There, I’ve said it. I want the football club I have followed for 33 years, to win at Wembley on my birthday. Have you got that? Does that surprise you? I hope that it does, a little.
Quite a few pixels have been spilled over the last week or so among the Palace fraternity about whether it would be good to be promoted to what some people call the EPL, or ‘English Premier League’. That’s not to be cocky. Despite beating Brighton, we are still the underdogs against Watford. We mean no disrespect to Udinese B. But many fans’ dream is that we beat them in two days’ time and then decline our membership in what is supposed to be the most exciting league in the world.
In 1997, after guiding Palace yet again to the top league, Sir Stevie Coppell was asked to predict the following season. The interviewer assumed a jolly, upbeat answer. (He’d obviously not met our Stevie before, then.) ‘Nine months of hell,’ was the response, and as usual, Stevie was right. But Steve Coppell is a football manager: surely for the fans it would be different? I can tell you in all candour that it wasn’t. Even Lombardo’s debut at Goodison Park and Matt Jansen’s wonder strike against Aston Villa weren’t enough, and the seeds were sown for our eventual administration in 1999.
Why should this be? Why do so many fans have what Duleep Allirajah has called ‘promophobia’? Why have the fans really taken to what we used to call Division 2? I think that disillusionment with the Premier League comes from a number of reasons:
First, the football. Go up and you are likely to see your team lose every week. Obviously that’s very different from a promotion campaign when you are likely to win. But League 1 and League 2 teams still want to be promoted to the Championship and League 1 respectively, so that can’t give us the full picture.
Second, the pecking order. In the Championship, nearly everyone could beat everyone else. Relegated Peterborough beat the champions, Cardiff, home and away. In the Premier League you are supposed to be pleased to be visited by so-called glamour teams like Tottenham. Which brings me to:
Third, plastic fans. Last week Metro carried two letters, one from an Arsenal fan, one from a Spurs fan. Both complained about their ‘rubbish’ seasons. They will patronise us even if we have been to the Emirates or White Hart Lane (in the away end, naturally) more times than they have. We are supposed to get excited to see these teams. I go to football to see Crystal Palace, thanks.
Fourth, the coverage. I don’t mind that we get less coverage in the London Evening Standard than Manchester United. We are not currently (as the scene goes in the Damned United) equals. If we are in the same league, though, then the fact that gossip about which player has fallen out with Moyes might overshadow an actual Palace match report will really get on my nerves.
Fifth, the players. I like seeing players develop. I don’t like gambles on new signings or even loans who come in, play one or two games and then leave. We have done a bit too much of that ourselves recently and I think it is worse in the Premier League. Which brings me to:
Sixth, the money. £62 a seat? No thanks. I feel priced out enough as it is – having had to give my favourite fixture, Ipswich away, a miss this season.
Seventh, the ritual. Saturday afternoon and Tuesday evenings become…what?
Eighth, the debasement of the competition itself, with its mini-leagues for champions league qualification and, er, survival.
So: get promoted and pay through the nose to see your team trounced at odd hours by smug idiots?
It isn’t really about the money, though we trust CPFC 2010 to spend it wisely, probably on rebuilding Selhurst Park. It’s more about momentum and ambition. What does promotionitis say to Mile Jedinak? To Jonny Williams? We would lose our best players, and that’s why the second part of the equation doesn’t make sense.
Most people who want to stay down assume that we would be able to build on this season, and that a non-promotion winning season can be fun as an end in itself. Here are two seasons that prove that’s not the case:
First, the 2005-6 season was dull as ditchwater even though we won plenty of games and got to the playoffs. Second, the 2007-8 season (when we again lost in the playoffs) saw us over-confident about the future. I met Mark Steel at a book signing early in the following season when I assumed we must surely build on Warnock’s early work, and asked him to predict where we’d finish. He shook his head and wrote, ‘Sorry – 15th.’ He was spot on.
Staying down doesn’t guarantee funfunfun. We may have nine months of hell either way. Let’s go up and let’s learn from our (record) four relegations. Let’s do it properly this time (I know this is Palace I’m talking about). COME ON YOU REDS AND BLUES.