While there's no official rule stating you can't support two teams, most football fans still consider it a cardinal sin. Here's how a Crystal Palace fan sunk deeper and deeper into the clutches of his 'bit on the side' Cardiff City.
I’m not proud of this but I’ve been cheating for about two years now.
It all started out innocently enough (doesn’t it always?) but before I knew it, I was sneaking around, making excuses and looking forward to illicit meetings. And the thing is, I still love Crystal Palace but once I’d gone along to see Cardiff a couple of times, I found myself strangely conflicted.
My love-rat shenanigans really hit a low point when I started watching Palace-Cardiff games from the away end in Selhurst. I know, I know, hate me. Scorn me as a fickle, fair-weather fan but believe me when I say that ‘Alice’ still holds a place in my heart...
Those were simpler times; when I’d just come over green from Ireland and like many footie fans from the ould sod, my supporter status was still on the traditional Irish default setting of following Liverpool/Celtic. But when I came to this green and pleasant land, I’d promised myself not to be confined to the ghetto, mentally or geographically, so I eschewed Co. Cricklewood and moved down to Sarf East London.
And as I didn’t live within an ass’s roar of Parkhead or Anfield, I decided I was going to follow a local side in the footie; one that I might actually be able to see from time to time. My choices were Charlton, Milwall and Palace. I’d ruled Charlton out after being harassed and intimidated by masked Charlton supporters taking photos of me while I covered an Ulster Loyalist protest outside Downing Street for the London Irish papers.
Coming out after the game, I felt exhilarated, dirty and guilty by turns and tried to get the fuck out of SE26 before any Eagle-eyes spotted me walking out with the Bluebirds.
Milwall wasn’t a goer because two mates and myself had been kicked unconscious on the concourse of London Bridge train station by a gang of Milwall boys who’d bushwhacked us because of our accents. We were coming home from work and just happened to arrive in the station at the same time as this mob of Denmonsters. The comments about the Pope and ‘RA started on the escalator from the Underground; then one of the younger chavvys came up and without warning, smacked my mate in the mouth.
My boy chinned him right back and that’s when the shout went up. Suddenly they were all over us. I went down trying to shield my other mate who was already sparko. I woke up with a crowd around me. That kinda cooled the deal between me and the Milwall....So Palace it was then. And initially, I really was glad all over. I was in the old Wembley in 1996 to watch David Hopkin score the 90th minute screamer that saw us into the 97/98 Premiership season ahead of Sheffield United and it remains one of my happiest footballing memories.
But ‘Alice’ was never easy. She’d get you all excited and then let you down. When it wasn’t on the pitch, it was in the boardroom that she was getting herself into bother.
But even in the tough times, there were laughs to be had and trust me, you need a sense of humour to be a Palace fan. Certainly, if you look at our roster of celebrity supporters, you’d see what a prerequisite it is: Eddie Izzard, Joe Brand, Kevin Day and Seán Hughes are all stoic Eagles who have given their services at benefits to support daft Alice when she ran up the overdraft.
So where did it all go wrong? I had a good little team, not far to go to see them and even if it was a roller coaster, at least it would never be dull.
But unfortunately it did become dull. It wasn’t Alice, it was me. Maybe it’s that complacency you get after being in a long-term relationship for a few years. You take it for granted, you stop going around as much as you used to and before you know it, you’re practically living separate lives. Then I bumped into an old friend and everything changed. My mate Welsh Phil moved into our neighbourhood and we started knocking about. Phil is die-hard Cardiff; a veteran ‘Valley Ram’ (and he’s also pretty handy at backgammon and decorating).
Scorn me as a fickle, fair-weather fan but believe me when I say that ‘Alice’ still holds a place in my heart...
And as time went by, I started to get the mythology of supporting the Cardiff from Phil, going all the way back to the 70s and 80s when it was a rather less regulated pursuit. When they’d come down from Wales, I started meeting some of the characters that Phil had described in his extensive back catalogue of away supporters war stories and I can’t even pretend it wasn’t great craic.
Then one weekend, the season before last, Cardiff were due to play Palace in Selhurst. Now, in my defence, I’d planned to meet up with my Palace muckers and watch the game at the home end and then hook up with Welsh Phil and the Cardiff gang for a swift ale afterwards. But I was let down, the season ticket I’d been hoping to piggyback was being used and I’d have to find my own ticket. Phil came to the rescue with a no-show from the away bus and a ticket going begging....in the away end...with the infamous Cardiff. What’s the harm I thought?
By the time Cardiff took the away points and I’d watched McCormack score twice, the damage was already done. Coming out after the game, I felt exhilarated, dirty and guilty by turns and tried to get the fuck out of SE26 before any Eagle-eyes spotted me walking out with the Bluebirds.
For the same fixture in the 09/10 season, I didn’t even look for tickets at the home end, my ticket had already been sorted from the away end. By the end of that game which Cardiff won 2-1, Welsh Phil was ribbing me about being their south London rabbit’s foot. After failing to make this season’s fixture which Palace won 2-0, I’m starting to think they might have a point...
I still love you Alice but I think that now perhaps we’re in an open relationship...
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