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‘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.