Crystal Palace 2 Huddersfield Town 0
Saturday 30 March 2019
One of the few remaining grounds neither John nor I have visited. Although over the years we’ve seen Palace in more away games than some Palace fans, a trip here was never high on our list of priorities and became a whole lot harder to organise when the Eagles made it to the Premier League in 2013. But with a 3pm Saturday kick off and (all due respect to Huddersfield) not the most attractive of opposition, finally we were in.
You might think that Crystal Palace are called Crystal Palace because they’re (quite) near the Crystal Palace area of London. But in fact the football club and the district were both named as a consequence of an actual palace that was made of actual crystal.
The Crystal Palace was an enormous cast-iron framed gallery. It was built in 1851 in Hyde Park to house the Great Exhibition, a Victorian world’s fair. Its massive windows contained the greatest amount of glass ever used in a single building. When the Exhibition finished the structure was moved to Penge Common near Sydenham, and in 1895 its owners also built a football ground, on the site of the present-day Sports Centre, to stage FA Cup finals. They created a professional team to play at the stadium, to maximise use of its facilities and to take advantage of potential support (and money) in the expanding South London suburbs. That team was Crystal Palace FC.
The pleasure-grounds where the Palace and the stadium stood became known as Crystal Palace Park. The park survives as open land to this day, and is well-known for its life-size dinosaur models, dating from 1854, and its maze. The Palace burned down (spectacularly) in 1936, but by this time the football team had already moved twice – in 1914 to the Herne Hill Velodrome (when the Palace grounds were requisitioned by the military), again in 1917 to The Nest, and finally in 1924 to Selhurst Park.
The Velodrome is still in use. One of the oldest cycle-tracks in the world, it had been built in 1891 by the noted racer George Hillier and was home to the famous Good Friday meetings of the Southern Counties Cycle Union, which attracted crowds of 10,000 and more. The 1948 Olympic cycle races were staged there, and it was the scene of several world records. Then as now it consisted of a basic stand with room for more spectators around the perimeter of the track, following a pattern familiar in the era’s many London velodromes such as White City, Catford and Paddington (Stamford Bridge also started life as a velodrome in 1877 and retained its elliptical shape until the 1990s).
The Nest was next to the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway. It had previously been home to the defunct Croydon Common FC. It was a basic ground with a simple stand, a cinder athletics track and earth terraces known as “the jungle” because of the bushes which surmounted them. It’s said that Palace fans preferred to watch games from Platform 1 of the adjacent Selhurst Station, as a platform ticket was cheaper than the admission price and the view was better. The site is now covered by Selhurst Rail Depot: the shell of the main stand lives on as the depot stores building.
Palace’s present home was completed in 1924. Designed by famous football ground architect Archibald Leitch, and incorporating a single stand with terraces on the remaining sides, it remained essentially unchanged till 1969 when chairman Arthur Wait built a new stand on Park Road to mark Palace’s rise from Third to First Divisions. And he actually did build it, because construction was his line of business and he was often to be seen working on the stand himself.
Two sides of Selhurst are much as Wait left them, albeit reprofiled for seating – the Leitch stand, and the much-loved “Arfur”. His successor, Ron Noades, sold half the Whitehorse Lane End and the land behind it to Sainsburys in 1981. This end was an impressive and substantial two-tier terrace, but the construction of the supermarket truncated it to almost nothing. Executive boxes were put on the supermarket roof four years later, with the present roof and floodlights added in 1990 when the terrace was converted to seating.
Selhurst’s crowning glory has long been the Holmesdale Road End, historically as a terrace and now as the ground’s most visually striking stand. The away fans’ enclosure used to be in the corner next to the Arfur, and trips here are remembered by many a visiting fan as a lively day out. This was never more true than during a 1989 end of season game with Birmingham when a large and disgruntled travelling support, many in fancy dress, spilled onto the pitch and held up play for 27 violent yet bizarre minutes. (“I had a fight with a clown that day”, was the recollection of one fan I spoke to.)
This corner of SE25 has a reputation as a place that isn’t easy to find or to get to. There are three railway stations nearby, but for various reasons the train wasn’t an option for us. This meant an early start, hit the motorways and hope for the best from urban Surrey’s infamous traffic. By and large the trip went OK, apart from having to use the Dartford route round the M25 because of an accident near Heathrow, and parking up on a totally different drive to the one we’d rented (to the obvious puzzlement of the residents). And anywhere that was home to both the Croydon Gentlemen and Terry and June is clearly worth the journey.
You know the drill. Rock up around 1 o’clock, take some pictures without too many people milling about, grab some unhealthy food and head for the nearest pub till kick off time. Not at Palace. Although it might be actively encouraged at the likes of Wembley, Old Trafford and Anfield, here the high-vis fraternity had a mistrust of photography that bordered on the pathological.
We were stopped and questioned three times by different stewards before we’d got from one end of the Park Road turnstiles to the other. On the corner by the club shop a vanload of police got in on the act. And having explained for a fourth time what we were doing (even though taking pictures of a road isn’t exactly a crime) a second posse of constables pounced on us outside the Main Stand, along with a sergeant who bounded down from the control room specifically to quote the Terrorism Act, mansplain the Premier League and examine our phones for suspicious content.
Now I’m all for keeping the streets safe. But when you’re talking about two arl fellas with a combined age of 115 taking snaps of turnstiles using a mobile phone it all felt, as John remarked mildly when the search revealed only a photo of his grandson in an Aston Villa bib, a bit over the top. And a surreal start to the afternoon was complete when the interrogation concluded with “Are you Jimmy, then?”
Anyway. As the sergeant aptly commented, Selhurst “isn’t the sort of thing people would normally photograph.” This is a small ground – with only 25,000 inside it was bursting at the seams – but even so it’s well-hidden. The Arthur Wait Stand is built into the side of a hill, so the turnstiles on Park Road are above the roof at the top end and level with it at the bottom. The Whitehorse Land stand is smothered by the supermarket. The Main Stand, meanwhile, isn’t one of Leitch’s finest and is so crowded about by temporary offices and other ugly Sky-era paraphernalia that its frontage vanished long ago.
Only on Holmesdale Road is there any sense of scale. Here, a two-tier stand built in 1995 gives a much needed focal point, even though it too is mostly hidden by the slope of the hill. This stand’s roof has been compared to a bird’s beak. It’s good to think of this as a nod to the team’s nickname, if for no other reason than it allows a possibility the Emirates might just be modelled on the shape of an arse.
Flesh and wine
Our meet and greet with the Met used up valuable time, so sadly there was no chance to hunt down any of the delightfully tatty fast food shops we’d seen on the way in. Instead we dived into the handily-placed Clifton pub, a mere free-kick away from the ground. I’d seen an online review that said this wasn’t a welcoming place for tourists, so all good – and indeed it proved a refreshingly no-frills old-school boozer, where I was called “Geez” for the first and probably the last time in my life.
Hopes of a goalfest would have been misplaced, as this was a relegation battle (with only the home side realistically battling, given Huddersfield had won just 3 times all season and scored only 6 goals since Christmas). Generally the first half lived down to this billing, although Huddersfield could have been in front but for tame finishing and some alert positioning from Guaita.
Palace, however, upped it after the break. Townsend really ought to have bagged a couple before Zaha was upended in the area and Milivojevic netted from the spot. Zaha missed further chances it looked easier to score, before van Aanholt made sure two minutes from time with a crisp cross-shot. The defeat, coupled with other results, was enough to relegate the visitors at what felt a ridiculously early point in the season.
Along with a handful of others no doubt similarly late in buying tickets, we watched from the very back row of the Arthur Wait. From here the view is dominated (but in fairness not impeded) by an intrusive TV gallery. Although this stand is a tidy conversion, its concourse is so cramped that some of the crowd may still be there now. There was a decent atmosphere, albeit more of the happy-clappy variety than at visceral bear-pit grounds of similar age and size like St Andrews and Fratton Park. But lots of fans stand up and sing, the people around us were friendly, and the stewarding was sensible and mercifully free of the nonsense we were subjected to outside.
Teams and goals
Palace: Guaita, Wan-Bissaka, Tomkins, Dann, van Aanholt, Meyer (McArthur 45), Milivojelic, Schlupp, Townsend (Kouyate 80), Batshuayi (Benteke 73), Zaha. Unused subs: Ward, Hennessey, J.Ayew, Kelly.
Huddersfield: Hamer, Smith, Schindler, Kongolo, Durm, Bacuna (Williams 80), Hogg, Mooy, Pritchard (Stankovic 94), Lowe (Kachunga 80), Grant. Unused subs: Coleman, Hadergjonaj, Daly, Rowe.
Goals: Palace: Milvojevic 76 (pen), van Aanholt 88