Crystal Palace v Swansea City
Selhurst Park / Premier League / 22nd September 2013
As I gazed at the Premier League table at the start of the season, it dawned on me that I had almost visited every Premier League ground from the 2013/2014 Premier lineup. A quick check confirmed that I had indeed visited 17 out of the 20 Premier League clubs. The three missing for me to complete the set were Chelsea, Crystal Palace and Hull. Obviously the discovery of such a statistic made one of my season’s goals to complete the full set of Premier League grounds. An away trip with Swansea to Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park gave me the first opportunity to raise my Premier League ground count to 18.
For whatever reason, the National Rail website would not let me purchase a standard class train ticket to London from Manchester and the site was determined that I should buy a First Class ticket. After a while of battling the website, I gave up and actually warmed to the idea of sampling the First Class surroundings of one of Virgin’s trains.
The train would be departing Manchester shortly after 8am. Why was I leaving so early? Well, you see, Swansea City are taking part in this thing called ‘Europe’ this season and this ‘Europe’ thing has been good fun so far with crushing wins over Malmo and Petrolul Plioesti as well as a 3-0 away victory over some European minnows called Valencia on their own turf. Anyway, our forays into Europe do come with one downside: Sunday games – and today’s was even worse as the game was kicking off at the early afternoon time of 1.30pm. Over the past few years clubs such as Newcastle, Stoke and Tottenham have found the whole ‘play in Europe on a Thursday, play in the Premier League on a Sunday’ schedule tough going, yet Swansea’s first league game on a Sunday following a Thursday night European away fixture had produced a very impressive performance and a 2-0 win over West Brom. More of the same today please Swans!
So what did Richard Branson’s First Class train service provide me with? It was alright, but nothing too glitzy. Comfier seats, more space, a free hot drink and a little party bag which contained a croissant, some sort of chocolate biscuit, crisps, water and a carton of orange juice. The high life indeed.
After riding in such ‘luxury’, I arrived into London shortly before 11am and was greeted with a rail-related nightmare. As to be expected on a Sunday in London, half of the London lines seemed to be closed for all sorts of engineering works. Now I had been told beforehand that getting to Selhurst Palace via public transport can be tricky, but looking at the underground map and trying to work out how to get to South London was becoming a logistical nightmare. As I stood scratching my head in front of a large underground map hoping for some sort of inspiration for how I’d get to Selhurst Park, I heard someone shout “Come on – come with us.” I turned around to be greeted by fellow Jacks Egy and his London-based mate Steve, who seemed to know where he was going.
Our first stop was Victoria, where various announcements informed us that there were no trains to Norwood Junction (one of the three stops on Selhurst Park’s doorstep) that day and instead there was a replacement bus service in place. We all decided that we were not really up for a bus trip zig-zagging everywhere through London for a few hours, so we thought we better find an alternative rail route. The amount of times I stared at the London Underground map that day probably makes me eligible to be a qualified cartographer now!
Soon enough we had another route to the south sussed out and we were onboard the Brighton train from Victoria, which would stop at East Croydon station, where we would have to change once again for Norwood Junction. The train journey to East Croydon was to be a fairly amusing one, which involved us convincing a young lad to forget about the date he had with his missus and instead go to the pub and watch the Manchester derby and us having a very high brow debate about the lack of openly gay footballers (Egy’s contribution “But what do you do when a lad gets a lob-on in the showers next to you?”).
As we headed further south, I spotted some sort of non-league football ground not too far away from where our train was passing. It was clearly a non-league ground with its distinctive large main stand, large floodlights and what appeared to be crumbling smaller terraces.
“Who plays there?” I queried, but nobody knew. Shame as I love a crappy non-league ground and I thought it looked worth a visit.
About 20-30 minutes after leaving Victoria, we arrived into East Croydon and were soon enough on the next train making the short journey to Norwood Junction. I should add in here that on our travel across south London we had encountered and chatted to a few Palace fans, all of who were too happy to help us in our travel queries and to compliment our club. The Palace fans came across as a friendly bunch, fairplay to them.
On arriving in Norwood Junction, we made our way 5 minutes around the corner to the William Stanley Wetherspoons pub, where a large contingent of the Jack Army were enjoying prematch beverages. Despite the large Swans presence in the pub, there were still Palace fans amongst the crowd and mingling nicely with the away fans, which is always nice to see.
Once again my jealously flared up again, as many of the pub’s inhabitants had spent last week out in Valencia and I had to listen to the very humourous tales of the shenanigans that the Jack Army got up to out in sunny Spain. Safe to say, that there were still a lot of people who hadn’t quite recovered from their trip out to south Spain.
Following a few renditions of “Come on Wilfried Bony, score some goals for Swansea!” later, we decided to make the short ten minute walk to Selhurst Palace.
Me and fellow Merthyr Jack Ray lost everyone else and ended up wandering through the streets around Selhurst Park as the only Jacks amongst a small crowd of Palace fans, but, once again, the Palace fans were happy to chat away to us. Of course, anyone that knows me knows that I am (was?) a huge Stephen Dobbie fan during his spell at Swansea and with him having recently departed Palace for Blackpool (again), I was interested to get the Palace take on him; they all seemed to like him as well, yet, like many of our fans I suppose, they also felt he wasn’t quite up to the pace of Premier League football. I still love you Dobbs anyway.
Eventually we turned the corner and I was confronted with a ground that looked a hell of a lot like the shitty non-league ground we had seen from the train. It soon dawned on me that it was the ground we had seen from the train. And then it hit me that this wasn’t home to a non-league club at all, but it was in fact home to the Premier League’s Crystal Palace. This was Selhurst Park! Of course, I was delighted with this as I love a good old-fashioned, crumbling football ground.
Like many of the great classic stadiums in the UK, Selhurst Park was designed by the renowned football stadium guru Archibald Leitch, who counted Celtic Park, White Hart Lane, Villa Park and Anfield, amongst many other iconic grounds, as part of his repertoire. The ground was built on a former brickfield in the Croydon area of London and it was officially opened in 1924 and it has seen various redevelopments over the years, although it still retains plenty of character and that traditional football ground charm. Several clubs have called Selhurst home over the years, including Charlton Athletic from 1985 to 1991 and Wimbledon FC during their stint in the Premier League until their demise in 2003. In fact, the lowest ever Premier League crowd was recorded at Selhurst Park as just 3,039 were present for Wimbledon’s January 1993 fixture against Everton.
The ground consists of: the Homesdale Road Stand behind the one goal, a large ‘Kop-like’ stand which has the ability to hold 8,147 spectators – usually the most vociferous of the Palace support; opposite, behind the other goal, is the Whitehorse Lane Stand which can 2,245 fans, as well as holding 42 executive boxes. Down the one side of the pitch stands the Main Stand (capacity: 6,163), and the opposite stands the equally antiquated-looking Arthur Wait Stand (capacity: 9,754), which is divided between home and away support. There is talk of improving facilities at Selhurst in the near future alongside plans to increase its capacity, potentially beginning with the replacement of the Main Stand.
On seeing the ramshackle appearance of the ground from the outside, I was unsurprised to be greeted by similar facilities inside the red-brick walls of the away end with a small open area leading into a cramped, roofed concourse. However, the prices of food and drink were not fitting in with its surroundings with a bottle of Carling costing £4 with the same price applying to all pies and most food. Not exactly the cheapest food/drink outlets that I have encountered on a Premier League concourse.
After more stories about Valencia, it soon dawned on a lot of people that Swansea were actually playing a game today and so we headed into the away end. I couldn’t be bothered to make it to my seat halfway down the stand, so I decided to take a perch towards the back of the stand in the area of wooden seats; well, I say seats, there were just rows of wooden seat backs and nothing to actually to sit on. Nevermind – away days are not for sitting.
I took my place in the middle of Ceri Brace and his mate and Chester Mike on the other side and almost immediately the Swans were 1-0 up. Swansea had absolutely flown out of the traps and were in Palace’s face from the opening seconds. After some neat passing the ball rolled to Michu, who hit his shot through Julian Speroni and the ball ricocheted off Speroni, down into the floor, but thankfully back up into the roof of the net. Michu’s early goal was to set the tone for the game.
The only disappointment occurred to me when I remembered about the famous Crystal Palace cheerleaders a few minutes into the game; either I’d missed them before kick-off or they just weren’t there – either way I was disappointed. For those who haven’t seen them, get on YouTube!
Swansea continued to dominate the game with Crustal Palace looking like rabbit in the headlights of Swansea’s flowing passing game. A good chance fell to Chico Flores, who hit the post from just inside the six yard box from a corner, and Angel Rangel rifled an impressive first time volley from 20 yards out towards goal, only for Speroni to save well.
Palace began to put a slight bit of pressure on the Swans in the last ten minutes, but ‘slight’ was very much the optimum word in that last statement, as the Swans were more than comfortable with Chico and Canas once again looking impressive tidying up anything that came near them, just as they had out in Valencia.
Half-time; Crystal Palace 0 -2 Swansea City.
Talk at half-time was of the notion that Swansea would need a second goal to wrap the game up properly and so after another £4 Carling, I headed back out into the stand in hope of such goal. It came almost immediately.
Just over a minute after kick-off, Swansea debutant Alvaro Vasquez went through on goal only to have his shot from a tight angle saved by Speroni and deflect towards the touchline. Just as it looked like the ball may go out of play, Vasquez retrieved the ball, played it across the box to the unmarked Nathan Dyer to fire in easily from 6 yards out. 2-0 and Swansea were now in full control.
Apart from a clear-cut chance for Vasquez, which he blazed over with just the keeper to beat, Swansea had very little in terms of real chances, but the Swans absolutely dominated the game and the now famed passing game would keep Palace at bay for the remainder of the game.
Although Palace were not excelling on the pitch, I cannot praise their fans enough. Despite the lacklustre display from their team, the fans sung throughout the majority of the game and a small pocket of fans in the one corner of the Holmesdale Stand resembled scenes you might see in the stands at a Bundesliga stadium with the Palace fans bouncing along to the beat of their drum and waving large flags emblazoned with the club’s colours. A Palace fan later claimed to me that we had witnessed them on a subdued day today – no matter, they were still some of the best fans I’ve seen since we stepped up into the big time of the Premier League.
Swansea continued to pass, pass, pass to the shouts of “WHEY!” from the away fans until the clock ticked down to the final whistle.
Full time: Crystal Palace 0 – 2 Swansea City.
Following the final whistle, I made my way back through the streets towards Norwood Junction and I was soon stuck in the large queue to get into the station. When I did get onto the platform it occurred to me that I’d have to take another route back across London, as the train to London Bridge arrived into the station. My destination was to be Finsbury Park, as Chris, a Crystal Palace supporting colleague of mine who had been in the home end for today’s game, had agreed to give me a lift back home to Manchester en route to his home in Warrington if I could get to his car in Finsbury Park. Once again more trainhopping occurred before I eventually emerged out of Finsbury Park station.
I’d been to Finsbury Park a few times, as it is the station I alight at when visiting the Emirates and I had a fairly good knowledge of the pubs in the area. When I learned that Chris and his brother were still not there, I headed to the Twelve Pins to watch the second half of the Manchester derby. I did worry that I’d be difficult to spot amongst the large crowd of Arsenal fans in the bar, but Chris spotted me easily as it turned out that I stood out like a sore thumb in my purple ‘Shelvey 8′ shirt amongst the gathering of red shirts. After watching Nasri score for Man City to put them 4-0 against United (Nasri’s goal was greeted by cheers from the Arsenal fans until they realised who had scored it and soon the cheers turned to a chorus of boos and four letter expletives), we headed back to Chris’ car and we were on our way out of London and heading back up north – a 3.5 hour car journey back to Manchester shared between a very smug Swansea fan and a very downbeat Palace fan.
Highlights: classic old school ground, good fans at Palace, Swansea City performance.
Low Points: getting to Selhurst Park – nightmare! Missing the Palace cheerleaders.