Park to David Hopkin bending the ball into the top corner at Wembley, Dougie’s belter at Edgeley Park and the monumentally life-saving protest outside Lloyds in 2010. Utilise this morning to relive the moments that make supporting Crystal Palace a treasure.
And care not Fan Chat for another scrapbook addition today. Fan Chat’s two seasons in the Premier League means he feels entitled to three resounding points against the Hornets. The scrappier the better.