Let’s kick off with a couple of weighty issues that have vexed and challenged philosophers over the centuries. Firstly, free will against determinism and secondly, the significance of the number seven. These two may seem unconnected but during this article about Crystal Palace’s start to 2013/14 campaign they will be woven together as if an army of silk worms were traversing Selhurst Park.
Here are the facts - after seven matches Palace have garnered three points secured by a win against the only side below them in the table, the chaos that is currently, Sunderland AFC. The only sane conclusion after this initial batch of six losses and one solitary, lonely victory is, as Private Frazer was fond of to saying in Dad’s Army, “We’re doomed”. It is not just the pessimists amongst the Eagles’ fans who think thus but there is a whole body of evidence stacking up which would convince the blindest of juries that there is only one direction we are heading and that is down.
Everywhere you look the same conclusion is drawn. Even last night I heard that Tim Cahill had scored the fastest goal in MLS this season after SEVEN seconds, this was a cruel reminder of how we missed out on Cahill’s signature the last time we entered the lion’s den of the Premier League in 2004/05 which eventually left us totally reliant on AJ’s goals and as ever, we failed. That was our fourth attempt to stay in the top division since 1992. Record No. 1: CPFC have now racked up the most separate spells in Premier League – five and counting.
As any fan knows, once your club has reached seven matches they have completed 18.4210526% of their 38-match season so seems a logical place to assess survival chances. If you wanted to extrapolate the points gained in the crucially determinant initial seven games Palace will eventually end up with 16.2857113 points (let’s be generous and round up to 17, thanks) and that doesn’t sound enough. Fortunately, if the inevitable happens, as it tends to, we will not break the record for the lowest Premier League points total ever, held ignominiously by Derby’s catastrophic 2007/08 haul of 11 points which comprised of one win and eight draws.
So that’s the good news out of the way, but before returning to the darker stuff, there is one other glimmer of light. When we won the Play–Offs back on that sunny, joyous May afternoon we actually secured the rarity of a positive achievement. Record No.2: Most promotions to the top division via the Play-Offs four times: 1989, 1997, 2004, 2013 as you were asking. But even in the moment of glory and as we were queuing up on the stairs to leave Wembley, a Palace wag exclaimed, “Hurry up or else we’ll be relegated before we get home”. In that moment of searing, brutal, endearing honesty and painfully comic truth, the fatalism struck home – another single season at the top table beckoned.
So what has our latest single season in the sun brought to SE25 apart from the ineluctable tide of doom and despondency? We have the contrasting delight of being patronised by pundits, commentators, analysts, experts etc. All and sundry have joined in the ‘Kicking a man whilst he’s down’ festival that began on 18th August when we fell to defeat against Spurs with the first of many ‘dubious’ decisions. Oh how the Match of the Day crew rolled about with laughter as Moxey’s unintentional handball gave Soldado the gi(u)lt-edged invitation to open his English account with the resulting spot kick. I have actually been disinclined to watch MoTD this season as a) not sure about watching defeats again helps the soul and b) cannot stand the patronising guff from the likes of Lineker’s cronies Shearer, Hansen et al.
Actually in light of the fact that we did manage a goal at Anfield (and winning the second half 1-0) I tuned in to se if things had changed. Yes indeed they had. After the highlights were shown there was a justified and animated discussion about the new SAS as Sturridge & Suarez have been firing on all cylinders. Fair enough. Excitingly, Roy Hodgson was in the studio, which, the good old BBC crowed, was the first time a current England manager had been a guest on the show. Wow and as a son of Croydon who started his playing career at Palace as a youth player here was the opportunity for some positivity amongst a Liverpool love-in.
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But it was not to be as Gary’s opening question was about England’s forthcoming World Cup qualifying games and they then spend the rest of the time looking forward to Montenegro and Poland rather than looking back at the impact of our subs Campana, Gayle and Bolasie who actually almost turned the Anfield match into a contest. It may be just me but I cannot remember a team being completely sidelined in the post-highlights discussion before. Not one mention of Palace did we hear from any of the studio guests apart from as the fall guys to the new SAS. As Oscar Wilde, that famous No.9 for Reading (Gaol) FC once said “there is only one thing worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about”. Exactly Oscar, why aren’t you still around to replace the departing Hansen and bring some balance to the party.
So it was now abundantly clear that everyone was in agreement that Palace were going down and therefore there was very little to talk about. But this was just the mainstream media, full of glib presenters and their facile opinions, what I was looking for were the genuine experts, the knowledgeable ones who had no axe to grind and would be assessing the rest of the season with maturity and objectivity. Hence I went to London Sports Writing Festival last weekend to listen to those doyens of footy intelligentsia, The Blizzard discuss current issues. Lo and behold, the last question of the evening was who was going to win the Premier League and which three teams were going down.
Messrs Wilson, Montague, Marcotti and Auclair all gave the thumbs down to the valiant Palace gladiator. At each confirmation of Palace’s slot in the bottom three, a fellow Eagle cheered ironically, I wonder if this was the same guy who made the parting quip at Wembley? As if to rub industrial quantities of rock salt into an already gaping wound, we were being reliably informed by the paragon of football analysts, Paul Merson, that if we lost the Fulham game we were as good as down already. Now we all know Merson has had a few problems in the past but I would humbly suggest although Maths was not in my top seven subjects when I was at school I am pretty sure that it is not impossible to overhaul the existing five point gap between us and safety over 30 matches. But of course good old Merse knows best and I should bow humbly to his superior knowledge of the laws of probability and football nous.
But to be brutally frank, we do not need the Claridges or Savages of this world telling us we are heading towards the exit. As genuine supporters of the club, we have watched this team evolve out of the ashes of administration and the threatened extinction of CPFC just over three years ago. So in a way anything else than becoming another Pompey is now seen as a bonus for real fans. As they say the darkest moment comes before dawn and that was the case for our club. During the demonstration outside Lloyds Bank on 1st June 2010 the very life of the football club was hanging by the thinnest of threads. The last minute brinkmanship so beloved of the City saw us just make the lifeboat that was CPFC 2010. After our second brush with going bust in the space of just over a decade – Record No. 3 CPFC twice went into administration between 1999 and 2010 the fans rallied around the sinking ship and there was a distinct change in spirit amongst the fans who were so much more passionate supplanting the previous apathy that had slowly built up over the previous five years since the relegation of 2005.
After the salvation came the renaissance. The atmosphere at Palace games changed dramatically, led by the Holmesdale Fanatics, a group of young fans who took on the onus of generating more noise and succeeded in turning the sometimes sedate Selhurst into much more of a cauldron, quickly developing a reputation for being amongst the loudest and most passionate fans in the country. As fans we understood how close we had been to the brink and it was now time to enjoy the life after near-death experience. You don’t know how much you love something until it is about to be taken away from you.