Wednesday, 26 February 2014

 Saturday saw me attending a Great British (or should that be great British?) cultural tradition: football (that's soccer to those of you west of the Atlantic Ocean). Crystal Palace, to be exact. This is a team that has only just this season risen to the heady heights of the Premier League. There is a sense that no one can quite believe it and so it's all about staying in this giddy position. Still...

The experience began with a visit to The Albion, a nearby pub painted purple and red, which is - you guessed it - the Crystal Palace colors. A handwritten sign in the window read: 'Supporters only' and to get in, you had to show your season ticket to the guy standing outside the door. On every street corner in the vicinity were at least two and sometimes four police officers in their yellow day-glo jackets but, to be fair, they looked pretty relaxed. Gone, it seems, are the scary days of the 1980s when I lived near the Arsenal ground and my heart would pound when I saw a crowd of skinheads assembling before or after a match.

So a swift one and then on to Selhurst Park itself. It's a bit of a rough and ready place – one might even describe it as dated and down-at-heel – but this is its charm and may it ever be so. The atmosphere is close and cozy, the seats wooden, the ladies' toilets clean (though I heard horror stories about the men's – something about standing in an inch of p–– But no need to go there!) and probably the only ones in London you don't have to queue for, the ratio of men to women being in the region of 100 to one.

Pre-game entertainment included the two mascots – one male, one female character yellow eagle, going around the pitch, waving to the crowd; the Crystals – a troupe of young ladies with glittery pompoms doing low-key routines to the pop music that could just be heard beneath the roar of the crowd; but best of all was the real-life American bald eagle who flew from one goal to the other several times.
Finally the match began: Man U were the visitors and sadly for Palace, they won 0-2. But still, considering I have almost zero interest in watching competitive sport, I found myself silently urging CP on: Please score! Please get a goal! And the verdict? Good fun. As the other half said at some point during the day, "This is my tribe."

Well, it's what we all hanker for, isn't it? To be with our gang.  And so finally it all makes sense: to be one with them and get behind a common cause.

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