The Lockdown Diaries have featured a number of excellent views from fans and has captured the imagination of many, particularly Colin Seymour who returns with his final entry bringing his look at the decades right up to date.
Over the 50 years that I have supported Crystal Palace, my dreams and ambitions have ebbed and flowed with the fortunes of the club – sometimes they have been about winning promotion or achieving cup glory, and sometimes they have been simply about survival.
Throughout that time, I always dreamed that one day Palace would become an established club in the top tier of English football. In the 2010s, this dream finally became a reality. Of course, Palace had been in the top division before, but the longest we had ever stayed there was four seasons – even Charlton and Wimbledon had stayed there longer than that. Surely, we should be able to do better than those two South London neighbours.
In January 2010, the dream of returning to the Premier League seemed a very long way off. The club had just fallen back into administration, resulting in a ten point penalty that took us from just below the play off places to just above the relegation zone. In the remaining months of that season, it was a familiar story as a group of heroes defied the odds to keep Palace up, culminating in that famous last day drama at Hillsborough.
A few weeks later, we also had reason to thank a group of heroes off the pitch as Steve Parish, Stephen Browett, Martin Long and Jeremy Hosking ensured Palace’s survival by taking the club out of administration. When the new directors set out their five year plan to get Palace back into the Premier League, it wasn’t a target I thought we could achieve. I was convinced we would have to get used to a period of consolidation with occasional highlights like the League Cup victory at Old Trafford.
Even when we reached the play-offs in 2013, I thought we were unlikely to be promoted. In the semi-final, the odds favoured Brighton, and when Glenn Murray was injured in the first leg, it seemed that our chances had become even slimmer. But once again, our heroes defied the odds – Julian Speroni denied the Brighton attack, Wilfried Zaha tormented the Brighton defence and Palace were back at Wembley, where Kevin Phillips coolly scored the penalty that would send us back to the big time.
We have remained in the Premier League ever since, but it hasn’t always been an easy ride. We have followed a consistent pattern of making a slow start, followed by a late season surge to mid table safety. So, whilst the final table each season may look quite respectable, the threat of relegation has been constantly hanging over us. Even in the one season that we reversed the pattern by starting well, climbing to fifth place at the end of 2015, our collapse in the second half of the season was so dramatic that only a Jason Puncheon inspired victory over Norwich soothed the relegation fears.
I try not to spend too much of my time worrying about Palace’s position in the table, but I can’t help it. I have spent every one of the last seven seasons constantly running permutations in my head to calculate how we might get to the magical number of 40 points. I usually convince myself it will be a struggle, and so every Palace game becomes a mixture of anxiety and nerves. Almost every time I have been to Selhurst Park in the last seven years, I went there convinced that three points were absolutely vital. Fortunately, Palace have discovered a useful knack of winning when it really matters, so the battle against relegation has always been won.
Palace are now the tenth longest continuous member of the Premier League. That means that, apart from the Big Six, only three other clubs have currently been in the Premier League for longer than Palace.
So, apart from the constant anxiety, what has changed now that Palace have become an established part of the elite? Well, in some ways a lot, but in many ways, not very much.
We can sign big name players now for considerable sums of money, but it’s often the ones who cost very little, or nothing at all, who impress us the most. Until we returned to the Premier League in 2013, Palace’s record signing was Valerien Ismael, who we signed way back in 1997. He left after playing just thirteen games for the club. Perhaps it’s experiences like that which mean that I always have a feeling of unease when Palace spend large sums of money. It always feels safer and more comfortable when we can bring through a youth player like Aaron Wan Bissaka, or sign someone for a small fee like Jordan Ayew, who has arguably been our best player of the current 2019-20 season.
The managerial merry-go-round has continued for most of the last ten years, as we have brought in a number of experienced Premier League managers. Sometimes, they are managers I like and sometimes they are managers that I have spent many years disliking when they were managing other clubs. Sometimes those managers leave us in the lurch when they decide to leave at inopportune moments, and occasionally, we appoint a manager for just a few games before appointing someone else. It’s all a familiar pattern after 50 years of supporting the club.
Of course, being in the Premier League, we are now regularly competing with some of the wealthiest clubs in the world. As in previous eras, we have achieved a number of memorable results against those teams, both home and away. Our 3-3 draw against Liverpool in 2014 was a highlight, not just because of the importance of the result to our opponents but also the relative lack of importance to us, which meant that we could joyfully watch the last ten minutes without the usual anxiety. We have been particularly successful away from home, with Palace winning two seasons in a row at Stamford Bridge and three seasons in a row at Anfield, whilst we are currently on a run of two seasons unbeaten in Manchester, against United and City.
One of the biggest changes in the last ten years has been the vibrant atmosphere that has been created at Selhurst Park, something that has been widely acknowledged outside the club. When Palace were promoted in 2013, it felt like we all shared the same determination to just enjoy our time in the Premier League for as long as it lasted. After all, our four previous Premier League seasons had all ended in relegation, and it was only three years since we thought our club might go out of existence. So, we were happy to celebrate every Palace goal at Selhurst Park as if it might be the last – and we still do!
Selhurst Park has seen some cosmetic improvements over the last ten years, but it still looks and still feels pretty much the same. Despite moving away from South London many years ago, I still come back to Selhurst Park as often as I can – and whenever I do, there is a homely, familiar feel to being there. It feels like I’m returning to my roots, a place that is filled with happy memories.
A lot of new memories have been created over the last ten years, as Palace have become an established part of the Premier League. One day, I suppose it will all come to an end, but for now, I’m enjoying the ride. Let’s hope we can create even more great memories in the decade to come.