Experiencing The Temporary Homecoming From A Bubble

If supporting Palace is a roller coaster, life outside of Palace is very much the same way now. After the highlight of Sunday’s return to Selhurst Park, I am writing this just as London is about to go into Tier 3 COVID-19 restrictions meaning that is the end of spectators attending Premier League football matches in London for the time being. As the door has opened to shed a small bit of light on the two thousand people able to watch Palace live again, the door has sadly slammed shut.

I do feel very privileged to have got a ticket for the Spurs match. Having added an away season ticket in 2013 (I wanted to make the most of what I thought would be our one season back in the Premier League!) to my existing home season ticket I have racked up a lot of loyalty points over the past seven years. When I heard that the allocation of match day tickets for the Spurs match was going to be based on loyalty points I did think I might have a chance. Added to this there was a priority for groups of people living at one address so as we have three season tickets in my family that was an additional factor in our favour. Of course, what sealed it for us was a prior commitment on that Sunday which meant we were not going to be in London and therefore would miss the match.

So, when the “golden” email landed in the inbox confirming that we were allocated three tickets for the match, I knew some serious negotiation skills were needed. Safe to say after a couple of days of intense discussions I was able to emerge with a deal which secured a commitment to be at Selhurst Park at 2:15pm on 13 December! I have now offered my services to Michel Bariner and David Frost to save a Brexit deal but no-one has returned my call yet!

I have not really enjoyed being an armchair football supporter. I know that many people have no choice whether because of the financial cost or geographic constraints but I can only really enjoy a football match if I am there. As a supporter of a club not in the top six, I find the television commentary either irritatingly ignorant or patronising about Palace, and many times both. I also hate the forensic way every match is dissected with endless slow motion replays. Once again if you are supporter of a top club it is not so bad because the analysis and replays are generally showing goals and great performances from your club. For a club at Palace’s level, there have been of course some great moments this season – the wins over Manchester United, Leeds and West Brom spring to mind – but sadly for us that is usually going to be the exception rather than the rule.

I much prefer the whole experience of going to the match: the travelling there, the visit to the pub before the match, the chat with friends and your fellow supporters before, during and after the match, the singing and chanting and the joy being there when your club scores a goal and even better, wins the match. Finally being at the match enables you to ignore the bits you don’t want to see. We sit behind one of the goals and when there is goalmouth action at our end we can see and hear everything. Once the ball gets into the midfield or the other end of the pitch, it becomes guesswork as to what is happening. If things are not going our way we can sense what is happening but we do not have it have it shoved down my throat in forensic detail by commentators who could not name most of the Place squad before they mugged up prior to the match. If we do end up getting a good result I can happily soak up all the detail via the Palace highlights package or Match of the Day or embarrassingly both!

Having not had the pleasure of attending a match since the victory over Watford on 7 March, I did wonder how the experience would compare with only 2000 of us rattling around the ground, wearing masks and socially distanced, other than within our bubble. Well, I can report that although it was clearly different than usual, I would jump at the next chance to attend a match.

Travelling to the match was very different – the train was quiet and mostly empty and I missed the noise of away supporters chatting to each other and the Palace supporters. Likewise, the walk up the Holmesdale Road was quieter and more subdued than normal. Once we got to the ground things started to feel more like a match day. Yes, it was not as busy on the Lower Holmesdale concourse, yes, everyone (mostly) were wearing masks and yes, there were signs about social distancing and hand sanitising dotted around but it was still Selhurst Park and we were there with two thousand fellow Palace supporters. Having chatted to some friends that we had not seen since March we went to our seats.

As someone who is very much the wrong side of 50 I have been pretty careful to avoid the risk of COVID-19 whenever I can (the rest of my family might say I have been fanatically careful!) but I did feel safe at Selhurst Park. The bubbles of people were pretty well spaced out and with a few exceptions, most people did keep their masks on. The stewards were vigilant without being heavy handed and I certainly did see them asking some people to put their masks on when they removed them.

As for the match itself, there may have only been 2000 of us but the atmosphere was befitting of Selhurst Park and soon we were just as lost in the drama, as we would normally be. When Jeff scored our goal the celebrations were socially distanced (at least where we were) but just as impassioned as ever.

I cannot wait to get back for another match and for the day when Selhurst Park is full and rocking but for now I will just have to live off the memories of Sunday.

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