The story of how one Crystal Palace supporter fell in love with the Eagles through technology, good time, and innocent curiosity.
You’re going to spite me for saying this, but I don’t know an FA Cup without Crystal Palace.
Listen, I get it. There’s nothing worse than people following the loudest beat of the drum that Palace have been pounding during its run through the FA Cup. Bandwagon riders, fans sucking on to the success of a club that has rose to the top of the table, or in this instance, knocking off top flight teams on their way to a major final.
I preface this is because I started following Palace back in December. American’s shifted in waves to football over the past decade and this winter I started diving in. With the combination of advanced technology, fast and harder play on the pitch and viral marketing, the shift in sporting interest has swayed to the World’s Game. Sport fans, like me, have grown tired of the corruption in American football, the choppy play in basketball and the sluggish play in baseball. Football, or soccer, has this exotic feel with fast and fun elements to which we want to explore.
It was one late morning inside Brit’s Pub in Minneapolis, Minnesota that I finally decided to follow through and dive into a sport, dominated across the pond, and cling to a football club with all I had. The process was more brain twisting and heart wrenching than you’d assume because not only was this a club I’d invest my Saturday and Sunday mornings to, it was a decision I’d be married to in my conscious for the rest English Premier League watching life. I had one shot at this.
Understand my psyche here. I mentioned the pub in Minnesota. That’s where I’m from. Our state hasn’t won a championship in the four-major American sports (baseball, football, basketball and hockey) since 1991 when our baseball club, the Twins, won the World Series. Everyone in the state has been through the ringer as a fan. Loyalty is tested on yearly basis with every franchise in my hometown. There’s a flicker of hope in the beginning that’s ultimately crushed with the overwhelming depression of defeat by season’s end. Year after year. Think Newcastle supporters, with a Bournemouth payroll.
It was time for something different, so, my first thought while deciding which club I’d support? No favorites. I’m not looking for glory. I’m searching for passion. Signing up for an army, whether it be red or blue sounded too easy and would lead me to ultimately lose interest. Follow the billionaire oil tycoon money? Eh, I feel likes there’s weird sports karma coming for that club which is an obvious red flag. So, like a good American sports fan, I consulted with Bill Simmons. He’s written endless sports columns for ESPN over the past decade and underwent the similar process I was about to put myself through back in 2005.
I broke down the decision into seven wildly superficial categories. I ranked each category with colors. Blue is a great sign, green translate to good, white means neutral, etcetera…
There are a few categories I should explain, like the sponsor category that I completely ignored so don’t read into that. Also, there aren’t very many American-born footballers in the Premier League, so it was an automatic blue if there was one floating around the club’s team sheet. The city category was tricky. I’ve never been to England so I have no idea if Liverpool is better than Manchester. The only way to explain it is by saying there’s a predetermined conception of cities around the world and London’s is positive.
Simmons makes an appearance at the end. What jumped off the page to me five months after I made this spreadsheet is that nine clubs in the Premier League this season that weren’t there during the 2005-06 season. And of course, this is made possible by the SINGLE greatest rule in sports. I could go on about relegation, but to save time, here’s the *incomplete* spreadsheet in all its glory...
(Click to enlarge)
As you can see, Palace jumped out to me. The Eagles mascot is my home country’s preferred bird so we’re off to good start here. The red, white and blue color scheme happens to be me and my country's favorite colors. Then I found out an eagle – later discovered his name is Kayla – flies around the pitch before matches at Selhurst Park. Palace was forcing some serious attention. The pageantry, aesthetics and history were enough for me to take a chance on the Pride of South London.
The first match I went back to and streamed for reconnaissance, to make sure Palace was the club for me, was the November 28th 5-1 victory over Newcastle. Yannick Bolasie’s powerful speed, Wilfred Zaha poetic footwork and mesmerizing dribbles, and James McArthur’s elegant grit left no questioning of where my loyalty would be placed. This team had talent to go along with the glitz and glamour, and I suddenly knew where my football support belonged.
What made it an easy transition for an American was the unrelenting support from the red ‘n blue army. The lowest point for Palace fans this year was unquestionably the 14-match hiccup streak, which the US should take credit for because the slide down the table began when NBC brought its “Behind the Badge” series to Selhurst. Please accept my apology on the US’s behalf. Anyway, the winless streak should be enough for supporters to call for the manager’s head. But, like Zaha dangling his way past the defense, the Palace support never failed match after match. Hope lived on through the dark time, and by damn was it was inspiring.
In light of the losing, there were these matches played every month or so, intertwined between PL fixtures, that provided hope. FA Cup matches are nearly impossible to watch in the states. FOX’s broadcasting rights left the matches on unknown television channels, forcing me to turn to Twitter for commentary and play-by-play. The FA Cup literally lived on the Internet for American supporters.
Not only did Twitter fill the much-needed Palace-sized whole in my heart, it provided an insight into the minds of common Palace fans, which, like anything on Twitter, was an interesting place to be.
“Just thinking… When we signed Yala, we looked doomed… Since he signed, we've been on a constant upward curve. He's been huge for us.” “Roy Hodgson says #England lacked creativity last night. Could've done with someone unpredictable & lively off the bench imo...Zaha anyone?”
These are just an example of what I was working with across the pond on Twitter. Say what you will about the social media platform, the live stream of 140-character updates had me screaming on the couch, waking up my roommates because I read Zaha just fired a cracker past Stoke’s keeper.
Make no mistake, I’m not here without the technology. Although, the Crystal Palace marketing department deserves a pat on the back for the way they’ve grown the Palace brand. The club’s presence online is notable with easy access to press conferences and behind the scenes footage on the practice pitch has made a fan, thousands of miles away, feel like he’s getting ready for a game at Selhurst or Wembley.
I was conceived about a year after the last time Palace was in the FA Cup Final. And, honestly, the boys playing for glory on Saturday is a fitting way to begin this relationship. It seems silly on the surface for an event of this magnitude to have a profound effect on a supporter who jumped into this in December, but the feeling is there, it’s present with me right now. I would do anything to march into Wembley with you and the red ‘n blue army this weekend.
I’ve fallen into the Crystal Palace world. For me, as an outsider, you can loath it or love it, but the timing couldn’t be better for an American looking for a sport driven by the thousands of supporters chanting, screaming and singing in the crowd. I’m simply, “Glad all over, all over again.”