After a two hour trip to South London I decided that I needed (diet permitting) a double vodka and soda but could we get in the pub? No we couldn’t. Every boozer was rammed and all the bouncers none to friendly with it. There’s a banner outside the Wetherspoons on Thornton Heath high street questioning where the board’s ambition has gone. I take a picture of it, before walking on. The revolt has started then.
We opt for a refreshing bag of chips from the Melfort Fish bar and a lean against a wall. (the luxury afforded the football fan knows no bounds) I haven’t had chips in about six weeks so they end up tasting like the best chips ever, fried by the Lord himself. After that it’s a ten minute walk to the ground. Button is feeling a bit under the weather so we go straight up to the seats. I then go back down to the concourse to get her some water as a impromptu fake goal celebration starts. I get splattered by someone’s half-pint of warm ale, so it’s off to the gents to towel down before returning to my wooden seat to watch a game I know we’ll loose.
Note: Palace are a proper football club. They have a chairman who lives and breathes the club, an experienced Premier League manager in Tony Pulis, a passionate committed fan base, who have been there in the lows. There home is the tight Selhurst Park, all corrugated roofs and wooden seats, with everything eyeball to grass. Though there is glamour here. For one, there is a bird of prey: Kayla the bald eagle, who swoops around the pitch before kick off. There are other birds to watch as well. Eight of them to be precise: The Crystals, Palace’s very own band of scantily clad cheerleaders who take to the pitch to shake their booty to ACDC prior to kick off. No complaints here.
As I watch the pre-match cavorting, Button taps me on the arm and tells me that if they were real cheerleaders that acrobatic and gymnastic dancing would be involved. In reality they are simply dancers, she says. I nod my head and agree, then continue to watch the ‘dancing.’ After all, there won’t be much else to enjoy.
Palace are a disciplined side on a roll, playing power football under Tony Pulis. We are an ill-disciplined side shorn of confidence playing bargain basement stuff under a one-trick pony, on the verge of losing the faithful. Apparently though “we’ll be fine.” Three first team starters in Delph, El Ahmadi and Agbonlahor are back so we should obviously go and win – or so think the deluded. We won’t win here. It isn’t in us. It’s either going to be against Hull or Swansea we’ll get points. No, this is a no brainer for me. 1, maybe 2 nil Palace with lots of booing from the faithful.
There is, of course, a serious part to today’s proceedings that supersedes football: it is the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough Disaster. As a mark of respect today’s kick-off will be at 3:07pm, following a minutes silence. When the moment comes around the players link arms around the centre circle, Howard Webb blowing his whistle to begin our reflections on all that was lost and suffered on that fateful day. Sadly, there is a section of the claret and blue faithful who do not respect this despite being hushed and quietened by the mass majority around them. Some were still on the concourse boozing and were either too drunk or to negligent to be aware of what was being asked of them. A minute of your time for the 96. Justice for the 96. Football families unite.
Naturally When the minute silence concludes we are booed by the Palace fans. I am mortally embarrassed as is Button, as is the guy next to me and the guy next to him. It’s every fan’s responsibility to be aware of the context of a game; what is happening around them; what is being marked. Some Villa fans were unable to do even that, confusing a football occasion with a drunken night out in a bar.
I am old enough to remember the scenes at Hillsborough. The youngest who died that day was John Paul Gilhooley who was just 10 years of age. He was never seen by his mother again. One minute of your time. Put your drink down and come out to your seat and show some respect. Utterly pathetic that they couldn’t do that. Please get these drunken clowns out of our football club. Justice for the 96.
It was difficult to see the game in front of me as everyone was standing on their seats. I can tell you that we played a 3-5-2, with Clark starting in favour of the injured Bacuna; that for the first ten minutes our side to side, dire brand of football was not under threat. The pitch was a bit heavy and the play tight ..and then it kicked off, in the intersection between the Palace fans and the Villa fans. Everyone clambered on their chairs, on the backs of chairs to see. The two stewards down there really didn’t see what was coming but the bear bating was only ever going to go one way. Ten minutes after a broken one minute silence for Hillsborough and they were trying to dive in at each other over the mesh netting for a slugfest. Go figure. Again, absolutely pathetic.
Somewhere in the middle of it all all, Ciaran Clark had a header cleared off the line. Close but no cigar. The Villa ninja in front of me spent twenty minutes standing on his chair spitting venom at the Palace fans as if it were his life’s vocation. He didn’t look at the game once.. and then the camera phones came out to record for prosperity a bunch of pissed-up blokes trying to lamp each other. It took a while for the Old Bill to come down. It quietened but they we’re soon off again. A woman walked out with her child, not content to expose him or her to the sight of hooliganism.
We had no penetration, no creativity or guile. Grant Holt was leading the line well and communicating to those around him but we struggled to find anything.
Miles Jedinak was dominating play. The Australian is one of the performers of the season for me. He won the second ball in the middle and he out muscled Delph and Westwood numerous times to do so. He would be a fine addition to our squad. The man is a powerhouse footballer and exactly what we are missing in the middle.
In the second half Palace were awarded a penalty, though Howard Webb, after consulting with his lino, changed his mind, leading to an explosion of jeering from the Villa faithful.
Bolasie and Jerome then combined, forcing Guzan into a super save, the ball coming back of the bar, though Jerome, from two yards out shined it up and over the bar. What can I say: once a blue nose, always a blue nose.
Puncheon made amends. Bolasie found him in the box with ease. Bertrand, despite being tight against Puncheon offered no foot or tackle allowing Puncheon to spin on the ball. The ball rebounded in off the post as the Palace fans went mental. On 76 minutes Crystal Palace 1-0 Aston Villa.
After singing for Albrighton for most of the second-half, a player who should have started from the off, Lambert relented, bringing him on in the 82 minute in a double substitution which saw Weimann replace El Ahmadi. Albrighton made an immediate difference. We went close from a through ball though Holt wasted the chance on the stretch. Weimann was then denied by an outstanding Julian Speroni save in the dying minutes, though it was all to little too late. At full time, Crystal Palace 1-0 Aston Villa.
As the fans turned on Paul Lambert in one voice at the end, I felt quite heartbroken. I never wanted this, none of us did, but enough is enough. Lambert would have been under no illusion as he left the pitch as to what we thought of his management, his game plan and his tactics. Cries of, “you don’t know what you’re doing,” and “we want Lambert out,” reverberated around Selhurst Park.
The players were also booed… and they seemed shocked too. Vlaar, (perhaps the one player who tried to give something approaching a performance) was visibly shaken. Gabriel Agbonlahor, a son of the club, who was utterly dreadful today, was a target of the fans ire, and deservedly so. We expect more of him; we expect more from all of them. An utter shower of a performance.
We went down to Sainsbury’s (attached to the ground) for a cup of tea in the café. It was quiet down there and it gave us time to study the table. I explained to Button why we will get 2-3 points from the last 5 games, probably against Hull or Swansea; that 36-37 points will be enough, though it should never have come to this. Never.
The way home gave us plenty of chance to think on what could have been. The London overground to Victoria went OK but there was no tube from Victoria owing to a signalling problem that effected both the Victoria and the Northern Line, so we jumped on the 73 bus at London Victoria to Euston, only for that to be cancelled at Oxford Circus, owing to traffic and congestion. London was busy preparing for the Marathon so public transport and the roads were under strain. We decided to walk, so we took a 45 minute sunset stroll from Oxford Circus back to Euston. Button was starting to feel quite peaky, so was glad to finally get on the Pendolino back to New Street, though when she does she discovers that Lambert, not content with being rubbish, had been shooting his mouth off again. Apparently Villa fans need to get a reality check. The audacity of this guy. A 244 mile round trip, £64 on tickets £60 travel and £20 on food and drink and we need to get a reality check? “No Paul,” I said to myself, “you need a reality check and I do believe that today, 2000 Villa fans gave you just that.”
Man of the match: Albrighton
Room for improvement: Agbonlahor