I went to the Crystal Palace v Hartlepool game this past weekend. A good friend of mine had a spare ticket, knew I needed a break from all things Reading FC and invited me along. As we made our way to the ground, we chatted a fair bit about their previous predicament and where they are now. This isn’t a history lesson on the Eagles, but what I would say is that there are similarities between us and them.
We were sat in the Lower Holmesdale Road End and for anyone who is familiar with the seating plan of Selhurst Park, that is now where the ‘ultras’ sit. I’m not using inverted commas to be flippant here - they genuinely are fanatical in that part of the ground. Megaphones, flags, standing up, singing relentlessly.
I asked Nick, my mate, what would happen if they went a goal down. “Wouldn’t make a difference mate,” he said while sipping his Palace Ale, a beer designed by mega fan Neil Morrissey. “They just keep going and going until the end of the game”.
And they did. Three lads basically didn’t watch the game and instead spent the whole time coordinating the fans in the chants, drum beats and movement of the flags. It was an absolute joy to behold, it honestly was. The reason? They were together and pulling in one direction. Some fans weren’t as boisterous or noisy - no one was criticised for that. Everyone was there to support Crystal Palace Football Club and express their support how they wanted to, without judgement.
“It wasn’t always like this,” said Nick at half time. “The club was an utter shambles and we nearly went out of business. We were on the brink. Had we been relegated on that ‘Survival Sunday’ against Sheffield Wednesday, we’d have gone to the wall, no doubt about it. We came together as a fanbase and we stayed up. It was basically protest or die.” Similarities with us indeed, although not as dire as Palace got. Not yet, anyway. (Side note: it’s on Amazon Prime - When Eagles Dare. Terrible name, great documentary).
Fast forward a few days to our own protest and the most disappointing thing about all of this is the behaviour of our fans on both sides of the fence. The people closest to the protest, those from Club 1871 and EPR, have been very clear, even when they weren’t “clear enough” for some of the supporters. They want change, they want some form of acknowledgement from the top and they want it quickly.
Nothing wrong with that in the slightest. They want to start a protest. Other fan groups are continuing to work in the background to get the same information from the club, the information we all deserve as supporters, but in a different way. Nothing wrong with that, either.
Cue the fans who then started slinging mud: “it’s too early”, “I’ll still be in the pub”, “it won’t make a difference,” etc etc. Enter the comebacks: “you aren’t a real fan if you don’t protest”, “if you don’t protest, it’ll be your fault the club dies”, “can’t believe how wet our fanbase are”, etc etc.
At this point the mood gets toxic. Again, those people around the protest are respectful and clear. The main guys and girls. Not the hangers-on. They get that our fans are somewhat divided. People are cautious. They are angry, emotional, downbeat. I know this first-hand because STAR have had the same level of crap chucked at them this season. It doesn’t mean we stop batting for the fanbase, trying to get answers from the club for members and non-members just because we’ve been slagged off. It’s the same with the protest organisers - they won’t be deterred.
It’s a viewpoint being expressed in a certain way - a way these two groups have decided on. And in my opinion it doesn’t matter how many people turn up. When Club 1871 started, it was small. Over time it grew to what it is now. Same with EPR, same with TTE. Over time it gets bigger, more controlled, more organised. It’s called growth.
If you want to have your voice heard on Saturday, go and do it. Don’t dig people out because they don’t agree on your way of voicing the concern. Likewise, if you don’t want to be part of it, don’t. But to criticise those who have seen the problem and want to try to change it is unnecessary. We live in a society where people will always find a reason to not do something. Likewise, if you don’t come out and support a viewpoint, you are deemed to be against it by default. It’s weird.
The very thing we’ve criticised the club for doing this year is the very thing our fans are starting to do now. Don’t be divided, don’t hate on each other and stick to what you believe is the right thing to do.
I love this football club and I like our fans. We have a superb community at our core with people of all ages coming together to support the team and each other. It’s been crap for years: we all know that. But please show tolerance to each other. That’s the only way we are going to succeed.
When we first moved into the Mad Leasing Megadome, fans would often argue with each other because they weren’t loud enough or they were too loud or they weren’t supporting in the right way, blah blah blah. We moved past that so that everyone could find their place in the new stadium. Now we are back there again, bickering about who shouts the loudest and in what way, who’s the biggest mega fan and who’s a “plastic”.
We all have our part to play to help this club and the players move forward. That’s what we all want. We aren’t at death’s door yet, but the day might come when we need unity between ourselves even more than we do now. Let’s not burn bridges in the fanbase before we get to our own “Survival Sunday”, eh?