The Selhurst Comedy Club
Inspired by the ‘Favourite XI’ that TEB writers are currently debating, I began thinking about my most humorous eleven.
With all the lows and heartache that we suffer as Palace fans, we need a unique, self-depreciating attitude and an ability to fall in love with even the most pitifully useless players to get us through our Saturday afternoons. In fact, for our own sanity, humour eases the pain of Palace.
From Gabor Kiraly pulling down van Nistelrooy’s shorts before a corner, to Joones Kolkka throwing himself to the floor at Anfield, to Neil Ruddock turning up at Millwall with a waistline too big for any of the shorts we’d taken along, we turn up at Selhurst each week in the knowledge that the ridiculous is more likely to put a smile on our face than the sublime.
Some of these players are truly hopeless, some are incredibly talented, but all of them allow me to look back on their time at Selhurst with a huge grin on my face. Long live the Selhurst Comedy Club.
In goal, I’d have to go for Aleksandrs Kolinko. His time at Palace was filled with outrageous saves and pathetic cock ups – a fruitless charge into no-mans land against Burnley lives as long in the memory as many improbable stops during his time in SE25. As does Trevor Francis’ assault on the touchline after Alex enjoyed his rival for the number one spot making a cock up at Selhurst. Of course, the best and worst of our Latvian stopper is summed up by his incredible recovery and save after yet another irrational dash to the corner flag at St James’ Park. However, my favourite comical Kolinko moment was at Edgeley Park, before our crunch game at Stockport in 2001. As the goalkeeper coach swung balls into him for the warm up, the Palace fans built suspense with a ‘woaaaaaah’ before exaggeratedly celebrating when he caught it. Only Palace fans could support a player in such a loving but cruel way ahead of a vital match.
My right back would be Danny Butterfield. Always a joker off the pitch, Danny set the laughs alight at Selhurst Park in 2010 with his role as a makeshift striker. Three goals and a giant smile later, no one was more fitting for that magical, record breaking moment than our ‘Butts’.
At left back, I’d have to go for Gary Borrowdale. Yes, he really wasn’t up to it, but the irrational hatred that seemed to follow the youth product during his time at Palace was astounding. Despite being a hard working player, he was routinely booed and groaned at by his own fans, even more so by those in my block as someone in front of me got his name on their back for a laugh. Still, he must have thought he’d escaped the Selhurst growl when he left for Coventry City in 2007 but upon his return, he became the most bizarre face of hatred.
My first centre back would have to be Tony Popovic. Yes, he was also in my Favourite XI, but that own goal was hysterical. Now, if not then, anyway.
Alongside Poppa, I’d play Fan Zhiyi. From his red card at Queens Park Rangers for pushing the referee to the Nottingham Forest penalty fiasco, controversy and madness always surrounded ‘The Chinese David Beckham’. After Fan’s debut making us the most watched team in the world, virtue of 300,000,000 Chinese ‘fans’, he continued to play from the heart, ensuring that the smile he played with was replicated all around Selhurst Park. On a personal note, Fan’s time at Palace allowed me to have a sing-song with some non-English-speaking Chinese guys in Laos last year in a bowling alley at 3am!
On the wings I’d play Yannick Bolasie and Tommy Black. Yala always appeared to be laughing as he danced around the opposing defence and to be honest, despite being successful with his dribbling more often than not, he never quite looked like he knew what he was going to do. As for Tommy Black, after getting a new four year contract as a fan’s favourite, I had to admire his bottle (or ability to down a few bottles) as he got larger and larger while sitting on his ridiculous deal. Still, if nothing else, his comically pathetic dive against Walsall was key to us getting promoted in 2004.
In central midfield, I’d have the committed David Wright alongside the flamboyant Saša Ćurčić. Wright was dependable, and determined, and strong in the tackle, and, well, utterly dire on the ball. So it was a huge surprise to see the right back lining up in central midfield under Dougie Freedman. Wright’s time at Palace might be unremarkable to most fans but I could never forget him thanks my close friend Dan, who still won’t accept that Yohan Cabaye offers more than the guy, who in his eyes will always be known as ‘The Midfield General’.
Alongside David Wright, Ćurčić was another misunderstood man – and unlike the man from Ipswich, this one has even been on the Serbian Big Brother, winning it in 2007. To be honest, I felt Mr Wright would help to calm down Sasa’s ‘wrong’ choices – such as parading around Selhurst Park on strike or asking to be paid in prostitutes. Soon after his reality television exploits, he was voted in the ‘Fifty Worst Ever Premier League Players’ by The Times, but at the same time, he could easily be included in the Top Ten Palace Players of all time. A truly bizarre stint in South London, with an even more bizarre beard at the end.
Up front, I’d go for Itzik Zohar. Yes, at the time, we were all angry at that penalty. But if you look back thirty seconds further, most of us were delighted that he’d snatched the ball from the offside king, Bruce Dyer. ‘Dipstick’ Zohar had supposedly been Steve Coppell’s secret weapon but when he made it onto the pitch against Southampton on Boxing Day 1997, he started our dramatic tumble down the table that saw us finish bottom. However, my brother had bet on Saints to be leading at half time and Palace to win at full time @ 25/1. So, in the world of sibling rivalry, I still snigger that he missed it and cost us that elusive home win.
My final spot has to go to Aruna Dindane. When he signed in 2013 with us in touching distance of automatic promotion before our 3-0 loss at Brighton, my friend Dan, who’d recently become disillusioned with our hysterical message board, sent me the following message;
“I finally logged on to the BBS today as we signed this new guy and I thought it might be more positive but no, everyone was angry about it. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen on a free transfer?”
“Well, he might make us lose every game and not even make the play offs!” I jokingly replied.
Unfortunately, it all came true. Despite him not getting on the pitch, his mere presence meant that we didn’t win any of our following eight matches and slipped completely out of the promotion picture. Thankfully, he was released before the final game of the season against Peterborough that we won to sneak into the play offs and the rest, as they say, is history!
On to the bench and who doesn’t want to look at the touchline and see a ‘large’ contingent of helpful recruits, ready to come on and fall over (or maybe even eat or blood-stain) the ball? Just three and a half years after being one of the stars of a World Cup, our Fat Swede, Thomas Brolin, was stumbling around the Selhurst pitch, unsure where he was, with a falling apart bandage as Leeds United fans laughed on. Only at Palace could we witness such a sharp fall from grace that certainly ended with a thump in SE25.
So there’s my ‘Comical XI’. Who would you invite for the entertainment at a Palace dinner party?