Opinion

Why I NEED the Season to Start

The curtains were drawn. I was awake but not moving. Staring at my pictures and videos from the day before. I’d drunk a lot but the hangover wasn’t from alcohol. It didn’t make sense. I wasn’t supposed to feel like this.

As Palace fans, we’ve felt just about every emotion going – certainly a far wider range than Manchester United or Arsenal fans. The problem was that with the FA Cup Final being new territory for myself (although, I’m led to believe that I refused to sleep and cried in my cot in May 1990), I had no idea how to prepare for it.

“Don’t worry about the result. Just enjoy the day!”

I sounded like a patronising mother who just didn’t understand the importance of it all. But I did enjoy it. Up to a point.

I met my Dad early for a fry up, symbolising the entry to both my Palace Addiction and my match day routine. Once I was in Victoria ‘spoons, I met up with friends from Australia, who’d flown for as many hours as they’d spend in England. My friend Dave was over from the States as his need to make a fourteen hour round flight was never in doubt. And then all the regulars were there too. This was our day. Victoria to Covent Garden to Wembley Way, it was perfect. Friends and family. Red and Blue. It was what I’d lived nearly twenty-seven years for.

The football, well it was a blur, especially when compared to the pre-match display. What a moment. What a feeling. What an atmosphere.

Then, Jason Puncheon.

I hadn’t prepared for winning.

“Don’t worry about the result. Just enjoy the day!”

Enjoy it? Enjoy it? I still can’t really understand the emotions of those three minutes. I jumped, I hugged, I collapsed in my seat, I cried. Were they the best three minutes of my life (a sad thought) or the worst (I’m not sure that’s any better?)

My mind had only just comprehended that we’d been closer before when Rooney got the ball. Tackle him! Stop him! Foul him! Hit him! The moment was gone. From there, the idea of simply enjoying it was ludicrous. I hadn’t prepared for winning but losing struck me like a Darren Ambrose bolt out of the blue. At least I didn’t cry. I don’t really understand why I did for taking the lead but not losing. But I knew. I knew the Palace way. I’ve done losing before. At Charlton. In Bristol. But they were meaningless. They weren’t the FA Cup Final.

“Stand tall, be proud, clap back.” I told myself.

Oh the emotion in Jedi and Joel’s eyes as they came up close to us. Even now, as I write this, I repeat to myself, ‘Don’t cry! Be proud! Don’t cry!’

So the next day, I stayed in bed. Messaging Palace fans, watching the highlights but turning them off after our goal. I still haven’t been able to stomach watching our moment disappear. My flatmate didn’t dare disturb me. He knew better than that. He left me to it. Mourning the FA Cup. Mourning our chance. Morning to afternoon.

Eventually, I jumped on a 417 to Crystal Palace. Drinking with my Palace mates on the triangle had to be better than this.

Throughout the following days and weeks I carried a sadness around with me. Waking up in the morning, I’d have to remind myself that it was ok. No one had died.

“Don’t worry about the result. Just enjoy the day!”

But it wasn’t ok. I hadn’t expected losing to matter so much but it did. We’d lost something that for three minutes had been ours. I wanted it back, but like us all, I’d been powerless. Not even our relentless atmosphere, which had put shame on the pitiful Mancs, could help us.

Of course, the typical colleagues came out of the woodwork before and after.

“Get us a ticket James, it’s not like Palace will be able to sell out!”

But that’s not the one that got me.

“Are you going?”

A short, innocent question that identified a large naivety about the so called fan who posed it. But the worst was saved until after the game.

“Although I’m United through and through, I kind of wanted Palace to win as I grew up there!”

Bite your tongue James. It’s not worth it at work. I couldn’t even look at him.

What’s worse? To never know success? Or to dismiss it as easily as our classless opponents did? Booing their manager as he lifts the trophy, leaving before the ceremony, sacking their boss within an hour of winning it. My devastation meant nothing to them. Nothing.

Then came the Euros. At last, some football. But unfortunately, the diluted format and my own dark clouds ruined it. Gabor and his crazy antics, five Palace semi-finalists, watching Jonny’s blonde hair tear it up and Jose Fonte (a man who Neil Warnock left out of the team for Matt Lawrence) winning the thing. None of them helped me move on so my trip to Marseille, complete with incompetent police, blood-thirsty Russians and an England side who seemed to care as little as I did, was unlikely to make me love football again either. I couldn’t even be angry about England in the way that I would be after a lacklustre Palace defeat. I simply didn’t care enough.

So with the international football unable to cheer me up, I turned to other distractions. Each summer, us football addicts discover a whole new world where Saturdays don’t revolve around trips to Barnsley, Sunderland or any other northern hell hole. We get an insight into the minds of those bizarre folk who don’t entrust eleven individuals to control our weekends, our minds and our mood. We go to music festivals, or the theatre, or the cinema. We pay for entertainment and know what we’re getting. Yet, it just isn’t right. It isn’t Palace. It can distract you, but it can’t heal you from the sheer devastation of losing an FA Cup Final.

However, in my distraction, and need to avoid reminders of my pain, I missed all the speculation. Out of the blue, we’d signed three exciting players – and bid for Benteke. Finally, I actually wanted football to come back. Maybe, just maybe, next season could be worthwhile.

Worse than the result of that emotive day in May, was the realisation that we had nothing to expect for next season. A third Cup Final seems unlikely (we all know the stats – 2042) and what can we realistically hope for? Survival first? Maybe push on if we have a good run? I’m sure this is an early symptom of Spurs-style arrogance, but it just seems a little, well, boring! But truthfully, is our squad capable of challenging for any more than that?

Usually, I can’t wait for the new season but thanks to a three minute spell that I’ve waited all my life for, I’m just not excited. Ever since Juan Mata broke my heart, I’ve been suffering from the worst hangover of my life and frankly, I’m not ready to be hurt like that again. However, after our fluttering of signings, next season had a small glimmer of hope.

To be honest, I think to really start the healing process from the Cup Final, I just need next season to start. Palace need to feel normal again. We were so close to doing something extraordinary that perhaps a few mundane fixtures against the Baggies, Bournemouth and Stoke (and hopefully wins – alongside chances to cheer the boys, shout abuse at the referee and goad away fans) are what we need to bring us back to the reality that being in the Premier League should be treated as a bonus. Something that is easy to forget in our ever extending stay with the big boys. Last season, I was bouncing in the lead up to our opening match against Norwich as I really believed that the signing of Cabaye signalled the start of something special. A new Palace. However, this year, despite it being just days away and the club showing some genuine ambition over the summer, I really can’t muster up much excitement.

Although, when I pull on my red and blue shirt next week (and thanks to this awful weather, Palace rain jacket, even if this year’s clobber seems to be blue and blue). I know I’ll get the same tingling emotions that come back every year. Perhaps, the late arrivals of season tickets is a ploy by the club to make us feel more at home? Remind us where we’ve come from? Because once it starts, and Pulis bores us to a 0-1 loss, the new keeper pretends he’s Speroni against Everton and Connor Wickham gets injured, only then will I breathe out and remember that we’re Crystal Palace.

Cup Finals and glory isn’t really us. Maybe the planned Fanatics display is ‘us’, and bird-shit covered seats or the hearing Alan Pardew’s name echo around the ground as we lose to Bournemouth at home. These are the sounds and spirit of Selhurst and once I experience them again, then I’ll be ‘Glad All Over’.

Yet, one thing is for sure against West Brom,

“Don’t worry about the enjoyment, just get the result!”

 

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James Howland

James Howland

James is the author of The Palace Addition, a Palace fan's story about following the team around the country throughout the 2009/10 season.

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