Thursday, 30 May 2013

I'll Get You Butler

It was finally the 27th May 2013 and the incredibly long wait for the Championship play-off final had arrived at last. At 07:30am the alarm went off. I had had a fairly bad night’s sleep, went to bed feeling quite relaxed on the surface but inside my head, the cogs must have been winding away and pulling at my inner stress cords.  I woke up my daughter (Daisy) and we got ourselves ready for the massive day ahead. 

It was now 09:00 and we were waiting for a local Palace friend (Chris and daughter Adele) at Petts Wood Station.  We were pleased to see a few other people in the beautiful red and blue waiting to embark on their trips up to Wembley.  We all wished each other well and went in our various planned directions. The nerves were building already when we arrived at Penge East and walked round to Penge West to catch the #PalaceBus.  Standing in front of us were two stunning bright red Routemasters. Before long, they were draped in flags and balloons and even a stuffed Eagle was mounted on the front.

The bus left not long after 10am and made its way up to Wembley Stadium.  The bus pumped out  Palace anthems all the way up to the stadium and we sang along, much to the bemusement of the many people that we passed on our way.  The journey was a happy and positive trip and I wondered if the return trip would be the same. The bus finally pulled into the Green Man pub at around 12:15 after nearly running over some Watford fans on the way up the final hill. The pub was splattered with red and blue everywhere and tonnes of Palace fans. I was really pleased to see some recognisable CPFC regulars (Steve, Dan (with his son Olly), Gary, Alistair, Joe, Dave, Graham and Peter (Gary’s Dad).  Although we did not travel together or have tickets in the same blocks, it was good to see them as it felt that it was a normal occurrence before a Palace game and in a funny kinda of way it, the familiarity had settled my nerves a little. 

Not long after 2pm and we made my way down to the looming stadium ahead having stopped off at the green on the way for a final beer.  The pressure was starting to build as we walked up the approach and into the stadium. This was the first time that I had been to the new Wembley. 
The first glimpse into the stadium was immense as the gladiators amphitheatre opened up in front of us.  We made our way to Row 43, Block 133 and blew up our balloons in readiness.  We watched in anticipation as the stadium filled up around us and the virtual pressure cooker began to steam. I was very grateful to be “seated” at the west-end of the stadium as the other end was strewn in bright sun-light which did nothing to warm me in any way to the gaudy yellow shirts that faced us. The atmosphere was electric as the game built up and the players finally emerged from the tunnel to rapturous cheering and applause from the Palace faithful.  The stadium was instantly painted red and blue and thousands of balloons from the Palace end went into the air.  That was an amazing site.

After a bit of God Save the Queen and a few Palace favourites, the game kicked off. Wilf set out his stall early with some great skill.  He was gonna give the fans a treat that afternoon as part of his final farewell.  The Watford defence were instantly doubling (even trebling) up on him every time he got the ball.  In general, the first part of the game was pretty level pegging with both teams cancelling each other out and not a great deal in the final third.  Wilbs has a shot on eight mins. Joel Ekstrand booked in the tenth minute for unsporting behaviour – love that!  Watford corner on thirteen was cleared from danger.

Palace needed to make a substitution in the sventeenth minute for the injured KG. Stuart O’Keefe joined the action. This was followed nearly ten minutes later when Jedi went into the book. The match reached half time with no real scares at either end.  A few corners and crosses, all of which were cleared.  You could see however that Palace had the much better half and were stifling the Watford creative flair that they had shown throughout the season. Olly’s game plan was definitely working in much the same way as it did away at Brighton.

The second half kicked off.  An early shot from Watford went wide and right of the target.  A further effort from Watford was blocked by Delaney. Palace gained a free kick just before 55 minute mark but, it was saved by Almunia followed by a poor shot (luckily) from Geijo which Speroni gathered. Almen “Should have kept my mouth shut” Abdi went into the book in the book on 58 mins followed by O’Keefe who had kicked the ball at the Watford player. This later turned out to be the second best shot of the day as it hit Abdi straight in the mush.  He definitely then made the most of it by holding his face and rolling from side to side (proper continental style).  Joniesta was replaced by Phillips in the sixty fifth minute. Jonny had a great game and showed real skill and composure. Joel Ward was booked 10 minutes from the end and Garv’s was replaced by Moritz eighty four mins.  Diving Forestieri joined the game in the eighty fifth minute as extra time loomed fast.

A final flurry in the final few minutes with shots from Deeney followed by shots from Zaha, Jedinak and Wilbs.  The ref then blew for the end of normal time. Palace we still in the ascendency and had definitely been the better side. Extra time kicked off.  A save by Speroni was followed by another absolutely fantastic save by Speroni who managed to get a strong hand on the ball and push it away at the last minute from Troy Deeney.  Further crosses and clearances followed and the crowd become more tense with the prospect of penalties on the horizon.  Moxey was booked on 103 mins.

In the final minute of the first period of extra time, Wilf made another mazy run into the Watford penalty area and was brought down by Cassetti in the Watford defence. The ref instantly awarded a penalty and the Palace end erupted. After the initial euphoria, it was like somebody had stuck the plug back in the bottle as realisation set in that we had to score from the penalty.  The Palace end went quiet in anticipation. Super Kevin Phillips placed the ball on the spot and on the big screen you could see that he meant business after his previous disappointments in the play-off finals for other clubs.  Cassetti stood in on the edge of the box with his face in his hands.  The ball blasted high and right of the keeper into the top of the net and passed the out-stretched arm of Almunia – Booom! The place went absolutely mental and in the furore that followed I was knocked over and into Daisy who also went flying.  I grabbed hold of her to stop her falling but, we didn’t care…. We were 1-0 up in the play-off final with only another 15 mins of ET to play.  The whistle blew for half time (of extra time).

The second period kicked off and the Palace fans were cheering on their side with everything they had.  It was going to be very nervy indeed and you could cut the tension with a knife. Extra time saw a few attempts on the Palace goal and some action at the other end too. The worst bit by far was the final 5 minutes of additional time. This felt like the whole duration of the game so far condensed into this final piece of action. As the Palace fans whistled to encourage the ref to blow the whistle, Joel Ward made an amazing clearance off the line in the final minute from a Forestieri shot.  At this point, it actually felt like we were going to do it. There was one final scare into additional time when Deeney’s knock on hit Gabbidon on the shoulder before going past Speroni’s right hand post.  Two further corners for Watford and the final whistle blew. The Palace end exhaled and went wild.

This short report does not do much justice to the efforts from the team on the day. Wilbraham did well holding up the ball, Jedi was immense throughout, Jonny’s cameo was great, KG had done well and O’Keefe did really well to come on after such little first team action, Moritz had made an impact in the time he was on, Phillips was amazing in showing the sheer guts to convert the penalty (a true professional), Speroni was solid in addition to his world-class save and Wilf had ran them ragged all day.  My absolute respect however on the day went out to the back 4 who were amazing. Moxey and Gabbdon did massively well, Ward was fantastic and Delaney was just a giant and for me, my personal man of the match for his energy and blocking challenges throughout the game.  Amazing! 

Extra time finally came to an end and the Palace players (and fans) leapt into the air.  We had bloody well done it !! Daisy was in floods of tears, I had tears running down my cheeks and people around me were the same. National hug a stranger day was now fully in flow as the Palace fans congratulated one another. The hash-tag #cpfcfamily felt stronger than ever as all Palace fans were united in the jubilation of this great win and the stress flooded out. Yet again, we were pitched as under-dogs and yet again we had defied the odds. A previous blog on The Eagles Beak from @Ashford_Eagle (Tim Warren) sprang to mind “Write us off at your peril”. The tears were the release of a roller-coaster of a season.  The, could we get automatic promotion? The, could we seal our place in the play-offs?  The home and away legs against “them” on the South Coast and the pressure of the actual day itself not to mention a number of events in our history.

“We Love You” rang out around Wembley Stadium and before too long the players went up to accept OUR trophy.  It was great to see Mile Jedinak lift the trophy but, only after ensuring that Paddy McCarthy also had hold of the base too to lift it together. The cheers from the Palace end continued all the way down the Palace squad with the loudest ones saved for our Wilf and  Glenn Murray.  Both looked completely overwhelmed and we had now officially #DoneItForMuzza

It was fantastic to see Ian Holloway lift the trophy. At times, he has had his critics but, the man proved many people wrong. We may have had a blip at a bad time in the season but, we had shrugged this off, sealed our play-off place, beaten Brighton over 2 legs and won the final.  All of this must go down to Olly and the way he has kept control and set his team out in a way that he knew would cause trouble and difficulties to our opponents. He had a game-plan and the players had kept to it to the letter.

The players made their way down onto the pitch slowly with the trophy.  At this point I would like to thank the 4 Watford fans that had stayed behind to cheer off their boys and show appreciation to the winning team.  I think for many that left as the whistle blew, it was the first time their arses had left their seats since the game had started over two hours ago. The Palace team then lined up behind the Champions 2012/13 signage and the champagne flowed as the fireworks flew into the air.  Delaney was beside himself in front of the signs.  I have since watched the game again and I was incredibly touched with the big man’s tears on the steps at Wembley.  Just goes to show what it meant to him personally and, as a key player at Palace.

Wembley Stadium pumped out Glad All Over which was fantastic and, then Let it Be which was beautiful digitally re-mastered by the Palace fans into a rousing rendition of Glenn Murray, Glenn Murray, scoring goals for Palace, Glenn Murray. A very fitting tribute to a man that had helped massively in securing many a result along the way with his extraordinary tally of 30 league goals for the season.  I felt sorry for him standing there on his crutches but, it was genuinely a great moment and I am sure that he felt the love. Little Joniesta and Joel Ward ran the line a few times like excited school kids with the trophy which was also great to see. We departed the stadium to the sound one We Come 1 by Faithless – a fitting entrance and exit track. 

We are Premiership, say we are premiership rang out in the rear and outside the stadium as the thousands of fans departed on their way back in the general direction of home or the Green Man in our case in readiness to board the home-ward bound bus. The bus on the return journey was just amazing and really added to the day in general. Glad all over played and played along with a few other songs as we made our way back to south-east London.  Many of the people that we saw on route took pictures, gave us a thumbs up, happy smiles and waved as we trundled along through north London, into Chelsea ;o) and along the Embankment before finally landing in amongst the SW/SE postcodes with the bus still jumping.

Just one more opportunity for a bit of Glad all over as we pulled into home turf – Brilliant! We then caught the train back to Petts Wood where we enjoyed another quick celebration snifter in the Daylight Inn.  To my delight, the place was full of Palace fans returning home and watching SkySports News.  This just finished off an absolutely perfect day with Palace fans at the beginning, middle and end of our day.

I would really like to thank Cameron Laing and the boys on the bus for making it so memorable but, I really want to thank Karen at Europa International for arranging the buses and helping to make it such a memorable day for us and so many other fans.  We loved every minute of it!
Since this monumental day, I have had the opportunity to re-live the whole game, celebrations and interviews.  As mentioned, I was blown away by Damo’s passion on the stairs, the singing (especially for 30 goals Murray), the cup lifting, the out-pouring of love for Wilf and the general celebrations and smiling faces but, I was also really impressed with the interview with Gianfranco Zola.  He showed a massive amount of respect, gave Palace the credit for being the better team on the day and was very humble.  A true gentleman of the game.

Final thanks must go out to the Famous CPFC including the team, squad, manager, back-room staff, CPFC2010 and anybody else connected with the club.  It has been an amazing journey this season but, we kept the faith and have reaped the rewards. Now we find ourselves in the Premiership.  Based on current talk, we are complete underdogs but we at Palace know what that means so we will probably finish top and book our spot in the Champions League next season.  Get your passports ready – we’ll soon be off to Barca.

Article for The Eagles Beak by Paul Price (@P_CPFC_Price)

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