English Football

Calling in on….Crystal Palace, the parish of Steve

Selhurst 1 (800x421)I heard someone whistling Blaydon Races at London Kings Cross at 8.30am and I knew that either an impromptu Lindisfarne gig was taking place or that Newcastle United were in town.

Later that day, in the early evening autumnal glow, the trains out of London Bridge fairly well resonated to the sound of the Tyne. “The Toon” (when did they stop being the Magpies?), wearing the not unfamiliar mantle of “crisis club”, were heading for Selhurst Park, home of Crystal Palace.

Newcastle, whose only win was in the previous round of the competition, 1-0 at Gillingham, were bottom of the Premier. Palace, with one win and two draws from five games, sat in 15th place. The two sides had already met in the league, a 3-3 draw at Newcastle.

Even with a modest crowd as just under 14 thousand, Palace seemed to have been caught out  by the appetite for a third round Football League Cup tie. The queue for ticket collections was many times longer than the line of people entering the turnstiles for the malnourished. “Good job it’s 8pm kick-off…otherwise we’d be scuppered. Did they not know a game was on tonight?”.  Perhaps it was because Palace picked up their first win of the season, or maybe Newcastle fans were keen to vent their spleen upon beleaguered manager Alan Pardew, but clearly someone at “CPFC” didn’t anticipate a crowd as big as 13,773. Hence, people were still arriving in their seats 10 minutes into the game.

Des-res

The Eagles have long been perched uncomfortably among the inter-war housing of Thornton Heath and Selhurst. Neighbourhood football grounds have become unfashionable, with the out-of-town retail park-cum- community sports facility the “new normal”. While the traditionalist will always plump for the sight of the odd cantilever stand in the back garden and the comforting glow of floodlighting to guide your route to the ground, car parking and complaining residents  – not to mention the prospect of property market speculation – are sending clubs to the fringe of town. But it’s not so easy in London – not everyone can move so seamlessly as Arsenal, for example, so the possibilities for the capital’s hemmed-in footballing institutions are limited.

Selhurst Park, designed by football’s equivalent to Norman Foster, Archibald Leitch, is an old-fashioned ground, but one that has an excellent, self-contained atmosphere. Palace have aspirations to become a kind of South London super club and attract up to 40,000 fans per game – a bold ambition and one that Charlton and Millwall may have something to say about. People have talked for years about Palace’s potential catchment area, assuming a huge swathe of the south of England might be tempted to Selhurst. I’m not so sure, given the demographics of the region, but it’s a laudable goal.

There is something that is endearingly Sports Report about the ground, though, and by that I mean transistor radios clamped to the head, knitted scarves, a cup of Bovril and the expectancy of a Saturday night classified. The club would probably much rather point to the faux-Barcelona colours and hope for some faint comparison, but the place offers a definite whiff of the nostalgic.

Of mice and managers

Palace would probably fare far better, and more sustainably, if they were to hang on to managers a bit longer. Since 2000, the average lifespan of a Palace manager has been 59 games. That’s  a little more than a season. How can you possibly establish continuity with that kind of tenure? It’s a trend that’s very much current – Ian Holloway lasted 46 games and Tony Pulis, who did such a great job moving Palace out of danger in 2013-14, was in office just 28 games. Why do Palace managers disappear from their beds in the night like Cold War spies? Both Holloway and Pulis’ exit were a little mysterious. Does the Palace boardroom, by any chance, have a rubber stamp marked, “By mutual consent” ready-inked? Or are the co-Chairmen, a couple of Steves (the foppish Parish and wine man Browett), difficult to work with?

With Newcastle United providing the opposition for this cup tie, managers were very much in the spotlight. Neil Warnock stepped in at Palace following the departure of Pulis on the eve of the season. Warnock is very much the type of manager that is appreciated at Selhurst Park, but the same cannot be said of his opposite number at Newcastle, Alan Pardew.

In fact, given that Pardew is a former Palace player, who will forever be remembered for his winning goal in the 1990 FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool, it is likely that he has more friends in South London than he does on Tyneside. In fact, when the Palace fans sang, “Super Alan Pardew,” the Geordie fans – who had scarcely stopped singing since they got off the [delayed] West Croydon trains –  fell silent.

Squad time again

The noise level rose when the teams were announced, despite the game being used to test the strength of the relative squads. The Capital One Cup has become a squad rotation competition, something which often backfires on some of the big clubs. Just 24 hours earlier, Arsenal, for example, went out to Southampton at home after fielding a below-par team. To be fair to Palace, they reduced prices to a very acceptable £15, so shadow XI or not, it was good value.

But the game did offer the chance to see two players who have been in the international spotlight in recent times: Palace’s Wilfried Zaha and Newcastle’s Jack Colback. Zaha is back at Palace on loan from Manchester United with a point to prove, while Colback was [surprisingly] recently selected for the England squad. I struggle to see how either can play a part at that level, although with caps being handed out like junk mail, who knows?

It was good to see that Pardew fielded his skipper, Fabricio Coloccini, the popular Argentinian defender who bears a worrying resemblance to Brazil’s David Luiz. The fans don’t seem to mind,though:

“Oh Coloccini, you’re the love of my life….Oh Coloccini, I’d let you s*** my wife.”

(to the tune of Can’t take my eyes off you by Frankie Valli).

Also included in the Newcastle line-up was Emmanuel Riviere, who joined the club’s growing band of Frenchmen when he moved from Monaco in the summer. Riviere had to take up the mantle of goalscoring at Monaco when Rademal Falcao was injured last season and he ended up top scorer at the club. Before the Palace game, he had yet to score for his new employer.

One man who had scored in the competition this season was Palace’s Dwight Gayle. He grabbed a first-half hat-trick against Walsall in the previous round and he broke the deadlock with a penalty in the 25th minute (pictured), awarded after a weaving run by Zaha ended with a clumsy challenge by Daryl Janmaat.

Eleven minutes later, Riviere scored with a sublime  finish from the edge of the area which perhaps should have been prevented by a hesitant Palace defence.

VFM at CPFC

Regardless of the underlying quality, the game was entertaining – that £15 was becoming even greater value as it wore on. After the break, Palace fell behind, Paddy McCarthy bringing down Sammy Ameobi and Riviere confidently shooting home from the penalty spot.

One of the biggest cheers of the evening was when veteran striker Andy Johnson, who has just returned to Selhurst Park, came on as substitute for Kevin Doyle. Johnson helped Palace press for an equalizer, but it wasn’t until added time that Sullay Kaikai, at the second attempt, scored to take the game into extra time.

The odds were shifting towards Palace and that feeling grew in the 99th minute when Mehdi Abeid was dismissed for a second yellow. But the 10-men went ahead again in the 112th minute and it was a brave effort by Newcastle defender Paul Dummett who dived headlong to meet a cross from Adam Armstrong. There was no coming back for Palace, so Newcastle moved into the last 16, 3-2 winners  – £3 a goal, not a bad evening, after all. Worth all that queuing, one thinks. I wonder, how the devil did the Toon Army get home after all that extra time?

1 reply »

  1. Nicely analysed as always, Mr Jensen; although I must take issue with both your description of the location of the ground (Selhurst is a district discrete from the neighbouring Thornton Heath, hence the stadium name, and your spelling of “confidently”. As for Cary Grant designing the place, well, who knew? (Just pulling your leg).

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