Yes! We finished fourth from bottom
Drawing at Sheffield Wednesday may not warrant an open-top bus parade, but it sure as hell felt like it should.
Football. Bloody Hell. Palace’s 2-2 draw with Sheffield Wednesday was a hideous, nerve-fraying, gut-wrenching game to watch. Possibly the most excruciating game of football I’ve ever had to endure. I felt physically sick at times. And yet, at the final whistle, I was in ecstasy. Pure unfiltered joy. The players went mental too. ‘This is the best moment in my career by a million miles, beats the play-offs, beats everything else’, gushed Palace’s hard man captain Shaun Derry, voice trembling and tears welling.
How can football do this to grown men? How is it that avoiding relegation can feel like winning the FA Cup? I’ve watched some momentous Palace games in my time. We’ve won play-off finals and important cup-ties. We were minutes away from winning the FA Cup in 1990. And yet this result is right up there with the best of them. Not quite as legendary as Alan Pardew’s goal which sent us to Wembley in 1990 or David Hopkin’s 90th minute play-off winner against Sheffield United in 1997. But it comes pretty close. It’s certainly as important as Dougie Freedman’s 87th minute winner against Stockport County which saved us from relegation in 2001. That goal ensured the Doug’s accession to the CPFC pantheon.
Of course you could argue that we shouldn’t be celebrating a draw. We shouldn’t be cracking open the bubbly after finishing fourth from bottom in the Championship. We didn’t win any trophies. We simply survived the drop. It’s not glory as one might commonly understand the term. Sure, this is not the type of result that merits an open-top bus parade or civic reception. This is not an occasion for ticker tape. And yet somehow it feels like victory. Why? Because everything was stacked against us: going into administration, having 10 points deducted, unable to bring in loan players due to the transfer embargo, selling our best player Victor Moses, losing our manager Neil Warnock to QPR. This game seemed to have so much more riding on it. The whole future of the club seemed at stake.
It’s been a nightmarish season. And yet, despite suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Palace somehow scraped enough points to stay up. In these circumstances it was a remarkable feat. I’ll even excuse defender Clint Hill for his momentary loss of perspective: ‘The stuff we have had thrown at us, 10 points deducted, no players in and a transfer embargo, it’s been one hell of a season and for what everyone has achieved at this club I don’t think anyone else has achieved anywhere.’ Admittedly clubs that have actually won stuff might beg to differ but you get his point. Avoiding relegation in the face of overwhelming adversity might not, technically speaking, count as the greatest achievement in football history. But, although no silverware was won, it still feels like a victory of sorts. As striker Alan Lee put it: ‘I’ve not heard of other teams losing 10 points halfway through the season, losing players, not being able to bring other players in, losing your manager and surviving that.’
Keeping Palace up in the face of terrible adversity is, as far as I’m concerned, an act of heroism. All the players are heroes (albeit with a question mark over Stern John). They should be given the freedom of Croydon. They should be given the right to drive their sheep along the Croydon flyover and to carry a ‘naked sword’ in public (or better still to carry a sword while naked). Palace players aren’t the most recognisable of heroes. They won’t be in the running for FIFA player of the year award. Kids in school playgrounds won’t be pretending to be Matt Lawrence or Clint Hill. We don’t have any superstars. No Lionel Messi or Wayne Rooney.
But we do have Shaun Derry. A leader of men. We do have Paddy McCarthy who won every single ball in the air on Sunday. We do have Julian Speroni whose saves kept us in games we should have lost. There’s a brilliant
Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist.
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