Thursday, February 01, 2007

First impressions – an editorial

An Eagle Eye viewpoint published on the first day of each month... February 1st, 2007

‘I wasn’t happy with that, to be honest,’ said Peter Taylor after the team was booed from the field following the home cup exit to Preston.

His attack continued in an interview with this week’s Croydon Guardian in which he said: ‘I have never experienced anything like that in my life. I have managed Southend, Gillingham, Leicester, Brighton and Hull City, but it is only at Crystal Palace that one week you get cheered off for winning, then the following week they boo you off if you lose.’

Only at Crystal Palace? Frankly that’s a little difficult to believe, many are aware of the reception Taylor used to get at Leicester and we can all think of plenty of other sets of fans that are pretty swift to turn on their team when things go wrong (Wolves and West Ham are classic examples). But does that make it right? And, crucially, does he have a point?

The answer to both questions is, we feel, no. Even allowing for the frustrations of being a Palace fan, few would argue that jeers helps anyone other than our opponents. How bad do things have to be for the booing or singling out of any particular individual to be justified? How does it help the team or inspire other supporters? There’s nothing quite as pleasant at football than the sound of opposing fans booing, and nothing worse than the sound of ours doing it.

That said, the support Taylor appears to be describing just doesn’t sit with our experience of Palace’s following, certainly where we sit in the Arthur Wait the view of most people around us is well-reason although not uncritical. Most of us put a great deal of time and money into following the club and we spend far more hours than is good for us thinking through every aspect, from which players we dream of signing and discussions about tactics and formations through to what the kits should look like and what kind of music would inspire the best atmosphere at the ground.

In short most of us support our team as best we can. We can’t legislate for the odd one or two who might ‘prefer us to lose just to be proved right’ or who perhaps feels that the best way of representing Crystal Palace is with acts of aggression against others, but the vast majority of us are not like that. We could do with a little bit more action on the pitch that we can be inspired by.

If Taylor’s words hit home with the small number who perhaps do have a negative attitude then perhaps it will have been worthwhile, but the danger is that it will simply alienate those who do not criticise vocally but who are at present feeling an increasing disconnection to the club and team. You could go round in circles arguing about which came first – lacklustre performances on and off the pitch or the downbeat attitude in the stands.

You could also factor in ticket prices, the state of Selhurst Park and facilities such as the catering, the grandly over-ambitious statements made by Simon Jordan about our promotion prospects, possibly a change of attitude in some fans who have seen us flirt with the big time and even, perhaps, a wider malaise that is in danger of infecting the whole sport caused by lack of proper competition and the reduced prospect of long term success for teams like ours in the face of the financial power of a tiny handful of ‘superclubs’.

What it all adds up to is a decline in attendances. The Guardian (the national one not the Croydon one) noted that in terms of percentage of capacity filled, Palace put in the worst performance in the FA Cup fourth round – 18,000 potential tickets against Preston remained unsold. Why? It was certainly an unattractive draw, but what effort did the club make to counter the likely disinterest (apart from increasing on the day prices by a fiver?) . It could have been a 'kids go free day', couldn’t it?

It is this that we think is more worrying than a handful of malcontents moaning. It’s disturbing to hear fans of many years standing talking about not renewing season tickets and even worse it seems that a fair few of them are doing more than just talking about it. Low entertainment values x high prices = dwindling support and the evidence of people voting with their feet is all around us. It’s singing out a warning sound far louder than a few boos.

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