Monday, August 20, 2007

Awayday Jolly - The Sweet Smell Of Saintcess!

With the lack of material on this site of late, due to my pc packing up I now have an opportunity to share with you a recent event that was indeed the buzz I felt on the opening day of the new footy season.
It arrived on Saturday 11th August and it did so in style, as myself and around 3,000 other Crystal Palace supporters headed down to the South-Coast on a balmy late summers day.

The day began about 10.30am when I met my pal Kevin at East Croydon train station for the first stage of the the journey to Southampton (Saufamptonne, if your from Sauf London of course) wearing my club colours, with a copy of a red top newspaper under one arm and a four-pack of lager under the other.
We hopped on a train to Clapham Junction to join the fast service to Southampton Central.
On our arrival at CJ we were greeted by a throng of red and blue shirts lining the platform. It was if we had hired a 'private' train to ourselves.
I felt the buzz inside of me. The new season was upon us!

It may have been a Saturday but as with most train journeys nowadays there were no seats.....well there were seats, but they were all taken!
In fact in truth we had to push and squeeze ourselves just to get onto the train itself. The doorways were packed with suitcases, anything up to three or four feet high.
Most generous of the travelling tourists we thought as some of us climbed up onto them and sat precariously on the mounds of luggage, necking the first beer of the day.
The look on the owners of the suitcases was priceless. Their faces dropped like canines that had lost their bones. But they were not going to say anything!
Confront a group footy fans on a train, necking beer in between exercising our vocal cords for the match ahead. Far too intimidating I would guess.
More fool them for any one of us would have respectively relinquished our hazardous positions if asked.
The majority of us either sat on the floor or lent on each other, the space was so limited!

One hour 20 minutes later, we arrived at Southampton Central and having joined up with some of our other pals at CJ or as we were being ferried out of the station we only had one thing on our minds - liquid refreshment,( it was a hot day!). We decided to head straight for the town centre rather than get the shuttle bus to the ground - it was only about 12.30 for goodness sake, and we had also made a loose arrangement to meet some more pals in a bar called 'The Standing Order.'
Anyway off we purposefully strode bypassing the cultural sights which rendered zero on the Richter scale, but the humour and banter was top draw all the way.

Now this bar was supposedly a 10 minute walk away from the station, smack bang in the middle of the town centre. Simple enough one would have thought, but oh no, half an hour later and gagging for a drink we found ourselves still aimlessly and vacantly wandering around the streets hopelessly looking for the bar in question. We had politely asked the well dressed locals of the town, who in turn just pointed and told us to keep walking, so we re-grouped and decided to pursue an alternative method of finding this particular venue.
Who did we feel would know the location of the local pubs and bars best?
Yes the local 'down and outs.' So we approached a couple of guys fitting a description not dissimilar and they couldn't have been more helpful or more precise.
Having discovered 'The Standing Order' was a part of the JD Weatherspoon chain they not only told us where to find this particular pub but also 'The Bright Water Inn' and 'The Giddy Bridge' also owned by the same chain.
They were quite charming, and we were most grateful in turn.
Five minutes later we arrived. The pub had a good mix of rival fans, the banter was light-hearted, the sun was out, the beer was flowing and it was just under two hours to kick-off!

As the time approached to move on and head for St. Mary's we all agreed to disagree as to the best way to get to the stadium. As a result it became a case of see you at the game, as some stayed to keep on re-fueling, others slopped off to look for a taxi, while myself, Kevin and six others left and headed in the same direction all the other fans were going.
To be fair this time we found ourselves on course, and even had time to stop off in 'The Anchor,' an old-fashioned ale pub for one final pre-match livener.
Although obviously outnumbered by about eight to one, a sea of red and blue was highly evident and the fans were in good voice, as we approached the impressive St. Mary's stadium. We walked around the outside of the ground to join the near 3,000 Palace fans in the Northam Stand.

Let the game commence!
We were sitting behind the goal in line with the corner flag, the Saint's fans were no more than 50 yards away to our left, and we gave them some stick from the very first minute. In fact we didn't sit down all through the game as what was to follow you usually only dream of.
Southampton, one of the favourites to go up, at home and up against Crystal Palace, 25-1 outsiders to win the Championship....we said on the way down we would settle for a point.
I don't think Taylor or the players had read the script, and the most unlikely of heroes emerged in the shape of James Scowcroft. Five goals in total for the whole of last season, he scored twice in a minute in the first half as Palace took control and the Saint's defence played like something out of a 'Wickes' advertisement. We looked very comfortable, but watching Palace is the ultimate rollercoaster, and in injury time in the first half Southampton nicked a goal back.
2-1 at half-time but as we queued for a lash and more alcoholic refreshment ( yes this was a stadium where the facilities meant you could achieve both during the interval ) you could sense murmurs of discontent among the fans.
Before the game all of us would have settled for a 2-1 lead at half-time but in a bizarre kind of way we felt we had thrown away our advantage by conceding late on in the half.

The second-half began, you could sense the Southampton fans felt their team could turn this one around, but our fans were still in good voice and we looked reasonably in control. Speroni had to tip one over as he had done equally athletically in the first half, but otherwise Southampton to be honest offered little more.
Then with about 20 minutes of the second-half gone it was not a case of whether the Eagles were going to win but by how many!
Scowcroft hit his third, his first hat-rick since 1998, and a couple of minutes later Saint's fans began to leave as Morrisson made it four.
We were delirious, we childishly waved good-bye to the opposing fans, sung our hearts out to the final whistle and at the end gave our players a fantastic round of applause.
How often do you go away from home, on the opening day of the season, watch your team win 4-1 against supposedly far superior opposition, on a beautiful sunny day doesn't get much better!
We all went for a couple of celebratory beers in a pub not far from the station before heading back to London.

But the night was young!
Four of us went back to East Croydon, headed for the 'Porter & Sorter' next to the station, sank a few more libations before deciding what to do next!
Kevin and I were now really reved up, so we said our good-byes and headed into Beckenham to party on. Still in Palace colours and pretty hammered we thought we would probably get thrown out of anywhere before we got in, but no it was only about 8.30pm and Patrick's bar let us in as if we were regulars.
Now it has to be said that this is a bar with a signed and framed Palace shirt hanging up, so maybe we had made a good choice.

Feeling elated and on cloud nine from such a cracking day out Kevin suggests it's time to wheel out the plastic and pop the champagne to celebrate. Not wishing to spoil the moment, he duly comes back from the bar, ice bucket, flutes, bubbly and........spouts those immortal words, 'Ladies would you like a glass,' as we suddenly 'seemed' to have become very popular in a heaving bar in the space of a few minutes.
A couple of middle-aged drunken footy fans under the influence maybe, but sober enough to enjoy the moment.
The night went on in much the same vain and they had to literally kick us out in the early hours of Sunday morning.

The only problem was we were probably two of 150 other people in the proximity all wanting a minicab home.
At this point we decided to draw stumps, it was late, well early to be precise and we each went our separate ways and 'walked' home.
It was nearly 4am when I hit the sack but what more can I say except......

Great Game!
Great Fans!
Great Day!

Apologies To Readers Of This Blog.

Due to my pc 'crashing and burning' about ten days ago and with the ISP from hell, I have been unable to access my computer and internet to write any articles of late.
Please bear with me as I expect this problem to be rectified shortly.


Thursday, August 02, 2007