Wednesday, October 7, 2015

West Bromwich Albion 0 at Crystal Palace 2 - October 3, 2015


Last week I traveled to England for a couple of Rugby World Cup matches along with several soccer games. The trip began with a rare treat: a Premier League doubleheader. After an overnight flight from Newark, I arrived in London early Saturday morning, clearing customs and dropping my backpack at my hotel. From there, I headed to Selhurst Park, home of Crystal Palace FC, who had rejoined the EPL last season. The ground is close to Selhurst Station on the Southern Line, and you can't get lost following the thousands of supporters who use public transit.



Upon arriving, I met Gary Herman of Royalty Tours there as he was in town for the NFL game between the Jets and Dolphins the next day. As tickets are only sold to members (a common occurrence in the Premier League), we had to find a way in. I had arranged my ticket via Holmesdale.net, a Palace supporters' forum where those with extras advertise, with the caveat that they cannot sell above face value. I ended up getting a concession ticket but had no problem passing through the turnstile, suggesting I look younger than 18 or over 60. Not good either way. The seat was excellent though, in the second row of the Arthur Wait Stand, looking at the top of the box, exactly where I like to sit.



After I had picked up my ticket, Gary and I stood outside the box office and Gary eventually found someone with a spare, also in the Arthur Wait Stand. This meant that we could enter together, as the four stands are separate and you cannot move from one to the other, as is the norm in European soccer stadiums. Before entering, we did a tour around the outside of the ground, which contains a supermarket next to the ticket office.



Another surprising sight is The Crystals, the team's official cheerleaders, who stand in groups around the exterior and pose for photos. During the game, they welcome the players onto the pitch and perform at halftime.



Many European stadiums have body-length turnstiles that make sneaking in very difficult. They are activated when you ticket is scanned. Again, each of the four stands has its own entrances and you must enter via the gate printed on your ticket.



Inside, you can purchase the typical English food items for reasonable prices. Four quid (about $6 these days) gets you a Steak and Ale pie, my hearty recommendation, though the Angus burgers at the stand below were also quite tempting.



One of the highlights of the Arthur Wait Stand is this quote about Ian Wright, who started his stellar career at Crystal Palace. Wright is the father of Bradley and Shaun Wright-Phillips of the New York Red Bulls.



Here is a picture from Gary's seat in row 34, about a section away from midfield. As you can see, it is well covered and the scoreboard was partially blocked, annoying Gary who couldn't see how much time had passed.



Across the way is the Main Stand, which has CPFC painted on the seats.



To the north is the Whitehorse Lane Stand, which contains the newly-renovated executive boxes at the top and more painted seats below.



On the south side is the Holmesdale Road Stand, a two-level area in which the supporters sit. Total capacity is 26,255.



As you can see above, the team is nicknamed the Eagles and before the game, a beautiful bald eagle flew around the ground, resting atop the goal on occasion.



Here are the Palace supporters as the game began. You'd best learn the words to Glad All Over , which is the team's theme and sung several times during the game, including after goals.



I was really happy with my seat as I was surrounded by season ticket holders who primed me for what to expect, and I was very close to the supporters section, which was loud throughout the game. They don't need the scoreboard to get them going, it is completely natural, and non-stop.



As for the game, West Brom was visiting and their strategy was evident early on as they sat back and allowed Palace to attack, hoping to generate chances on the counter. My neighbour called it "Parking the Bus" and it really made the first half rather dull as most of the action was in the other end. The half finished scoreless, but you could sense that Palace would eventually find a goal and midway through the second half, Yannick Bolasie (#10 above) converted an ideal cross from French international Yohan Cabaye to take the lead.



Late in the match, West Brom committed a foul in the area and Cabaye converted the penalty (that's West Brom keeper Boaz Myhill guessing wrongly above) to clinch the affair. West Brom never really threatened, getting only two shots on target and Crystal Palace moved up to fourth in the table with the 2-0 win.



A great start to the trip, but not one that I could reflect upon for long as I had to head across London to Stamford Bridge for the late start featuring Chelsea and Southampton. That will be covered in the next post.

Notes

This was my fifth EPL match and the first one in which the home team won.

Best,

Sean

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