Our call for fans to get writing during the lockdown has been well received and we are very pleased to share another story. This time Lee Eyres tells us how he became a Palace fan and how it could have been very different.
When I was a young boy my father said to me…
Well, he actually told me about how he used to go to Spurs when they were at home and then the away end at Arsenal on the other weekends. He was from North London and Spurs were his team. My first hero was Jimmy Greaves, who with Gilzean, Cliff Jones and Dave McKay, not to mention Pat Jennings in goal, were one of the great entertaining sides of the sixties.
At school it wasn’t as tribal as it is now, but the big sides still dominated support. A few Spurs, a couple of Manchester United (well, George Best was playing for them, so why wouldn’t you?), and as one of the lads was a cousin of John Hollins who was playing for Chelsea at the time, Chelsea had a few too. No Liverpool, of course, because the Shankly revolution was still in its infancy and we didn’t really have a local team at any kind of level beyond non-league.
I was football mad. Spurs won the cup in 1967, England were World Champions, my cup runneth over as they say. We lived near Woking, my Dad didn’t go to football anymore because he had two young sons and getting to Tottenham was both a long way and an expense he couldn’t really afford. So I took to following a team in each division to satisfy my urge to compete. Spurs in Division 1, Aldershot in Division 4 (they were the nearest team to us geographically I thought at the time, although it would actually have been Fulham), Queens Park Rangers because ‘Rodney Marsh’ in Division 3, and because I had relatives of my Mum who lived near the Crystal Palace transmitter I went for Palace in Division 2. It should really have been Millwall as they were my Grandad’s team, but even in those days I clearly had innate good taste.
But I still wanted to go to games and that was still not an option.
Then I got offered the chance to go and watch Guildford City with ‘Uncle Dave’, a friend of my parents. In those days all your parent’s friends were ‘Uncle’ or ‘Aunty’. Guildford were then in the Southern League, which was at that time the next league down from Division 4 – the Conference/National League would be formed later by combining the top teams from the Southern and Northern Leagues. They had Terry Dyson playing for them who used to play for Spurs. I was genuinely surprised at how good the quality was, but I was only 10 or 11 and, as I was to learn, you really don’t see the skill level or feel the excitement on television like you do when you are at a match; and that applies to all sports.
A few years on and my brother was learning to drive, being a bit older than me. His instructor, Harry, was a friendly type who used to come into the house for a chat and a cuppa after the lesson. It was one night that fate took over. He came in as I was going out to watch Guildford and asked who I was going to see. When I told him he asked if I’d like to go to see ‘proper’ football. I pointed out that I was going to proper football already (I’d still argue that today), but he said he was offering me First Division games.
In my head I was wondering who it could be and wildly imagining Spurs, Arsenal or maybe Chelsea. I’ll be honest and admit that when he said Palace I was a bit disappointed, but a match was a match so I said ‘yes please’ (I was always taught to be polite).
As it turned out it was going to be lots of matches. It started with a big one. First home game of the season we had Derby County. To those of you under 45 that might sound strange to call Derby a ‘big one’, but in 1972 they were the team of Brian Clough, and had just won the league. The champions were coming to play.
That first game followed a routine that I would enjoy throughout the time that Harry took me to football. He’d pick me up on the Saturday morning, take me to the game, plopping me at the front of the Holmesdale, roughly where the players come in now, with his nephew Robbie, and I’d merrily bash the advertising boards to Glad All Over before the game and cheer along more in hope than expectation.
Derby came, and much to my surprise we held our own. Right up to the point where someone fell over in the penalty area, the referee whistled and pointed and Franny Lee stepped up to take the penalty. Franny Lee, who’d joined Derby from Manchester City, an England regular, having won everything, was a very reliable penalty taker. It was that day that I discovered that in John Jackson we had a very reliable penalty stopper. A 0-0 draw, but no less enjoyable for the lack of goals.
I could only get to Saturday games, and if I’m honest there are only a few games that stick out in my memory of that first season. The bitter disappointment of losing 3-2 to Arsenal (what was the referee doing, Radford clearly fouled Jacko for 2 of their goals!), the 2-2 with Leeds (Bremner, Giles, Clarke and the late great Norman Hunter) when we’d led 2-0 at half time, and then my birthday when mighty, albeit looking a bit shaky, United came to play. We’d recruited Don Rogers by then, and Alan Whittle was making his debut after moving from Everton. It proved to be a day that has gone down in Palace history, and the best birthday present imaginable as Mulligan (2), Rogers (2) and Whittle (goal on debut) gave us that historic 5-0 win.
Eventually January came and the Spurs fixture came with it. I went to the ground not knowing what I was going to do. I was in the Holmesdale and Palace were playing against my team.
When the whistle blew to start the game though I realised there wasn’t a problem as actually it was Spurs who were playing against my team. Jacko saved another penalty and the match finished 0-0 (I think that’s right, my memory isn’t what it was, and it wasn’t great then!). I discovered that at 13 I was a Palace fan to my boots, the first in my family with that honour.
So, with no strong connection to the area I was claret and blue, then red and blue, through and through, through thin and thinner.
It was bound to happen that I would later meet a girl at a party who went on to become my wife, and still is, who came from Croydon, and her Dad was a Palace fan. So it was clearly always meant to be. I think he thought I’d been primed when I told him I supported Palace.
My children were at Selhurst much younger than I was for my first visit. Now and again at first, but when we got back into the Premier League this time getting tickets became next to impossible so I was persuaded, not too reluctantly, that it was time to get back to full time support and season tickets were required and I discovered how great Palace fans are all over again.
I put a message on Twitter asking about where to sit and the like and someone called ‘jaytheeagle’ not only gave me good advice, he went to where I was suggesting we sit and took photos of the view for me. Wonder what happened to him?
I’ve introduced my sister’s children to the joys too; my baby sister was always going to support Palace if I did, so it was natural that we should indoctrinate her kids too. I’ve even got my Mum checking how we’re doing, and at 83 she also joined us for her first game at Selhurst in January. My Dad died very young of lung cancer so I never managed to get him to support South London’s Number 1, but it wasn’t a bad effort overall.
When I was a young boy my father said to me… I’m so glad I didn’t listen!