(actual posting date – 2 January 2017)
Match nineteen v Watford (away)
Match twenty v Arsenal (away)
Total mileage – 3,814.5
I don’t really need another reason to be glad I’m not a West Ham fan, but the festive fixture list gave me one anyway. The Hammers had a long trip on Boxing Day down to Swansea. Had that been Palace instead, my challenge would have failed: being away for Christmas Day was not an option. Oh for the days when Boxing Day meant a local derby.
For Palace, fortunately, the Boxing Day trip was more manageable: around 30 miles each way across London to Watford. The only slight fly in the ointment was that the match was live on telly, which meant an early kick off and therefore an early-ish start for me. I set off at around 9am, with the previous day’s Christmas lunch sitting a little heavily in my stomach. But – festive over-indulgence notwithstanding – it was a largely uneventful but enjoyable ride North, with very little traffic to negotiate. My route took me through (among other places) Twickenham and Ickenham, making me think I was in a round from Only Connect.
I was met at Vicarage Road by Watford’s Supporter Liaison Officer, Dave Messenger. Dave took me into the ground and we had a quick photo op before Dave got back to his normal match day duties. It had been a few years since I’d been to Vicarage Road and there were noticeable improvements to the ground in that time. In particular, I was impressed with the facilities for the disabled. Dave and I are in the away fans disabled area in the above picture: giving a great view from behind the goal (and a much better position that when Janet had previously been there with her father and had to sit with the home fans).
The next I saw of Dave was as he was interviewed on the big screen pre-match. He was talking about an excellent and innovative facility at the ground: a sensory room to enable autistic children and young people to enjoy the match in a safe environment. https://watfordfc.co.uk/club/introducing-sensory-room. It’s great to see things like this, and I’d love it if Palace followed suit.
It had, of course, been all change at Palace since the previous game. Alan Pardew had departed and Sam Allardyce was the new man at the helm. The early signs for the new era were good. Palace were far the better team in the first half and the previously under-performing Andros Townsend and Johan Cabeye combined for the latter to open the scoring. Palace then had a great chance to double their lead, but Christian Benteke’s woeful penalty was easily saved. That’s now three penalties Palace have missed this season (two by Benteke; one by Cabeye). When you’re down at the bottom end of the table, you can’t afford to waste opportunities like that.
The second half proved that some things haven’t changed. First, Palace still seem unable to play well in both halves of a game; and it wasn’t a great surprise when Watford equalised with a penalty of their own. The other thing that hadn’t changed was that referee Mark Clattenburg cost Palace yet again: booking Wilfried Zaha for a dive rather than awarding Palace a penalty. And so the Allardyce regime started with a point.
Between Christmas and New Year my cycling took a rather different form. We had a short break at Center Parcs with some other families and I had a lovely time pootling around on the bike with my five year old daughter and our friends.
The second trip North of the holiday period was an even shorter one to Arsenal on New Year’s Day. It was another televised match, but at least the 4pm kick off meant I had time to get over my hangover.
I’ve been very lucky with the weather on my travels so far; and I’ve been pretty well prepared when it hasn’t been at its best. This trip, however, was an exception. The rain was just starting as I set off; and I hadn’t really gone into full waterproof mode. By the time I reached the Emirates Stadium (a ride of under an hour and a half) I was drenched: my feet in particular were soaked and very cold. It didn’t then help that the roof at the stadium doesn’t seem to do anything to protect the lower tier from the weather. Still, I wasn’t the only one who had misjudged their clothing: my friend Andy had plumped for canvass shoes for the day.
My family is divided between Palace and Arsenal supporters. One of my brothers and I are Palace fans (along, I’m glad to say, with Janet and her family: I married well). My other brother and his two children are, however, lifelong Arsenal fans whilst my dad has also been a big Gooner since some time in his mid-50s. In terms of family bragging rights, they pretty much always fall on the Arsenal side – I went to every Palace v Arsenal game home and away from 1989 to 2005 saw us manage only one win and two draws. This match was no exception. Arsenal completely outplayed Palace in the first half; the only real surprise was that they only scored one. What a goal it was, though – and incredible back heel into the top corner by Olivier Giroud.
A second goal followed early in the second half. Palace’s performance improved a bit after that – but that was probably as much due to Arsenal easing off. The only consolations were that Palace’s goal difference didn’t take a battering and there was nothing controversial to fall out over when I met by dad, brother, niece and nephew for a post match drink.
The weather had improved somewhat for the journey home and I made good time across London to be home before 8.30pm. I was also feeling more philosophical. A draw at Watford wasn’t a terrible result and we were never likely to get anything at Arsenal. The crucial game is the one next up: at home against Swansea City. If we fail to win that, then relegation will start to look very likely…