You Know Us by Our Noise - What Does the HF Split Mean for the Atmosphere at Selhurst Park?

Written by Tony Peers

Whether fans attend grounds to watch the beautiful game or socialise, in my opinion a large reason is the atmosphere. It’s a big motivation that gets supporters from attending the odd game to buying a season ticket and, as we know, Selhurst Park has a reputation for being one of the best in the league. Let’s face it, it isn’t for slick football or numerous trophies we’ve won. It’s a part of the experience that helps you to live and breathe the game and something that can give you goose bumps when the stadium is rocking. Take ‘Crystanbal’ as a great example.

We have a significant reputation in the league for our atmosphere and this is in no small part thanks to Palace’s Ultra group: The Holmesdale Fanatics. Love them or hate them, there is no doubt that the Holmesdale Fanatics have helped to create what is the envy of many clubs across the UK and beyond. However, what are the fanatics about and why doesn’t every Palace fan have the same affection for the group that the board and players seem to have?

The fanatics were formed in 2005 by a group in the Holmesdale stand that were sick of the stale atmosphere from SE25. It was almost understandable at the time. Palace been relegated back to the Championship after almost surviving in the top division for the first time. However, football atmosphere was something that had been declining for many years and was indicative of the way English football support was going. Other than a few rare examples, most clubs lacked much of an atmosphere which was unlike many of our European counterparts. The group decided that Palace would lead the way in the UK and try to bring come of the colour, excitement and more importantly: noise that made attending games overseas sometimes hair-raising even if you didn’t support the team.

The Ultra’s movement of support is about increasing the visual and audible aspects of supporting your team. Lots of banners, flags and noise to try and raise the roof and making your home an intimidating place to visit for travelling teams. Ultra’s groups have been on the continent for decades with them being common place in Italy, Germany and eastern Europe. The vast majority of ‘Ultra’ fans are there to help support the team, but unfortunately a small minority’s passion overspills and violence has occurred by those extreme supporters. Ultimately though, the Ultra’s are about ‘bringing the noise’.

I spent the 2009-10 season sitting with the Fanatics and the effort that goes into this is phenomenal. Most of the time and money that goes into the Tifo’s (full stand displays) comes from the group itself and we can all agree there is a feeling of pride when those images are shown in the media. I still adore the ‘Saw’ theme that was displayed at the beginning of our current Premier League era. It is this visible passion that has gained support from the players and board who acknowledge all the hard work that goes into trying to help motivate the team into giving that extra 10%. It doesn’t just stop with following the first team home and away. Their efforts during the administration year before promotion to help keep the club together was news worthy and the fanatics have also shown support at youth and ladies games to try and engrain this passion into other areas of Crystal Palace, but this enthusiasm has rubbed a number of supporters up the wrong way.

As I’ve mentioned, not every fan enjoys the manner in which the Fanatics show their support. Many fans get frustrated when our Chairman was deemed to ‘favouritise’ the group by allowing them to nominate where they would like to sit and even allow them to have their own ‘Player of the Year award’ was usually presented during the lap of honour at the end of the season. They are also often accused of dictating what chants are sang on match days rather than going with the flow of the crowd, much to the angry of other fans. On a few occasions, the group have refused to conduct the singing and the impact is obvious.

When Fanatics aren’t in chorus the noise is reduced to start/stop chanting with no cohesion around the ground. Therefore, even the ‘haters’ have to acknowledge the hard work that goes into creating the raucous atmosphere we’re famous for. Since being promoted to the top tier, their reputation has grown. Often when I mention my team allegiances to outsiders many mention ‘those lot in the corner’. Our atmosphere is what separates us from many of the ‘top’ sides where the grounds are stale and full of ‘day tripper’ fans also famously named ‘the prawn sandwich brigade’ by Roy Keane. Even those fans who attend Selhurst, simply to catch a football game, seem to get caught up in the atmosphere and it’s that experience that helps to grown our fan base. It’s even in one of our club’s slogan’s: Be Loud, Be Proud and Be Palace.

Over the close season this year, there have been rumours of a change. The talks around the forums were that the Fanatics had requested to be moved behind the goal potentially thinking about casting their influence further and having an impact on the whole stand rather than just the corner. Watching the game, you can see that only half the Holmesdale lower spends the match standing (even if they technically shouldn’t be: a conversation for another time).

However, this would mean other supporters, who may have had their seats for many years, having to move to block B or somewhere else completely and I’m sure the club would not try and accommodate this. What seems to have angered many fans was not the request to move, but the group supposedly disbanding over the dispute. An email has already come out from the club explaining that the HF “will no longer be present as an organised group” and offering fans the opportunity to move to block B. The HF have not ‘formally’ stated their disbandment but a statement before the first game reads:

At the end of the day, many will agree the match day experience would not be the same without them. Maybe the group will restart during the season or maybe not. Maybe a new group will form in the ashes of the former but their efforts over the past 12 seasons should never be forgotten. Even if we don’t play always play the attractive football that ‘big’ teams are known for, there is one legacy that the Holmesdale Fanatics have helped football recognise Crystal Palace for. ‘You know us by our noise!’