Saturday, 5 January 2013

London Football: FA Cup 3rd Round day - Crystal Palace 0 Stoke City O

It's 12.48pm. BBC TV football commentator Jonathan Pearce's excited cackle bleeds through mobile phone headphones worn by a  nearby train passenger, writes Paul Coleman.
   Pearce is describing the ebb and flow of today's early FA Cup 3rd round clash between Brighton & Hove Albion and Newcastle United. I first watched an FA Cup third round tie some 35 years ago. In those days, the idea of live match commentary piped via a mobile  telephone to a man on a train would've been dismissed as utter science fiction.
  I'm on my way to watch another FA Cup tie. Championship hopefuls Crystal Palace will take on Premiership tough guys, Stoke City, at Palace's Selhurst Park stadium in south London. A Crystal Palace club was originally formed by  workers at the Victorian era Great Exhibition but the current club was founded in 1905.
Nostalgic aroma
Smoking is now banned in English football stadiums, including Crystal Palace. Outside the stadium, next to a huge van containing police horses, a man with a clipboard drags on a fat cigar. The aroma wafts my mind nostalgically back to those FA Cup ties 35 years ago when cigar smoke filled the air inside stadiums. 
   2.30pm. The ticket office girl smiles and sells me a ticket for seat 51, row 31, Block C in the Holmesdale Road grandstand. I pass through the turnstile and inside buy a bacon cheeseburger. 
   "That's wiv, or wivout, mate?"
- "What's wiv or wivout?"
"Wiv onions or not?"
With a 'cutta tea', my luncheon costs £6.50.
   I happily munch next to a patch of grass on which rests a small plaque, some flowers and mementos. The plaque reads: 'The ashes of Crystal Palace fans lie here. They come to every match. Please show them respect'. 
  A younger man  walks by and says to an older man. "Dad, that's where we gonna put you."
- "Don't be 'orrible," chunters the older man.

Glad it's over
Crystal Palace and Stoke City emerge to a raucous Palace fans' rendition of 'Glad All Over'. Stoke strikers Peter Crouch, now  aged 31, and Michael Owen, 33, start the match for Stoke, renewing a once lucrative goal-scoring partnership for England's national team. Crouch's lanky frame contrives to miss an open goal from inside the six-yard box. 
   Owen's fading career is now in gloomy twilight.  The play and the ball  bypass him constantly. His few touches prove ineffectual. Not surprisingly, Owen is substituted only five minutes into the second half.
   Wilfred Zaha combines skilfully with his attacking team-mates but  Crystal Palace's spidery-limbed young star limps off early in the second half to a standing ovation interspersed with mutterings about his lack of upper body strength.  
   Palace huff and puff with admirable possession play but lack both guile and muscle to break through the  towering red and white timbers of Stoke's defensive forest. Stoke simply play to their strengths - superior height strength - to stifle Palace. They deaden the tie so it lulls towards a final scoreless stalemate. 

Knowing smile
But Stoke's cumbersome football fails to silence Palace's admirably loud and good humoured fans. Now I know why the ticket office girl smiled. In Block C everybody stands during entire games singing their hearts out for Palace's red and blue Eagles. 
It's 4.53 pm. Referee Neil Swarbrick blows the final whistle. 
My seat is still cold. 
We've all watched the entire 90 minutes standing up. 
Just like when I watched football in my 'old days'.

FA Cup Third Round, Saturday, 5 January 2013
Kick-off: 3pm
Venue: Selhurst Park
Result: Crystal Palace (0) 0 Stoke City (0) 0
Attendance: 13,693
Replay scheduled 15 January at Stoke City

My ticket: £20 
Programme: £3  Ranked 8/10
Burger & Tea: £6.50    6/10
Match quality: 4/10
Best player on view: Wilfred Zaha
Disappointment: Michael Owen
Atmosphere: 7/10 

Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, January 2013


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