(actual posting date – 1 March)
Match thirty vs Middlesbrough (home)
Total mileage 5,015.1
Crystal Palace have been very supportive of my efforts, not least in the form of very generous sponsorship donations from three shareholders. One of the things the club offered to support me an invite to the training ground for some publicity photographs with the players and manager.
Circumstances (particularly Palace’s poor form this season) meant that this had been somewhat delayed. It had initially been scheduled for Friday 2 December. But that was the week after the Swansea debacle (losing 5-4 despite being 4-3 up in the 89th minute, in case you need reminding). Training was shifted to Selhurst Park and my invite postponed. It worked – in the very short term – with Palace beating Southampton the next day, though that proved a false dawn.
I finally made it to training on Wednesday 8 February. And it was great!
Slightly surprisingly, Palace asked the charity and me if we could bring our own photographer. But this turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as I managed to secure the services of Palace legend Hy Money. Hy was the first female sports photographer in the country and has followed Palace since the early 70s. Pretty much every iconic photo of Palace from the 70s and 80s was taken by Hy, and her photos grace the walls of lounges at Selhurst Park. She has published a brilliant book of her photos called ‘Hy on Palace’. (For more on Hy – visit her website or read this Telegraph article.)
To be honest, I was as excited about being the subject of a Hy Money photoshoot as I was about anything.
I arrived at the training ground towards the end of the morning’s training. As the players finished with a practice match, manager Sam Allardyce came over for a chat with Hy and me. He was very amiable and open; and Hy was delighted that he had seen and loved her pictures around the ground. He didn’t give away any great secrets, but was complimentary about Palace fans and compared us favourably with those of a couple of his previous clubs.
As training finished, the players donned Contact a Family t-shirts and came over for the group photo, and captain Scott Dann presented me with a signed shirt. And Sam told the players that if Palace weren’t safe from relegation before the final game of the season at Manchester United, then they’d have me to answer to!
All in all it was a great experience. And whilst Palace hadn’t supplied a still photographer, they did video my visit and gave it a big push on their website and social media the following week.
What is more, the threat of having me to answer to clearly had an impact on the players. For the second home game in a row, Palace’s opponents were a North East club also fighting against the drop. But there was no repeat of the Sunderland horror show. Palace put in a solid performance and even some awful refereeing couldn’t deny them a 1-0 win over Middlesbrough. Let’s just hope it isn’t another false dawn…