(actual posting date – 3 February)
Match twenty six vs Manchester City FA Cup 4th Round (home)
Match twenty seven vs Bournemouth (away)
Total mileage 4,615.4
FA Cup 4th round weekend always falls around the time of my birthday. When Palace were drawn to play Manchester City at Selhurst Park on my birthday, I didn’t expect any presents and so it proved. Yaya Toure had to wait until the last minute for his inevitable goal: a direct free-kick which rounded off a routine 3-0 victory for City. The most notable part of the game was the sudden hail storm (which thankfully came during the match rather than during the ride). There was also the slight farce of the officials not realising Palace had brought on substitute Loic Remy at half time, so that one minute into the half he was led to the edge of the pitch to have his studs checked before being allowed to resume – but other than that, a pretty forgettable game for Palace fans.
Hailstorm (photo Hy Money)
The FA Cup fourth round did bring some good news though. One mile from my house, my actual local team Sutton Utd beat Leeds to secure a place in the fifth round and a visit from Arsenal. Lincoln City, the other non-league team in the tournament, knocked out Palace’s rivals Brighton and Hove Albion. And Liverpool were also knocked out. Had they reached the semi finals of the Cup, then Palace’s trip to Anfield in April would have had to be re-arranged, with no guarantee I’d have been able to make the trip for the revised date.
The ‘bonus’ part of my challenge – Cup games – had ended. Palace had played the last of their five Cup games this season. I had been to four of them (missing Southampton away in the League Cup, as I was already a third of my way to Sunderland at the time). They had added 523.5 miles and 41 hours 26 minutes to the challenge, mainly from the trip to and from Bolton. To quote the over-used cliché, Palace and I could now concentrate on the league.
We didn’t have long to wait either, with Palace playing Bournemouth away three days later on 31 January. For me, this was a 225 mile round trip. I decided to take two days for the trip down and a single day for the return leg. That meant a short ride on Monday and a late-ish start after doing the school run. I rode 42 miles before stopping for lunch at the wonderfully named Chocolate Frog Tearooms, and then rode the final six miles in the rain to the night’s B&B in East Tisted, near Alton.
Time for the school run before setting of for Bournemouth
Unfortunately, the B&B was having staffing problems, and they neglected to tell me there were problems with breakfast in the morning. According to the information in the room (which was in a separate annex out the back of the main building) breakfast was 7.15 to 8.15am. However, when I went for breakfast at 7.30, there was no sign of life and no-one answered the doorbell. So I had to make do with an energy gel before setting off on the 63 miles ride to Bournemouth.
I started with a damp, but quick, 15 miles to the Good Life Home and Garden Centre near Winchester where I stopped for a croissant and cup of tea. By the time I set off again, the rain had really set it and a very wet ride followed. It included one of the stranger sights of my travels: a dustbin man, in the rain, smoking a pipe. In these days of vaping, it was good to see someone with a bit of class.
My route took me through the New Forest, a favourite holiday destination for our family. But I’ve never seen it quite so wet. There was a lot of surface water on the road and the surrounding countryside was waterlogged. The wettest point was when I came to a fast flowing ford. I stopped for a couple of minutes building up the courage to cross, when I noticed the small narrow footbridge twenty yards up the road. Discretion was the better part of valour, and I wheeled the bike across the bridge before continuing on my way.
Thank goodness for the footbridge
As well as being drier, the New Forest of my holiday memories was also considerably flatter than the one I rode through. Or, more accurately, I’d not been expecting the significant climb before reaching the flatter roads through the forest. But, despite the climb and the wet, it was a good ride. I’m not sure where the famous New Forest ponies go to shelter from the rain, but there were fewer around than normal. I still saw some, though, along with a number of free range cows. There’s something very disconcerting about being watched by silent, staring, cows when having a quick roadside pee; you can’t help but feel you’re being judged and judged rather harshly on an unfair comparison!
The final stretch of the ride went through Christchurch and I took a very short detour to say a quick hello to friend and fellow Palace fan Nigel Gray at his fishing tackle shop. If fishing is your thing, and particularly if you’re in the Christchurch area (but also available on line), I would encourage you to look to Davis Tackle to meet all your equipment needs: www.davistackle.co.uk.
I had a leisurely afternoon at the Elstead Hotel in Bournemouth, before heading early to the Vitality Stadium for a pre-match pitchside photo. There were still almost two hours to kick off and I was allowed into one of the club lounges for a drink. As time passed, I looked at my phone and saw a number of friends checking in at the ground on social media, so I headed down to the away end. I was surprised to find, with only an hour and a quarter to kick off, that the turnstiles were not yet open. We all had to wait and queue in the rain until they were finally opened less than an hour before kick off. The game, however, was well worth the wait.
Pre-match at the Vitality Stadium
On 24 September, Christian Benteke headed a goal deep in injury time at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light to win the match for Crystal Palace. Between then and arriving at the Vitality Stadium, I cycled 3,283.7 miles in 254 hours and 14 minutes travelling from and to Palace away games. Palace played nine away games in that time without winning any of them (four draws and five defeats). So there was massive relief on the pitch, on the Palace bench and in the crowd when Benteke again buried an injury time header, this time to secure a 2-0 victory. It had been a much better performance from Palace and a deserved win, but the margins are small: keeper Wayne Hennessey had tipped a Bournemouth free kick onto the post just moments before Benteke’s goal.
Scott Dann and Christian Benteke celebrating their goals.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, I had a big smile on my face on the short ride back to the Elstead Hotel. As I approached the hotel I had the sudden realisation that it was the same hotel I’d stayed in in 1993, pretty much exactly half my life ago. I’d missed a Palace home game for that weekend away; something of a classic when Palace hammered Portsmouth 5-1, including a brilliant goal from now-England manager Gareth Southgate. Forget lucky pants or lucky socks, with two stays and two Palace wins, the Elstead is my lucky hotel.
It was still raining when I set off on Wednesday morning for the long (110 mile) ride home. The winds were pretty gentle and not very noticeable on any of my rides to and from Bournemouth. But they were headwinds on the way down and tailwinds on the way back and even if you’re not aware of such winds, they do make a big difference when cycling. Plus, of course, there was the metaphorical tailwind of celebrating a rare Palace victory and – dare we hope – the first signs of Big Sam turning round Palace’s season. (I fear I may regret typing that by 5pm on Saturday…)
I made good time, therefore, back through Christchurch and across the New Forest. The rain stopped and there were more ponies (and even donkeys) out and about. It was warm enough to stuff my coat in my pannier and cycle with my ‘banana sash’ Palace cycling top proudly visible. I pressed on and completed nearly 64 miles before lunch, including the final long climb of the day to the route’s highest point.
Obligatory picture of New Forest ponies
I was riding along shortly before lunch on a relatively busy section of road. I noticed cars on the other side of the road pulling right across to the kerb. Wondering what they were trying to give room to, I looked behind me to see an ambulance with its blue lights flashing (but no siren). I pulled to the side of the road to let the ambulance through. As it went past me, the paramedic in the passenger seat leaned out. I was expecting to get abuse for not pulling over sooner. But instead I was greeted by a shout of ‘Palace’ and a wave of a CPFC lanyard!
Lunch consisted of a bacon, brie and cranberry baguette washed down with the obligatory pint of diet coke at the Market Hotel in Alton. From then on, it was a pretty straightforward final 46 miles home. Or, rather, nearly home. Janet texted me while I was on the road to say she way taking the kids to dinner at Prezzo in Cheam Village. Having made such good time, I was much earlier than I’d expected, and was therefore able to join them halfway through dinner. After dinner, Hannah and I raced the final couple of hundred yards home – her running, me cycling sportingly slowly. She won. And so another away trip was completed.