Stockport (Sunday 6th May 2001)

”It was the best of times it was the worst of times”. When Charles Dickens wrote those words I doubt he was thinking that one day they would probably apply to all Crystal Palace supporters who went to Stockport for this game. There was pain there was joy there was ecstasy there was agony and all of these came within a single 15 minute period.

After the Wolves game of the previous week (from which I had walked out after 47 minutes) the season seemed almost over. With it being obvious that Alan Smith had no idea whatsoever it finally became apparent even to Simon Jordan that he was no where near to being up for the task. In most cases when Palace sack the manager they replace him with someone called Steve.  In this case Coppell was not around and so the job instead fell to Mr Kember. The new caretaker manager introduced a radical system of playing his best players in the positions they are most comfortable in. Because of this and losing the oppressive nature of Nosferatu Smith the team was able to rip apart Portsmouth on a Wednesday. It did set things up for a nail-biting final weekend, however for the first time in five games Palace were out of the relegation places and stood some chance of remaining in Division one.

Due to a mixture of it being the final game of the season and an unwillingness to trust Virgin trains on the Sunday many of us decided to stay in Manchester overnight. This first required us to get out of London. This proved a little more difficult than expected because Virgin managed to outdo even themselves by ensuring that we were sat on the train at Euston station for an hour before they kindly informed us that due to signalling problems on the line there would be no trains running at all that day. This forced us and a few hundred other people to make a quick run for King’s Cross St Pancras station where we were informed that our tickets would be valid for a train up to Sheffield. After sensibly deciding to hit the pub we then had to run (along with half the population of London) to end up on this now massively overcrowded train. Fortunately Gareth and I managed to find seats, opposite one bloke and his girlfriend. It turned out that he was also a Palace fan on his way to the game. She wasn’t very happy about it anyway so when she discovered she was sat opposite a couple more of them she was even less impressed. Despite the train being overcrowded to an extent that even Indian safety officers would blush it finally trundled its way out of the station and we, a mere 90 minutes after we expected to, were on our way to Lancashire (well, Yorkshire actually because we had to get a connection from there through to Manchester).

Once we got to Sheffield (which is starting to seem like a second home because we have been there so often this season) we had to pile on to a small regional train. I used a term small advisedly because the train company, in its infinite wisdom, decided to only attach two carriages. I’ve seen sardines that have had more room than we had in that train. The highlight of that trip was probably the very large person trying to get on while answering his mobile phone with “I am on the train . Well , partly on” . Most people on the train seemed in fairly good spirits considering the condition although the woman who was eight-and-a-half months pregnant did give us a little cause for concern. Mind you, so long had the journey taken she hadn’t even conceived when she got on the train in London. Eventually we crawled into Manchester, a mere three hours after our expected arrival time. A quick taxi ride to the hotel and then we had to decide on the most important issue of the weekend; where were we going out at night.

After a few beers and a meal at a place on the Curry Mile (guess what we had), we ended up in a cafe F.A.B. This was a place that had a science fiction theme. The place contained both a Dalek and an Ice Warrior which although large and lumbering probably would have had more speed and movement that our current back four. Due to a mixture of the smoke, the crap music, and the antibiotics I was on I left at a fairly early time. This got me back to the hotel just in time to catch the end of match of the day and to see the images of the Crying Coventry supporters as their team was relegated. Not the happiest of images on which to go to sleep.

Waking up next morning, I was greeted with a repeat of the crying Coventry supporters. As omens go this one was named Damien and had 666 tattooed on its forehead. After a very hearty breakfast (which was going to be more than needed considering the amount of alcohol I was going to have to imbibe to get me through the game) we booked a taxi to take us to Edgeley Park. We then had to wait an extra half hour because someone else pinched our taxi (for a minute there I thought we were back in Liverpool). We arrived at the ground at eleven- thirty and were amazed to see the official supporters’ coaches pulling up at that time. Usually you expect to see them arrive at least 10 minutes after the kick-off so for them to arrive a mere two hours before was completely amazing. With plenty of time before the game we did it the only sensible thing available, we headed for the nearest pub. If I thought the train journey up was crowded it was nothing compared to the crush from the number of people trying to get into each hostelry. It was such an impossible task that instead we just nipped around the corner to the nearest off-licence grabbed a few bottles of whatever and then returned to stand on the street outside the pub.

The mood of the crowd was fairly upbeat although there were definitely undercurrents of worry. They were quite a few songs being sung and a very large Palace flag which someone attempted to drape over a nearby shed. It quickly fell down (the flag!) so someone decided to jump up on the shed and arrange the flag in all its glory. He achieved this to great applause from the crowd who then laughed as the whole thing slid to the ground as he enjoyed his moment of triumph. But then the happy moments were over because we suddenly became aware that it was almost time for kick off and so, fairly reluctantly, we set off for the turnstiles.

Travelling the whole two minutes caused us to think about what tactics we would use to get the bags full of alcohol into the ground. We settled on the tactically ingenious plan of sticking everything under the previous day’s dirty clothes and hoping no one would notice. I was stopped first and it took the stewards quite a few seconds to search my rather large bag. There was nothing untoward in it. Jane was next and lost her alcopops. They then asked Paul if he had any bottles in his bag. He said “no” so they waved him through. A truthful answer but one that hid the fact that there were two dozen cans instead.

The first thing to notice was that we were on a terrace. The second thing was that the terrace was very full. The third was that there was very little room for our bags. However, we managed to make more than enough by barging our way through. With our hopes piled as high as the bags we all wished for one thing – over with as soon as possible and that the agony of this season would finally end.

I was going to produce a special edition, a 10,000 word epic that would chart the progress of the entire day and highlight the Crystal Palace Phoenix as it rose from the ashes of Division one. However, there was one small problem with this. My voice recorder used for taking notes broke down. On the plus side this allowed me to watch the entire game uninterrupted by needing to speak the action. On the downside this meant I had to watch the entire game uninterrupted without the distraction of being able to speak into my recorder.

The game started in the usual Palace fashion of pushing forward quite early, earning quite a few corners, and then being unable to make anything out of them. We also appeared to lack the fluency that we had at Portsmouth. As a result Stockport weren’t unduly troubled by our attack although, as some form of compensation our defence wasn’t overly troubled by theirs. They did have a couple of half chances early on, a through ball being slightly overhit and being grabbed by Kolinko. Of bigger concern was the only cross that our keeper missed which fell on to the head of an unmarked Stockport player but thankfully he managed to put it wide. Their only other real chance of note came from one of the very few mistakes made by Austin during the game when he allowed the ball to drop behind him and then suddenly discovered that the Stockport player was a lot closer than he originally thought. Kolinko ran forward and punched the ball way and managed to take out both other players as well.

On the Palace attacking side there was a half chance for Clinton from a through ball from Thomson too close to the keeper and he managed to parry it away with his legs quite easily. A long range Berhalter drive at least had the advantage of being on target. The best chance of all fell to Forssell who was fed running in on the left-hand side but dragged the shot across the keeper and beyond the far post. It ended scoreless at half-time with Palace probably just shading the game and having nothing to show for it. The other results had been trickling in and showed that Portsmouth were one up against Barnsley but that Huddersfield were 2-1 down to Birmingham. As things stood Palace were still sitting in the last relegation place.

There was only one way of getting through the second half and that lay in the pile of bags in front of us. With a lot of people on the terrace between us and the watching stewards it was nothing to squat down and have a few surreptitious slurps of beer. This almost came to a premature end when Jane returned to her place and, on being asked if she wanted a can, grabbed one and stood there drinking in full view of the stewards.

The second half started and continued to follow the pattern of the first, Palace trying to get forward but not getting any solid result. On the bright side Stockport weren’t really troubling the defence but that wasn’t much consolation. Neither was the news from the radio or the text messages being received. Portsmouth had extended their lead thanks to Kevin Miller conceding, yet again, a lot of goals when playing a relegation threatened team on the last day of the season. Let’s just use the word ‘coincidence’.

As the game went on the Palace crowd become quieter and more dispirited. At times it was even possible to hear the Stockport crowd although their rendition of “play up Pompey” was slightly less welcome than anything by Celine Dion. Clinton had a chance he possibly should have done more with and Forssell elected to shoot from a tight angle when a pull-back would have found Morrison in plenty of space. But nothing was looking too likely even though a rather rotund Tommy Black, brought on for the last ten minutes, had started causing a few problems by running at players on the right.

In the end the best chance came from the left. After Stockport had managed to hit the stanchion outside Kolinko’s goal Palace worked a nice move that saw Berhalter cleverly hold up the ball on the edge of the area and tap it into Freedman’s path. He struck it low and past the diving keeper. From our vantage point we were already in the air but those behind the goal had the much better view as it skidded past the post and came back off the advertising hoardings. With only four minutes left the spectre of being in the third tier of the league started to solidify. It was at that point that the general feeling in the crowd changed from vain hope to a solemnity that was almost funereal; standing by the grave just waiting for the coffin to be laid to rest.

Down the other end Stockport tried to take advantage by putting in a cross that went to the edge of the area. Hopkin and a Stockport player jumped for but Hopkin led with his hand. Much in the same way as Maradonna’s ‘Hand of God’. This should have been either a free kick on the edge of the area or a penalty to Stockport. Instead we were refereed by officials who turned out to be the only three people in the entire crowd and television viewing audience who couldn’t see that it was a handball. Hopkin had a quick look at the referee after the offence and hoofed the ball upfield. It fell to Morrison and then bounced into the path of Freedman. He ran to the left corner of the area with the defender in between him and the goal. He dummied to go left and then pulled the ball back onto his right foot and got a fortuitous deflection off the heel of the defender. With only the keeper to beat he forced the Stockport custodian to start to go down to cover the near post and then lifted the ball over him into the back of the net. Three seconds later there were 500 Palace supporters partaking in a celebratory pitch invasion while the rest of us were just going absolutely mental, jumping around and hugging everyone and, in my case, falling over the pile of bags in front of us.

The goal commentary

Now all we had to do was hope we could either score again which would have put us ahead of Portsmouth on goal difference or hope that we didn’t let in one and also have fingers crossed that Huddersfield didn’t equalise. This should have been easy as we only had three minutes to go. Which was extended by five minutes time added on thanks, in no small part, to the pitch invasion. As that time disappeared with no change to the score we were still just nudging ahead of Huddersfield in avoiding the last relegation place. With seconds left the Stockport keeper punted the ball upfield. Jamie Smith, out on the touchline in the Palace half went to head the ball forward. It was slightly mis-directed and instead went back in a looping manner to Kolinko. Who would have easily caught it had he been nearer his goal-line. Instead he had to turn, take a few steps backwards and catch it. Which would have been fine had he not slipped when he turned. It seemed like an eternity before he finally got traction and managed to grab the ball scant feet from the line. It would have been so typical of Palace to concede an own-goal in that manner. With Kolinko’s punt to put the ball back into play the final whistle went and we could do no more than wait.

It seems a bit weird but even with five minutes time added on we still had to wait for the Huddersfield game to finish. This was spent gathered around anyone with a radio and listening to them as they relayed a running commentary as if we were priests gathered around the Oracle and waiting for a sign that our earthly suffering would soon be over. After two minutes Gareth announced that it was all over at the other game. So we celebrated. Then he announced that he’d made a mistake and they were still playing. I think it was when I told him that I’d kill him if we were relegated that he started moving away. But he hadn’t travelled far before the official confirmation came through that the Huddersfield score was the final one and that we were safe. At that point I couldn’t do anything apart from feel a sense of relief that one of the most emotionally draining of seasons had come to an end and that we were still in the First Division.

After refusing to leave the ground until the team had made an appearance we finally traipsed out half an hour after the final whistle. A stop in the first pub brought forward quite a few congratulations from the Stockport fans who were not only impressed by the Palace support but also happy that it had given them their biggest crowd for the season. I even got to talk with that rarest of all creatures – a Manchester United fan who lived in Manchester. With the pint supped quickly on police advice that some lads in a nearby pub sometimes get silly we made our way back to the railway station. There we ran into a load of Birmingham fans who we were more than happy to buy drinks for. So once on the train everything was fine until the conductor told us that our sing-a-longs had upset one of the other passengers. And we were singing the clean ones! He said the person in question was demanding a free move to first class. Instead he told us there was a free compartment available and instead of moving a single person to it all the Palace supporters could have it for no extra charge. Top bloke and a top result. So we could sing the not so clean songs to the Watford fan we acquired from somewhere and to any Brighton supporters we could ring up.

The day was enjoyable only for the exhaustive relief that came four minutes after the game had finished. A lot of luck went our way during the game and I don’t think anyone can claim otherwise. But the celebrations came not only from avoiding relegation but from having survived the damage of Alan Smith and regaining our club. And regardless of the result that was so important.

BBC radio end-of-day summary

 

Not the Alan Smith Interview

Written after the first run of six consecutive losses that (2000-2001) season and inspired by our (then) manager’s ability to provide non-stop soundbites it first appeared in the ‘One More Point’ fanzine.

Rather than go for a career in journalism which seems too much like hard work I went to work for ‘The Sun’. My first assignment was to start at the bottom and gain a World Exclusive interview with the Crystal Palace manager, Alan Smith. Since that would have cut into important drinking time I just cobbled a few phrases together from other interviews, re-arranged all the words into an entirely different order and got my World Exclusive. Watch for my forthcoming World Exclusive interviews with world leaders Nelson Mandela, Tony Blair, Anthea Turner, Ghandi and Winston Churchill.

Q: Hello, Alan. You were born in the late 1940’s?
A: Yes. I would’ve liked to have been born a few years later to avoid rationing but my parents obviously couldn’t control themselves. Still, after a start like that in life I think I’ve done quite well.

Q: Can we start with that infamous secretarial incident?
A: Nature has invested a lot of evolutionary time in the mating game. I was just moved by genetic drives imprinted deep upon every living tissue. I hardly think I can be blamed for that.

Q: You first became Palace manager when Steve Coppell resigned.
A: Yes. I was on the coaching staff then and we were doing a blinding job but the players didn’t follow what we wanted and the long ball tactics used by Coppell left a lot to be desired. When things started going wrong Emperor Noades said to me “Brutus, always stand by Steve and support him from this knife’s edge all the way up to the hilt”. Despite my continual protestations that Steve wasn’t responsible for absolutely everything wrong with the club (the ballboys were truly terrible) he was still pushed out.

Q: And that next season saw promotion?
A: That was because the players listened to what I said.

Q: Did it have something to do with still having good players who had been in the Premiership the previous season?
A: Yes. I’d suggested a lot of them to Steve. If he’d listened to me for all of them we wouldn’t have been relegated. It was his bad choices that saw us go down.

Q: That next season saw relegation but two cup semi-finals. Was that due to your inability to motivate the team week in, week out?
A: Not at all. It was obviously the player’s fault. Next question please.

Q: You publicly outed Chris Armstrong for smoking marijuana. Why?
A: I don’t agree with a professional athlete abusing their body like that. It is best to make an example of them so all the children can understand how bad it is to do this to their body. Fortunately others have realised this and I must give special mention to Neil Ruddock who only sticks to alcohol and keeps his body free from performance impairing drugs.

Q: But shouldn’t things like the Armstrong incident remain within the dressing room?
A: Yes, I have learned that now. That’s why I’ll never mention the three punch-ups, the dressing downs I’ve had to give Hayden and Clinton, why Andy punched Simon and why we call him ‘little’ Tommy.

Q: You have changed your tune then. Is this an admission you were wrong about Armstrong?
A: Of course not! It was a different time and what I did then was entirely correct and appropriate.

Q: You had rather a bad spell afterwards at Wycombe.
A: Actually, I had a great spell. The tactics were spot on and the coaching was excellent. I’ve always said there is a lot of value in the long ball game but the players refused to do what was asked of them and started to pass it around on the floor. Of all the stupid things. It was solely their fault what happened in the end.

Q: Surely it can’t have been entirely the fault of the players?
A: You’re right. The supporters weren’t good enough either and must shoulder the rest of the blame. Of course, if new supporters has been brought in like at Fulham then they would’ve done much better.

Q: A question still causing interest is what happened in Spain?
A: We took the players there to get away from all the unfair comments that were being made against them and to understand each other in an open, equal, non-judgemental environment. But the lazy, useless bastards just acted like the idiotic fools they are.

Q: What about Linighan?
A: He criticised the team. That’s disruptive to team spirit so we sacked him.

Q : Why did you appoint Houghton and Cockerill as coaches?
A: Ray has already had experience of a relegation campaign at Palace so I felt we could make great use of him this year. Considering our current position I think this shows once again my qualities for picking the right people for the job. As for Glenn, well, with everyone laughing at someone that old putting highlights in his hair no-one comments on mine anymore (which is hereditary so it’s not my fault).

Q: This season. It’s the end of October. What’s gone wrong.
A: The players. I’ve inherited a lot of them. I didn’t choose them but I have to try and get something useful out of them.

Q: But the starting team consists of at least six of your signings and the ink on the contracts of Ruddock, Black and Gray was barely dry before you came in.
A: The players are young and inexperienced.

Q: Kolinko, Fan, Staunton, Rubins and Forssell are all internationals. Ruddock, Austin and Rodger have all played in the Premiership and are no longer in the first flush of youth, Pollock has been around for years and this is Morrison’s third full year as a first team player. The most inexperienced is Tommy Black and he’s been our best player so far!
A: Yes, but their average age is a good decade below that of Middlesbrough and just look at how well they’re doing.

Q: Thank you for your time, Alan. Any last words.
A: It’s not my fault.
The author would like to point out that his belief system and writing has been shaped by society, his parents, friends and acquaintances. Therefore he cannot in anyway be held responsible for the above text as it is obviously the fault of everyone else.

Play-Off Final in Sydney

This was written for ‘Palace Echo’ about how we watched the Crystal Palace / West Ham United play-off final in 2004 on the other side of the world.

It’s a pub rammed to the rafters, there’s more cockney accents than you can shake a jellied eel at and the majority are there to watch the big screen and cheer on West Ham as they return to the Premiership. It could be any place in Britain. But this isn’t. The time is midnight and the place is Sydney, Australia.

The game is on, the tickets are clasped close and Palace fans, drawn by messages on the BBS and Holmesdale Online, are gathering at the aptly named Palisade. Given that we will be severely outnumbered at the game we are fortifying ourselves with a few ales beforehand.

I arrive at 6pm and am immediately hailed by the resident Cardiff fan. We usually use the pub as a starting point when the Sydney Palace fans meet and therefore frequently run into this gentleman. He wishes Palace luck and leaves – but him being there has already provided it. I’ve now met him five times in that pub and Palace have won every game that weekend. The first time we met we’d just beaten, erm, Cardiff.

A few others start to drift in. Some are known from previous gatherings but others are not. That doesn’t remain the case for long as Palace stories are swapped between locals, expats and visitors; tall tales and true. There’s even that most traditional event of English pub culture – the dodgy video being passed under the table. I’ve droolingly watched that tape on slo-mo many a time since, especially when Darren Powell heads in the injury time goal in the semi-final against Sunderland. Paul hasn’t joined us since he recently moved north but calls to let us know he’s at the venue in Brisbane. “I’m so fucking nervous!”, is about all he can get out. 10pm, two hours before kick-off, it’s time to head for the venue where the game is being shown.

We pass back into the city centre, down George Street and watch all the young dudes, six to a clapped-out car, leer and holler at any woman passing by. It’s as if the Seventies never ended. Our goal is Scruffy Murphy’s which, despite the name, is actually an Irish theme bar. We dive into the mass and fight our way to the bar where we meet with a few other Palace fans who seem as surprised as we are that they’re not the only ones. Everywhere else is a palette of claret and blue and quite a few of them inform us that it’s a shame our evening will soon be spoiled. We just smile on the outside while our stomachs continue to churn (although that may have been due to the Guinness which isn’t very good).

The Palace fans are the usual mixed bag. Dave, a London boy spending a couple of years working in Sydney; Dan, an Aussie who started following Palace after the 4-3 semi-final; Scott, who met an Aussie girl he couldn’t leave behind; Julian and Renee, like myself, Aussies who found themselves drawn into the Palace whirlpool when over in London; Joe, who moved to Australia decades before; Neil, a supporter since 1969 when he used to walk to the ground but exiled for thirteen years; and Steve and Pat whose stories echoed Neil’s.

We ascend to the main viewing room and find that Julian has grabbed a section for the Palace fans. A few chairs in front of one of the big screens and, most importantly, right next to the bar. That’s enough to hold a group of eighteen Palace fans. There’s six more isolated on a table in the middle of the room. The other one hundred and twenty-six people are West Ham fans. They’re loud, they’re confident, they’re singing about doing something to Michael Jackson’s chimpanzee. There’s a huge cheer when the screen lights up and Pardew appears on it and a few mystified looks when a small chorus of “who put the ball in the scousers net” starts. Then the game begins.

I hate watching Palace games on TV. It’s not as bad as listening to them on radio and that’s normally all we have these days. Tonight it’s made a bit easier because there’s an atmosphere although it’s generally subdued as both sets of supporters realise what is at stake. The oohs and aahs from near misses fill the air while the groan as Zamora fluffs a clear chance is music to our ears. His dying swan attempt to con a penalty brings aggrieved howls from most of the room and a pithy and erudite response of “piss off you ex-seaweed scum” from our area.

Half-time and the confident bluster of the West Ham fans has lessened as they realise that perhaps their script of – (1) turn up and (2) win – may not be so indelibly inked in. But they become very loud and vocal as their team flexes its abilities and starts to shift the balance of the game in their favour after the restart. When Lomas hammers the ball for Vasaen to make a flying save they are on their feet sensing that a goal is to soon arrive. And so it does. When Shipperley waddles the ball over the line my first reaction is to jump up, my second is (force of habit) to check that a linesman hasn’t flagged an offside, my third is to catch Joe who has hurled his 50 year old body across six feet of floor into my arms, and the fourth is to jump up and down like an idiot. A very, very happy idiot. For about a minute all I can hear is delighted screaming and see twenty-three other people experiencing the same. I have no idea what the West Ham fans were doing at the time – I completely forgot about them. I finally remembered them when they cheered Connolly for scoring and then groaned at the linesman for flagging it offside. It was actually funny when they did it even louder the second time.

With seventy minutes gone the reality of the occasion hit and I spent most of the time glancing between the game and the clock ticking over so s-l-o-w-l-y as it, like our goalscorer, limped arthritically towards ninety minutes. When Leigertwood and Carrick collided the Hammers erupted while we held our breath. The referee waved play on and we exhaled, Julian and I exchanging raised disbelieving eyebrows and suddenly becoming sure this was our day. Then the final whistle went. Renee jumped into my arms ahead of Joe so he grabbed us both and the rest joined in with a Palace group hug. By the time we’d finished that and watching the ten minutes of post-match celebrations in joyous and bewildered glee we suddenly noticed that the room was almost empty. There were a couple of Hammers who remained to shake hands and then departed to leave twenty-four people – all the Palace fans – in the entire room. Those of us who had watched Palace when in England had a slight pang at this time because we would have been at Cardiff had we still been resident in that country.   The feeling was intensified when my phone rang. “Can you hear it?”, Nicola yelled down the line and the sound of thirty thousand celebrating with her in the Millennium Stadium came through. Life is bittersweet as a Palace supporter and even more so for the long-distance ones.

At 3am, drained yet blissful, we exited and headed for home. The city centre was almost quiet – the young dudes had garaged their cars and were dreaming of orange Datsuns and furry dice – while I had just missed my bus and had to wait an hour for another one. It didn’t really matter and I arrived home after 5am just as the sun was rising. The long night had ended and a new dawn had arrived. How appropriate.

 

Wayne’s Contract Talks

This was written for ‘Eagle Eye’ in 2005 as Palace looked (correctly as it later turned out) to be heading for relegation.  The club owner, Simon Jordan, and manager, Iain Dowie, did not get on well with Routledge’s agent, Paul Stretford, who was keen to move him to that graveyard of young English players – Tottenham Hotspur.

When Eagle Eye was much younger and anarchic it used to pick up club gossip by eavesdropping on players in the bar. These days we are far more establishment and simply get our MI5 colleagues to plant bugs in the chairman’s office. The following transcript was the result and sheds new light on the Wayne Routledge situation:

Sound of a door opening.

SIMON JORDAN: Ah, Dom, what have you brought me for lunch?

DOMINIC JORDAN: Sorry, Si, but the canteen has run out of food so all I’ve got are some of the stadium pies.

SIMON JORDAN: Are you trying to poison me? The expiry date on those pies is circa 1993. Their current edibility consists of a highly negative factor. They’re not fit for human consumption. Take them to the lower Holmesdale and sell them at the Birmingham game. I didn’t spend £30 million on this club just to ingest comestibles of excessive age.

DOMINIC JORDAN: Yes, boss. And the people for your meeting are here. And I did as you said and beat up Alec Ferguson.

SIMON JORDAN: You did what?!!!

DOMINIC JORDAN: You said to thump that Stretford-End knob.

SIMON JORDAN: I said to thump that knob-end Stretford!!!!! Get out!!!!!!!

Sound of a door closing followed by what sounds like a head repeatedly hitting a desk. Mutterings can be heard appearing to contain the phrase “I hope one of us is adopted”.

Sound of a door opening and people entering the room.

SIMON JORDAN: Thank you for coming Iain, Wayne and… your agent. Shall we get to business?

PAUL STRETFORD: Alright, I want lots of money or Walter will go to Spurs.

IAIN DOWIE: Walter?

PAUL STRETFORD: My meal ticket, sorry, my client here.

IAIN DOWIE: Do you mean Wayne?

PAUL STRETFORD: Oh, is that his name? I’ve always thought of him as a Wally.

IAIN DOWIE: Look, Wayne is a very talented player but still very raw. Will he be a great player one day? Yes he will if he continues to learn without too much pressure on him. Can we provide that atmosphere? Yes we can. Wayne will be far better served in his career by continuing to learn in this nurturing environment.

SIMON JORDAN: And I’ve spent £40 million on the club to create a nurturing environment.

PAUL STRETFORD: My client will feel that is insufficient.

IAIN DOWIE: “Will feel”?

PAUL STRETFORD: I’m paid to do all his thinking and I know what’s best for Walter. The poor kid is only driving a low-end Merc! Do you know how embarrassing that is? All the other young Premiership players can afford to go out and burn £50 notes, shag granny hookers and guzzle magnums of Cristal every night but my Walter can’t. Do you understand how humiliating that is for me? He’s the only one of my clients who can’t do this. At Spurs he’ll finally be able to.

IAIN DOWIE: Wayne, I feel your head is being turned by silly money here. Your joy has always been in playing and becoming a better player. The improvements in your game while I’ve been here are tremendous but you still have so much to learn. Football is not about amassing the most toys…

PAUL STRETFORD: …that’s what my chauffeur and butler and gamekeeper said…

IAIN DOWIE: …but about realising your potential through fostering close relationships with your team-mates on the training ground…

SIMON JORDAN: …which is part of the £50 million I’ve spent on this club…

IAIN DOWIE: …and using them to become a better person which will benefit you for the rest of your life.

PAUL STRETFORD: We’re forgetting the most important thing here and that is I get a 15% cut of any transfer fee plus a ‘consultation fee’ as well. Now are you going to pay Walter £40,000 per week and my fee of £100,000 for getting him to re-sign or do we go to Spurs?

SIMON JORDAN: I refuse to deal with such a scumsuckingmotherfuckingPARASITE as you any more. I haven’t put £60 million into this club just so you can try to blackmail me by using a contract loophole to blindly trade the futures of young men solely on the basis of how much money you can grasp with your grubby little hands.

IAIN DOWIE: Err…, yes. Wayne, with a club like Spurs you wouldn’t be guaranteed the first team football you need to continue your education. They have very fickle fans, even more so than ours, and they would be far less understanding of your occasional lapses in performance. You would be lucky to achieve half as much first-team football as you do here.

PAUL STRETFORD: But what player wouldn’t want £40,000 a week just to sit on the bench? That’s the dream of footballers these days. That’s what I help my boys to achieve.

IAIN DOWIE: Wayne, you’ve been very quiet. Is there anything you’d like to say?

WAYNE ROUTLEDGE: It’s not about the money. The only reason I want to leave is because I can’t stand the excitement.

IAIN DOWIE: What?

SIMON JORDAN: What?!!!

PAUL STRETFORD: What?!!!!!!!

WAYNE ROUTLEDGE: I love it at Palace but ever since I’ve been here we’ve been fighting against relegation and going for promotion and losing games in the last minute and winning games in the last minute and my nerves can’t stand any more of it. I want to go to Spurs because it’s so dull. They always finish tenth in the league and they only have a cup run once every decade. It’s the perfect place for stressed out players.

IAIN DOWIE: Um…

SIMON JORDAN: Err…

PAUL STRETFORD: OK, so that’s great. I’m guaranteed at least £200,000 for doing nothing. It’s been great working with you Wally, Ivan and Stuart. By the way I’m starving. Do you have a canteen around here?

Sound of an intercom.

SIMON JORDAN: Dom, can you bring in a couple of pies for Mr Streford.

Transcript ends

"Er, Curtis, are you sure this is a low-end Merc?"

“Er, Curtis, are you sure this is a low-end Merc?”

 

‘Twas the night before Cardiff

Written about Palace’s play-off final game against West Ham in 2004, it appeared in the one-off resurrection issue of legendary fanzine ‘Eagle Eye’ in February 2005.  Clement Clarke Moore may have provided some inspiration.

‘Twas the night before Cardiff, when all through the club
Not a person was stirring, they were all at the pub;
The scarves were hung by the chimney while pints were quaffed,
In hopes that they would soon be held triumphantly aloft;
The supporters were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of the Premiership danced in their heads;

And the missus in her away strip, and I in my home,
Had just settled down for a bit of hide the bone,
When out in the stadium there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new Main Stand roof
Allowed me to see and verify with proof,
When, what to my wondering eyes should come from the haze,
But a team bus, and eleven focused players,
With a hulk of a driver, so loquacious and, zowieee!!!,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Dowie.

As rapid as Eagles his disciples they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
“Now, Danny! now, Shipps! now, AJ and Tony!
On, Nico! on Hughesie!, on, Wayne and Aki!
To the edge of the area! Form that wall!
Hold the line! Hoof it! Clear away the ball!”

As that song goes about bubbles that fly,
Where like hopes they fade as they reach the sky,
So up to the house-top the players they flew,
With the bus full of dreams, and St. Iain too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard the roof thud
The clatter and thump of each player’s stud.
As I kissed the club crest, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Iain came with a bound.

He was dressed all in Palace gear, accepting the cheers,
And his clothes were all tarnished with blood, sweat and tears;
A bundle of promises he held in his hand,
Saying heading for the Premiership – the promised land.

His eyes – how they twinkled! his gurning how merry!
He had a replacement for Julian, he was going to play Derry!
His crooked smile mouth was making a sound,
He was saying it was time for one more round;
The ghost of Sunderland’s hopes he held so tightly,
Thanks mainly to that penalty miss from Jeff Whitely;

He had an interesting face and a mind of steel,
That ensnared the opposition and made me feel,
That anything was possible and he calmed my fears,
And lifted the gloom of following Palace for years;

A gruelling training schedule and a good choice of sub,
Soon gave me the belief that we were going up;
He spoke of Harbin and Symons as he went about his work,
Writing his programme notes; then turned with a jerk,
And raising his hand he gave me the clenched fist,
And I swear this is true (even though I was pissed);

He sprang to his bus, and his team all piled on,
And away to Cardiff they all flew with the hopes of South London.
But I heard him exclaim, as he left the facility,
“We’ll do them tomorrow with bouncebackability.”

 

Dave Lewis interview

This was written for the ‘Palace Echo’ fanzine after the play-off final win in 2004.  The person most disappointed with the result was the one who did the most to have it shown in Australia.

Originally the play-off final wasn’t going to be shown in Australia. This was going to deprive a number of Palace fans the chance to see the game. It was also going to deprive an even larger number of West Ham fans the same opportunity. The satellite channel which held the rights claimed there wasn’t enough interest and that it would take something major to make them change their mind.

His name is Dave Lewis.

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Joe, Dave Lewis & Julian

Dave is a West Ham fan. He’s also Australian born and bred. This former rugby player switched codes to the round ball. “I started to watch soccer on TV in 1973 and West Ham had that fantastic side. They won big or they lost big and I identified with that. They were a very entertaining side to watch.” When Setanta, the sports channel which broadcasts predominately Gaelic sports in Irish pubs to the expat community, elected not to exercise their rights to show the game Dave faced a decision. He could have flown to England as he has so many times in the past but he tried a second option. He offered to underwrite the cost of Setanta showing the game. The cost remains private but regardless of whatever currency you use it was a significant amount.

Setanta, surprised at such a proposal, thought about it and then backed Dave all the way. “Setanta deserve praise. They’re a private company, they could have said ‘no’, they could have said ‘no matter what you pay we won’t do it’. They’ve really helped. They’ve done a lot of work”. A couple of messages on the West Ham chat site asking for expressions of interest brought forth a tsunami. There were literally thousands of West Ham fans in Australia who wanted to see the game. There were a few hundred Palace fans as well and we were more than welcomed as the news spread. With the reach of the internet and other more traditional media the clamour for tickets grew. When they finally went on sale most venues were swamped by the demand. In Sydney the 150 tickets at Scruffy Murphy’s sold out in under 24 hours while the Aussie Rules club – capacity 400 – sold 80% in two days. The latter was only available for booking via a online sales at a server set up in very quick time by Dave’s company, the DLA Group, and manned by his staff who performed not only their own jobs but also the mad scheme dreamed up by their boss.

Elsewhere the trade was just as brisk. One venue in Melbourne rapidly became two venues in Melbourne. Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, and Cairns cascaded into line as well. Another venue sprang up in Sydney to meet the demand. Then came a fourth – The Metro Theatre. “But that doesn’t have the specialised equipment capable of showing the Setanta broadcast”, was the issue I raised with Dave a few hours before the game. “As of this morning it does”, he grinned. The biggest audience Setanta had ever got for one of its broadcasts in Australia was around 1,300 for a football game involving Celtic. The second biggest was for one involving Manchester United. Crystal Palace v West Ham United attracted an audience of 3,000 people each paying $25 (around £10) a ticket.

This all took place within seven days. Dave seems a bit bemused at how the enterprise expanded as originally “it was all about a guy wanting to see a game of football”.

The scramble for venues proved problematic in Sydney. “It’s really important to dispel this notion of English soccer hooligans. Some of the clubs where we wanted to put this on turned us away with ‘Oh, soccer hooligans, there’ll be trouble’”. But the camaraderie that Dave was so keen to show between fans rose above that and there were no reports of trouble. All over the country media outlets lined up to interview this mad football fan who was going to such lengths to show a game between two teams who weren’t even Premier League. Sky and Channel 7 (national TV) interviewed him and “I’ve been on Mt Gambier radio”.

The interest wasn’t just limited to Australia. “I was on Radio New Zealand this morning – and the game isn’t even on in New Zealand!”. As well as an appearance on Ceefax the BBC match commentator was also due to call him from Cardiff thirty minutes before kick-off. A West Ham businessman in the US offered Dave money to support his attempt to show the game (the offer being graciously declined). An email from Britain even contained a marriage proposal “but I’ve already got an English wife and I’m very happy with her” – while a suggestion to make a movie from it would mean an obvious casting choice of Russell Crowe (however, Dave did not swear, get drunk or beat up anyone so that actor may have to really work at getting into character). If it were an American movie it would end with a stirring finale and Dave being escorted triumphantly aloft the shoulders of his fellow supporters. But it was a game between two very English teams and could only have that most English of results for him.

“Utterly *utterly* devastated”, was his email after the match, “As said, CP were by far the better team”. Grace in defeat and an ability to move mountains in the space of a week. Dave Lewis is a rare man and there will always be a part in grateful Australian Palace fans hearts for him.