Tony Gillan: Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park remains a dilapidated and charmless visit for Sunderland fans

Sunderland fans at Selhurst Park
Sunderland fans at Selhurst Park
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I hadn’t been to Crystal Palace for some years until Saturday.

In my memory it was a dilapidated ground monitored by charmless club employees. Therefore it was reassuring for us sentimentalists to see customs and traditions being so scrupulously maintained.

The club’s website describes Selhurst Park’s: “Range of stylish and contemporary function spaces that can accommodate any type of event from business meetings to wedding breakfasts.”

If they ever diversify and make the place somewhere quarter-decent to watch a football match, then they will have really cracked it

Before entering the stadium you have to exchange hostilities with the stewards. The one I saw was quite special in that regard. I am unused to being spoken to like that, but it’s my own fault for failing to attend borstal.

I was not searched, but he muttered the order: “Ah wanna see woss in your pock-it.”

I showed him. It was a plastic bottle of water. He snatched it from my hand. I snatched it back.

He informed me: “You carn take boh-ulls in.” He was quite the orator.

I told him I would drink it before entering as I was on medication. He then changed his mind and I was inordinately pleased with myself because he had fallen for my bare-faced lie.

I really shouldn’t have been allowed in with a bottle of water. However, once inside you are free to buy as many bottles of overpriced lager as your gullibility will permit. Where the customer is king.

I walked through the turnstile and checked the time. After reacquainting myself with the interior of Selhurst I also checked the year. Oh dear.

There was a six-year window of opportunity to improve the place between 1939 and 1945, but the Luftwaffe showed no consideration for public will and dropped their cargo on less deserving locations.

Visiting customers are put in the Arthur Wait Stand. This is named after a former chairman. The late Mr Wait was also a builder of some renown; so he must have been mortified to have this thing named after him.

The “view” from the back was fine for supporters with no interest in anything that happened on the Sunderland right during the first half, or the left in the second. Pillars are a problem too. But why would anyone want to see the whole pitch? Don’t be so nosey.

In the minutes prior to kick-off you are treated to everything that is irritating and naff, but fashionable for about a fortnight in 1984; tinny music (they weren’t Glad All Over for long), cheer leaders and – worst of all – drums.

Much is made by the media of the “passion” of the Palace fans, which in practice consists of waving a few flags, banging that stupid drum and sulking when things go wrong.

Remember too that a club described by its chairman as having “the biggest catchment area potential of any single football club in the country,” is likely to have gates as low as 11,000 if they return to the Championship. There’s more passion in the Echo Quiz League.

Naturally they also have one of football’s more hysterical PA announcers, bellowing out codswallop that the Palace supporters actually seem to subscribe to.

One screamed exhortation was: “Be loud! Be proud! BE PALACE!!”

Be nauseous. My toes are yet to uncurl.

Still, it ended well. By as early as half-time, the previously disgruntled visiting supporters had forgiven Palace for everything.

I can’t think what had happened to provide such atonement. But that’s Sunderland supporters for you. Magnanimous!