Given that pretty much everything that can be written about our season and Roy Hodgson’s departure has already been written, and with no news on Palace’s new manager and the playing squad, I thought I would look at the supporter experience during this (hopefully) unique and strange season.
As a Palace Home and Away Season Ticket holder for a number of years, the pandemic has had a huge impact on my match day experience. Most of those changes have been negative, obviously, but there have been a few positives, which are worth a mention too.
We have all become armchair supporters
As every person who regularly attends a football match will tell you, being physically present rarely gives you a better insight into what happens during the match. Occasionally you will see something that the television does not pick up on, but most of the time the multiple camera angles, constant replays of key incidents and commentator’s analysis gives you far more information than you get at the match. What watching the television does not give you is the collective experience of watching and reacting to the incidents.
Whether that is celebrating the goals, agonising over missed chances, shouting at the referee, joining in the chants, or chatting to friends or whoever you are sitting with (or both); these are the things that make the match going experience worthwhile. It is that collective experience with 24,000 people all (more or less) seeing and doing similar things that makes watching a football match live nothing like watching a match on television.
Too much information and too much about certain clubs
Arguably one benefit of being locked out of football grounds was that every Palace match was on television and the impact of the daft television scheduling was not so bad when the time and effort to watch the match consisted of picking up the television remote controller. Although I generally get to nearly every match most seasons, my record of only missing one match this season (Fulham away) was better than usual. Unfortunately the benefit of all this televised football was offset by the ludicrous “big club” bias which pervades every aspect of the televised football experience. That this is the case is not surprising. Traditionally it is only the bigger matches which are televised and generally those focus on the bigger clubs- unless there is a particular exciting end of season relegation battle going on.
After years of focusing largely on big clubs and “big matches”, it would be asking a lot of the broadcasters to instantly shift their approach so that middling clubs like Palace were given the same focus and attention as the Liverpools, Man Citys etc. The end result is that most of the commentators either focussed all of their attention on our opponent, or if we were playing another mid or lower table club, the commentator would be fairly even handed in their ignorance of both clubs. I have no doubt that supporters of the likes of West Brom, Newcastle, and Southampton all feel the same. A related issue is the forensic dissection of every key moment in a match. If you are a Manchester United or Chelsea supporter you are used to enjoying the no doubt frequent moments of genius on the pitch from your team.
Once again, outside the top clubs those moments are much rarer and more often than not we have had to endure lots of replays of those moments of genius which resulted in goals against Palace. Given our terrible defensive record this season, one could say this was just a bad year to have every one of our defensive mistakes replayed countless times in glorious technicolour, but whether it was two goals or seven, the experience was similar.
The Ray Lewington Soundtrack
The fake crowd noise on television was a real bugbear for me. It was bad enough not being at the match, but to then to be subjected to artificial noise when there was obviously no one at the match just made things worse for me. If I could not be at the match, I wanted the viewing experience to be as close to being there as it could be. Soon enough I was able to figure out how to get rid of the fake crowd noise, which had the benefit of enabling me to get the full Ray Lewington soundtrack to our matches. I know Ray’s touchline shouting has become very familiar to Palace supporters this season but without the silent stadiums (and no fake crown noise!) we would have never heard it. It has been wonderful to hear not only his instructions to the players but also the almost relentless positivity of his messages. The lack of crowd noise has enabled supporters to get our own window into the training ground and Roy and Ray’s approach to managing the squad. All I can say if I had Ray by my side at work my productivity would shoot up by at least 50%!
The Match Day Experience
This has clearly been, for me, the biggest loss. As a regular attendee at away matches, there has been a massive fortnightly hole in my life. From planning the match day travel, to identifying the match day pub to meet up in, to exploring (to a greater or lesser extent) an unfamiliar city or town, to bumping into other away day regulars, to the exhausted (and sometimes happy) journey home there is something special about going to an away match. I have been lucky enough to get to two home matches this season and the Under 23s Play off Semi Final and Final, which have been fantastic, but I am really hoping that away supporters will be allowed next season assuming it is safe to do so.
I cannot say I have enjoyed this season, but I am grateful that given everything else that has happened over the past fourteen months at least we have been able to watch football. I am keeping fingers crossed that next season is back to normal or at least close!