(actual date of posting – 16 May)
Match forty-one vs Hull City (home)
Total mileage 6,693.1
… ’cause every little thing gonna be alright.
Palace are safe. Next season they will be in the top flight of English football for the fifth successive season, something they have never done before. And I can now enjoy a tension free ride to Manchester for the final game of the season.
The weekend started with a ‘Race Night’ in Cheam to aid my fundraising. I am very grateful to Sarah Jones for organising the evening; for Vic Cooper and Janet for their hard work helping Sarah; to Cheam Sports Club for the free venue; and to a range of local businesses (and Steve Browett) for their sponsorship and donations. In addition, Chelsea FC (signed football) and Sutton United (signed shirt) supplied items for auction. The night raised a wonderful £1,500 and has taken my overall total over £14,000.
The weekend’s football also started on Friday night, with Chelsea’s victory over West Brom securing the Premier League title. Palace had no interest in that match, but they certainly did in one of Saturday’s matches. Already relegated Sunderland had done us a massive favour the previous weekend by pulling off a surprise victory at Hull. If they could repeat the trick at home to Swansea, then Palace’s Premier League safety would be assured without kicking another ball.
They couldn’t. So Sunday’s noon kick off at Selhurst Park – Palace v Hull – would be the massive game we had been anticipating. If Hull could win, then the final day of the season would see a three way battle between Palace, Hull and Swansea to avoid the final relegation place. Any other result would ensure Palace and Swansea’s survival and Hull’s relegation.
To say I felt nervous on Sunday morning would be something of an understatement. I set off for the ground early, as I had arranged to meet some of the Contact a Family team for some pre-match photos: a very welcome distraction from the tension of the day. There were two advantages to the early kick off time and early start: less time to dwell on the potential ramifications of the match, and less traffic. It was a nice, easy and quick ride to the ground.
Photos duly taken, I headed into the ground for a quick pint and then took my seat. The always vociferous supporters’ group, the Holmesdale Fanatics, had arranged a brilliant display to welcome the Palace team onto the pitch. The atmosphere was electric and the game began.
Back in 2008 Palace had a potentially very tense final game of the season, albeit at the other end of the table (and a division down). They needed a win against Burnley to ensure a place in the end of season promotion play-offs. Then, like this weekend, everyone was tense and nervous. And then, in the sixth minute, Burnley’s Clarke Carlisle gave away a penalty and was sent off for the foul. Ben Watson scored; all the tension evaporated; and Palace ran out 5-0 winners at a sunny Selhurst Park.
Something similar happened on Sunday. In just the third minute, Hull defender Andrea Ranocchia completely missed his kick. Player of the year, Wilfried Zaha raced on to the ball and, with a calmness that belied the situation, put Palace ahead.
I’d be lying if I said all my nerves went at that moment, but I definitely felt a lot better. And even better still when Christian Benteke headed in to make in 2-0 after half an hour.
At half time, I was pretty sure we were staying up. Hull would need to score three without reply in the second half to take the season to the final weekend. But you never know with Palace. Janet said before the game, she’d be happy if we were three nil up with five minutes to go, because then she’d be confident we’d get at least a point.
As it happens, as we headed towards the final five minutes, it was still 2-0 and Hull were on the attack. A cross came over, and Jeff Schlupp headed clear. The ball came back towards him and he headed clear again, this time finding Benteke. Schlupp got on his bike (not literally: that’s my job) and sprinted up the wing. Benteke returned the ball and Schlupp ran into the box. Hull captain Michael Dawson brought him down and the ref pointed to the spot. Luka Milivojevic calmly slotted away the penalty and there we were: 3-0 up with five minutes to go. We were safe. Patrick Van Aanholt put the icing on the cake in injury time and the party could well and truly start.
We hung around for a bit after the match, and when I finally set off I saw Wilfried Zaha driving away from the ground. I raced after him and caught up with his car at a junction. I had a quick chat and a handshake through his car window: a nice way to round off a wonderful day.
It was only when I got home that I found out Palace had had two big slices of good fortune; two handballs that the referee had missed. The first was by Zaha in the move that led to the corner from which Benteke scored the second goal. The second was at 2-0, when a Hull free kick struck Jason Puncheon’s arm. Had the referee seen it, it would have been a clear penalty and a possible way back into the game for Hull. But then, back in December in Hull, Robert Snodgrass dived in the Palace penalty area. Had the referee that day seen the clear dive, it would have been a second yellow card for Snodgrass. Instead, he gave Hull a penalty from which Snodgrass scored. So maybe sometimes these things do even themselves out.
So that’s it. Palace are safe. I have just one last journey to do. A 430-mile or so round trip to Old Trafford. Manchester United are now the only Premier League team we haven’t beaten since we returned to the top flight. It would be lovely to put that right; but it’s even nicer to know that whatever happens Palace will be back there next season.