Mark Steel: Palace life is all about losing on penalties

So began the sickening pain that compels you to stare into the middle distance for two days

I've read a bit about the Cuban missile crisis, when for a few days the world wobbled on the edge of nuclear war. But I bet it was a doddle compared to the nerves of being a Crystal Palace fan in the days before Tuesday's second leg of the Carling Cup semi-final against Cardiff City.

Supporters of the richest clubs may not understand this, as they're so used to semi-finals, but for a club like Palace it's one of the few moments when we suddenly feel nationally important.

The match was on BBC2, so people wanting to watch something about galaxies and stuff couldn't, because of us. Alan Hansen would have to learn our players' names and pretend he knew about them so he could make insightful comments such as "That lad's looked decent this season".

And it mattered because two years ago the club was in administration and almost folded, and because to get to the semi-final we beat Manchester United at Old Trafford. My teenage son went to that game and I'd spent two weeks ensuring there would be no disappointment by squashing any faint hope he had that we might win. "Enjoy it as a brilliant day out, but don't even imagine, not for a second, not as a flickering dreamy possible scenario in a parallel universe, that we might win."

And then we won, and it was gloriously joyously magnificent and for a few days Jeremy Clarkson could have been made Minister for Foreign Affairs and I wouldn't have cared because we'd beaten United.

One United player that night, Dimitar Berbatov, was bought for a sum that could buy our whole club, and now our team, many of which are local lads, had to beat Cardiff to get to the final. We won the home leg 1-0, so watching the second leg in the bar at Palace's ground was tense. But so were the players, and they barely had a shot in the whole game. Cardiff scored to equalise, then for nearly two hours the ball hit our bar, our post, went just over, just wide, and probably just under, until all our nerves and organs were reduced to gibbering mush.

Somehow it got to penalties. At this point I considered leaving, not looking up the score, buying a ticket for the final, so only when I saw which teams ran out would I know how the penalties had gone.

Even now it seemed impossible we'd go through. We'd been so outplayed even if we won the shoot-out the linesman would flag our penalties for offside. Three Palace attempts were woeful, and so began the sickening pain that you know is irrational but compels you to stare into the middle-distance for two days unable to take solids. In that time if you met a Somalian peasant who told you his troubles you'd say "Yes, but at least you didn't lose a semi-final on penalties."

But unlike some fans of the richest clubs, who feel winning cups is their entitlement, everyone accepted this as part of the Palace experience. No one complained about the players, the manager, or the club, all of which are still revered.

On the website yesterday a fan asked for advice, as his eight-year-old was "inconsolable" and hadn't slept. Someone replied: "Tell him if he looks after himself he can look forward to another 80 years of nights like that." That's why it's worth supporting a team like Palace.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor