Football / Fan's Eye View: No. 23 - Crystal Palace

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The Independent Online
When Blackburn drew 3-3 with us on the opening day of the season, Alan Shearer grabbed all the headlines. But far more important was the goal, a stunning volley scored by Gareth Southgate, that seemed to illuminate our path to a golden future. And for his next trick Southgate beat two Sheffield United carthorses and scored from the edge of the box. The problem was that his second screamer came in December to secure our first Premier League win at Selhurst Park.

Home defeats and scratchy away draws had been our autumn almanac, and with only Cloughie's lot below us, Ron Noades skulked around his fellow chairmen, canvassing support for the expansion of the Premier League. Then, mirroring the recent past (as in 'nine-nil down, four-three up, now we're gonna win the Cup'), Liverpool stepped up to play a pivotal role in our history.

First, with Barnes back fat and proud from injury, they stuffed us 5-0. But before we could start planning next season's journeys to Grimsby and Barnsley, what was virtually our Under-12 side knocked the same Liverpool out of the Coca-Cola. Instantly the new kids joined Southgate in the freshly consecrated Palace Church of Great Potential.

Potential] For the first time in a long time we have started to utter the word that, for over a year, dared not speak its name, the word that is the very credo of the club. All supporters have a rose- tinted view of the future; every year a thousand names are on the cup. But only at Palace is the lie so deeply rooted.

You laugh now at the Barcelona and Brazil kit pretension. you laughed before as Malcolm Allison flashily doffed his fedora. Most of all you laughed at the Team of the Eighties. But for one fantastic year, we all believed in it. We packed 10 seasons of glory into one. No other club could have carried it off.

That's because we are a club without the tradition of Tottenham, without the tight-knit, jellied eel support of West Ham and Millwall, the set-in-stone playing styles of QPR and Wimbledon; without even the fake glamour of Chelsea. A club from dull suburbia, all we have is a belief that a new dawn is always waiting, when the masses of Croydon and south London will flock to Selhurst, a time when London's other clubs will bow down to the mighty Palace . . .

Reality has a habit of pricking our dream balloon. Year after year plans are announced to turn Selhurst into 'the best stadium in London/England/the World'. But a decade ago the previous directors sold one end of the ground to a supermarket chain. The hated Sainsbury logo stares at the Holmesdale terrace, mocking our aspirations. Last season pride took a brutal fall when we sold Ian Wright, for five years the personification of Crystal Palace. His almost adolescent over-exuberance fitted perfectly a club that has never grown up.

Wright's departure also exposed our game plan. Coppell's Palace were stuck in an ugly groove. But it wasn't the ugliness that bothered us, rather the fact that we were going nowhere. Whack and chase had become lob and jog; potential abandoned for stasis. Young and ambitious, Coppell had once exemplified the club's spirit. Until last year when the wheels came off and he seemed to be playing Major to Ron Noades's Lamont, letting the chairman take the fans' flak.

Suddenly he gambled, sold Mark Bright and changed the style. At Palace change is good for its own sake; it gives tantalising glimpses of the promised land. It's taken a while, but now we're winning it all somehow makes sense. Armstrong's goals and skills are threatening to erase the memory of Wright, Steady Eddie McGoldrick looks a natural as sweeper, and Geoff Thomas is back, ready to prove a few critics wrong.

Now we can happily crave good times once more. It doesn't matter that QPR and Middlesbrough should have beaten us, or that Hartlepool and the referee did (who cares about the FA Cup anyway). We're on a run, we're the form team, no longer the pools experts' home-defeat certs. We're addicted to the craving for, not the drug of, success. We could all catch dream fatigue again, but this time I know we'll reach the horizon. Potentially.

David Clee, Crystal Palace member.

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