What does it mean to be a Crystal Palace fan in 2017?

By - Friday 17th February, 2017

Tom Lickley is in a reflective mood after the Eagles’ latest defeat

Passionate and addicted Palace fans.
Photo by Richard Fisher, used under Creative Commons licence.

There seems to be little need to pick apart Palace’s 0-1 defeat away at Stoke City last Saturday, rock-bottom confidence and an organised and effective home side the dominant factors.

Instead, as the Eagles seemingly slide towards another phase in the so-called ‘wilderness’ that is English football outside of the Premier League, it seems pertinent to stop and philosophise about what it means to be a supporter of Crystal Palace. Even the most ardently positive Palace fan would have slipped into the throes of nihilism as their team enters the fourteenth consecutive month of poor form, the current run starting following a dramatic last minute victory away at Stoke City in the week before Christmas 2015.

Wind the clock back to May 2013 and victory over Watford at Wembley to ensure a return to the Premier League after an eight-year absence. The scenes of joy at such an unexpectedly successful season – the Eagles had finished 21st, 20th and 17th in the three seasons prior – radiated across a feel-good summer. Had Palace fans been told that four years later they would still be competing in the Premier League, having been nine minutes from a maiden FA Cup triumph, securing memorable results against Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City to name but three and watching multi-million pound, famous European footballers don the red and blue, there would have been disbelief.

Whilst Palace isn’t life and death, it emulates and heightens the emotions of ‘real world’ situations on a weekly basis

Naturally, each one of the 25,000 hardy souls that walks through the turnstiles at Selhurst Park will have a unique interpretation of what Palace means to them and how it fits into their lives. Many were first brought by family members or close friends, becoming quickly hooked. I say without exaggeration that supporting a football club is powerfully addictive; the endorphin rush of celebrating a vital goal or victory isn’t very easily replicated in any other sport, or even walk of life, which is greatly responsible for football’s popularity in general.

Once you’ve followed a team for a while and you start to care about their fortunes, the meaning of every goal and win intensifies exponentially. Palace fans are greatly missing this ‘drug’, with only 4 Premier League victories and 20 goals to celebrate in 22 games at Selhurst Park since 12th December 2015.

If you were to candidly ask any Palace fan why they watch their team, few would say that it is to get a fortnightly endorphin rush however; many would respond that they go to see their team win, to see Palace compete for trophies and play and win against the best clubs and players. Is this really why you go to Palace though?

Of course, victories and goals are fantastic. But is spending an afternoon with your family, or having a beer with mates before trundling up to Palace, or singing and celebrating with strangers the real reason that we watch what is, when boiled down, a very expensive and time consuming hobby?

A rather special record Palace will mark next season is 40 consecutive years in the top two divisions of English football

Humans are social animals and have a very real need to be part of a community. Whilst Palace isn’t life and death, it emulates and heightens the emotions of ‘real world’ situations on a weekly basis. This binds the Palace-supporting community closer than, say, the employees of a company or many other communities. In the developed world where much of life is routine and shocks – good or bad – occur on a more infrequent timescale than at any other time in history, following something which provides excitement and uncertainty on a weekly basis has increased meaning.

Is the Premier League essential to the experience of supporting Crystal Palace? As Palace fans, we are very fortunate to watch one of the country’s best teams. Indeed, a rather special record that Palace will mark next season is 40 consecutive years in the top two divisions of English football. Only Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United, Everton, West Ham United, Newcastle United, Ipswich Town and Aston Villa boast a similar record (it’s notable that Palace is the only team in this group never to win a major trophy or compete in Europe! A great example of ‘typical Palace’). Across this period, Palace has tended to finish in either the lower reaches of the top division or upper half of the second division. Both have their merits.

After the experience of four years in the Premier League, I have personally concluded that it isn’t watching talented, famous players, high quality football and the prestige of being part of the world’s most watched sports league that attracts me to Crystal Palace. It’s being part of something that my family also supports, an interest which enables me to instantly strike up a conversation with a total stranger, a method of escapism during life’s highs and lows. I, and we as Palace fans, don’t need the Premier League for that.

Having said that, Palace is still somehow only a victory away from escaping the relegation zone. This journey isn’t over yet.

Tom Lickley

Tom Lickley

Contributing a variety of roles to the Citizen since early 2013, Tom now focuses upon regeneration, urbanism and real estate writing. He is a strategic communications consultant specialising in the real estate sector, and counts a number of the world's largest investment and fund management companies amongst his clients.

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