Eating all the jelly
Report by Nick Catley
Great matches? There are a few things that can make them. A tense
relegation decider? Possibly. Exciting matches with loads of lead
changes? Undoubtedly. A great comeback from a hopeless position?
Certainly. A downright thrashing? Usually.
The 1993/94 season had all these, against Peterborough, Peterborough,
Bolton and Birmingham respectively. But somehow, a match I'll always
remember alongside these is a 2-0 win on the last day of the season
between teams who had nothing to play for.
Why? A few reasons. Perhaps the main reason one was - is - the
unbelievable arrogance of every Crystal Palace fan I have ever met. This
isn't to say that they're arrogant people - but every single one I know
honestly believes that they are a big club, whose natural home is the
Premiership. Despite their regular relegations, this is an attitude that
seems to persist, and it was fully present that day. Of course, this was
kind of understandable - they had just won the league, after all - but the
general attitude that they were about to crush us - a side not worthy of
sharing a pitch - was unmistakable.
When this was added to the relative numbers of fans - we'd sold all our
tickets, but that meant about 2,000 among a capacity 28,000 crowd, there
to see off the old Holmesdale Road Terrace, which was being demolished
after the game.
So - Palace were having a party. They'd won the league, it was the last
day on the terrace - it was a day out in the sun. The Shining Path of
Selhurst Park Righteousness would surely overcome whichever mere mortals
the fixture computer had deemed worthy to have goals scored against them
on this Day of Days in the Kingdom of all Good Things.
The cameras were there - lordy, everyone in the South East would be able
to see this most lovable of teams say goodbye to their wickedly imposed
In short, the majority of people at the match, including the TV
commentators, were hardly aware that Watford were playing.
This led to a bit of a "Right, we'll show the bastards" mentality in the
Watford corner. After all, we had something to celebrate as well - we`d
escaped relegation only the previous week. The result was the most
consistent ninety minute singing performance I have ever heard providing a
wonderful antidote to the relentless Eagle love-in going on elsewhere. In
fact, on this biggest of party days, we hardly heard a peep out of the
Palace fans. Anyone with a tape of the game will know just how loud we
But that wasn't all. Being a bit of a pessimist, I was convinced that,
whilst we deserved to win with support like this, we probably wouldn't, as
Palace might just be a better side. After all, they had finished top of
the league and everything, while we...well, you remember the season.
But no. This was not to be a Heroic Defeat, but instead an Up Your Arse
Victory. As Andy Hessenthaler stroked a perfectly placed shot past a
flailing Nigel Martyn from just outside the box, we went absolutely wild
in a way that, if memory serves, was only beaten by the wilder excesses of
Peterborough. The thought of 26,000 glum, possibly painted, faces, only
spurred us on, before the first ever chorus of "1-0 to the Golden Boys"
burst into life. A late goal by the even then folk hero Mooney, made even
better by its bizarreness (bouncing into the ground and over the committed
keeper) just added to the overall celebratory air.
In the end, we'd nicked their party. Rather than being the kids nobody
liked who didn`t get invited for being too fat, as so often seems the
case, we were the bullies who nobody liked because we'd gatecrashed, eaten
all the jelly, spilt the lemonade all over the floor and nicked the prize
from Pass the Parcel. It felt good (I've never wanted to ask too many
questions about what this says about me).
Of course, we've been back - disastrously, without exception. One last
minute of extra time Cup exit, a thrashing which turned out to be Roeder's
last game, and another cup defeat by Wimbledon. But, somehow, these have
only conspired to make me further hate the place, and thus revel even more
in the end-of-season pain inflicted on its inhabitants in May 1994.