Why Crystal Palace Need a Healthy Dose of Optimism Right Now

Written by Toby Kinder

There were several times in the last few weeks when I became thoroughly ashamed of my club. Was it the eight game run of defeats? No. Was it the black lives matter pronouncement? No! Was it the ongoing commitment to our current manager? No!!!! Was it the inability to sign a new player within a week of the window opening? NO!!!!! Those kits? NOOOOOO!!!!!

It was the constant volley of negativity linked to each of the above from our fans on social media.I began to dread even looking at the comments under a club ‘happy birthday’ message for Roy lest I’d be left feeling like we’d just lost 0-1 at home to a breakaway on the 89th.

First, the obligatory warning. I’m 58 years old, which means that what follows will come with both perspective and context, both of which appear to be concepts unknown to the get-rich-quick / immediate-gratification / everybody-can-be-a-DJ generation. Those under 30 may well want to look away and not come back.

Secondly, the facts. We’ve just finished fourteenth in the most competitive league in the world. That was our seventh consecutive season in the Premier League. We reached an FA Cup final during that period. The word ‘literally’ is commonly misused, but this was LITERALLY the best decade ever to be a Palace fan. Fact.

Kouyate pray

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It’s my contention that the ubiquity of social media plus the opportunity to know far more about the world game has coincided in a very unfortunate manner with our current success, creating a new breed of fan for whom nothing can ever be good enough. Of course, one answer could be ‘avoid social media’, and, granted, when I see my mates pre-match at the Victory, or when we chat to the fellas next to us in Block Z, I am reminded of what the real Palace is all about, but, unfortunately, supporting your club in the 2020s is no longer about the Croydon Advertiser, Club Call and the match programme; Twitter, Facebook, podcasts and websites are unavoidable if you want to keep on top of things.

Yes, we lost eight in a row. After a performance at Bournemouth that had BBC pundits tipping us as dark horses for Europe. With an ageing squad who, after the weirdest 3 months any of us will ever know, just wanted a break. With a star player we all know is leaving. With absolutely no fear of relegation. Get that - no fear of relegation! Even six years ago, we would have dreamt of it. Lots of the football before that was dull, granted. But we won at Old Trafford. We drew at the Etihad and Emirates. We beat the Weed away. We actually tore Chelsea apart at home during lockdown. Both West Ham wins were such great fun There were some great performances amongst the mediocrity. Fourteenth is really OK for Palace. Back in 2014, fans were crying out for us to become the new Bolton, or Stoke. We have!

Roy Hodgson is a hugely capable manager. Who says so? Pep Guardiola. He was outhought yet again at the Etihad in January, and he knows what a great organiser and tactician our boss is. He’s conservative, which is a weakness, but also a strength. The opprobrium the poor man receives on Twitter is just staggering after the incredible job he has done for us. ‘Get someone younger in!’ is the cry. To be fair, any new appointment will, de facto, be younger, but what does this mean? De Boer was younger, for sure. I saw calls for Wagner after Udders went down, and Farke this year. They’re engaging, young, and German, great. Does what they’ve actually done in the PL suggest that they’re serious alternatives to Roy? The FDB experience showed how dangerous it is to mess with DNA. We are Palace, a scruffy little club from a scruffy corner of SE London, punching way above our weight. How else should we be playing? We’ve always been a direct side with pace. Changing that would take years, and those years would almost certainly include relegation. No manager gets that time any more. For what it’s worth, I think Dyche is a perfect Palace man. And yes, the Twitterati will hate him. But remember what it felt like under Pulis when we couldn’t be beaten? I loved that.

Pulis 2

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Nothing stirs the ire like new signings, or, should I say, lack of. But the hypocrisy here is staggering. Can you imagine if any other PL club’s top scoring player of the year had cost £2.5m? Our keyboard warriors would be aflame. ‘Typical! Why can’t we ever unearth these gems!?’. I walked out of the Etihad with my City mate, and a couple of their season-ticket holders, seeing my scarf, came over and congratulated me on our showing; ‘tell you what, we should have snapped at that Cahill - better than any centre-half on our books’. Even the £3m for McCarthy gave us that bite and shithousery in the middle we hadn’t seen since Cabaye. And, of course, the name that united the FIFA players in ecstacy, Max Meyer, has turned out to be palpably unsuited to the English game. ‘Why don’t we build our team around him?’ goes up the cry. Because he gets knocked off the ball every single time he tries anything other than a sideway pass. A bold move, but a poor one. Yes, we need youth. Yes, we need some excitement up front. But if you throw in Guaita, you’d have to say last summer was remarkably good business.

The new kits are plain. As an ageing mod, I like plain. I happen to think that the white away top is so plain, and at the same time stylish, that I’d consider wearing one myself. The response to the kit launch verged on parody. ‘Disgraceful’, ‘disgusting’, ‘dreadful’ ‘appalling’ were just some of the adjectives wheeled out within nano-seconds of the release. In the age of shadow stripes, fades and zigzags, it’s not going to be appearing in any Just Look At These anthology. But amongst all the bullshit that manufacturers come out with, for me it’s quite refreshing that we don’t have a ‘unique graphic representing the cultural history of Thornton Heath with a jerk chicken motif’ making up our red and blue. And, fans of ‘something different’, just have a look at Watford’s top for 20-21 and revel in plainness.

Beneath all this optimism, I am, of course, a football pessimist. As a South Londoner with no family football history exiled in Devon in the early 70s, I chose Palace as my club aged 9. We were promptly relegated two years in a row. I first got to see the Palace in a cup tie at Home Park in 1975. We were 2-1 down, then got a penalty in the dying minutes. Up stepped our most reliable midfielder, and missed. His name? Terry Venables. The next year, from the third division we got to the Cup semi. And lost. So I don't expect too much from this club. I want to meet my family and friends for a few drinks, then go and support a team that competes. I think my favourite Mr Angry Tweet before my much-needed cull was ‘if Meyer’s not in the team, I’m done with this club’. ‘Done’. There’s a word that separates the supporter from the fan.

Criticism is healthy. Podcasts would be pretty tedious without differences of opinion. But please, please, please, can we not forget where we came from, and who we really are, and in the midst of that, never forget that the answer to almost no question is black or white. Perspective and context aren’t that difficult to uncover, really. I’m down to a very few #CPFC followers on Twitter now, and just ignore comments on Facebook, because it just makes me feel better about a rare something that is in my life to bring joy, and that’s how I want it to stay. There really are some worse things going on in the world than the red stripes on our new shirt not reaching the shoulder.

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