Adventures in Football #76: Selhurst Park (Crystal Palace)
May 23, 2023
CRYSTAL PALACE U21 vs. YONG PSV (Premier League Invitational Cup Final)
Hey, let’s start by talking about this competition. It’s a Europe-wide U21s league. Palace finished sandwiched between Liverpool and Everton in their block. Yong PSV topped a group featuring Man Utd, Arsenal, Monaco and West Ham. They edged Sparta Prague to first place by virtue of scoring a whopping 14 goals in 4 games. In the QFs Palace beat Liverpool while PSV downed Everton 3-0. PSV overcame Fulham in the semis, while Palace beat Valenica on penalties. So, this is the final of the tournament.
Selhurst Park is the home of Premier League team Crystal Palace. I’ve done a fair few London grounds (albeit not Tottenham or Chelsea as yet). Selhurst is a tricky one to get into. I figured this tournament final was a good idea as any to get inside. The tickets are only a fiver.
Selhurst Park has been a multi-sports venue since opening back in 1924. The ground was designed by the famous Archibald Leitch (architect of such classics as Ibrox, Villa Park, Highbury, Anfield, Celtic Park, White Hart Lane, Craven Cottage and Old Trafford). Selhurst hasn’t just been home to Palace over the years. Charlton were tenants here between 1985-1991 and Wimbledon took over temporary residence after that from 1991-2003. Nowadays, it’s a jumping Premier League ground and Palace are an established part of the English football’s elite.
For those not familiar with London geography, Selhurst is in south London. Which means it’s actually quite tricky to get to as you need to drive around the city. Brentford takes 2h10m from my house. You have to tag another 40 minutes on for Palace. With a big chunk of that journey being on the M25. The train is an option. You can get a train from Birmingham New Street to Watford Junction and then change to a train that goes directly to Selhurst. The train station is only half a mile away from the ground. That does take the journey time up closer to four hours though.
Game day and we hit the road in the middle of the afternoon, thinking London traffic is a satanic whore that needs negotiating as early as possible. We end up sat on the M25 because of course we do. Luckily we get through that and navigate our way around London. For someone from the Midlands, driving to South London is so much harder than North or West London. We eventually find out way through some little streets around the ground, some of which are closed, to our parking spot. Which, acquired through JustPark, is a mere 5 minutes walk from the ground. I think it’s probably less because we take a short cut through Sainsbury’s car park. Speaking of which, Sainsbury’s is available on football day for parking. Stays are extended. Good to know.
Maria is thrilled to be here, having driven through London traffic for a U21 game. I’m kidding, she was in a much better mood than this photo suggests. Behind her, through the gates, is the fanzone. Set up on match days it has a big screen, beer and food, plus a smaller version of the club shop. I wanted to go and look (the Palace shirt is a banger this year) but Maria needed the toilet so in we go.
The outside was small but impressive. There’s a lot of murals and I noticed a lot of Crystal Palace shirts. The nature of the game has obviously attracted a lot of hardcore fans but I was impressed at the number of shirts. The shirt being a banger this year has clearly helped sales.
I check in on Futbology and get this badge! That’s 75 grounds done. Selhurst represents ground #42 on my attempt to complete the 92. According to mileage on FootballGroundMap.com I’ve done over 21,000 miles in pursuit of the beautiful game. Considering I’m a relative rookie to this (as detailed in 75 other columns, gentle reader) those are decent numbers.
Heading inside we’re greeted by a cheerful steward who asks; “do you know what you’re doing mate?” with regards to the turnstyle negotiation. I insist that I do and somehow scan Maria and myself through without fucking anything up. We head into the concourse and it’s tiny. They break up the concourse into different areas and this is a sign of how small the ground is. There is, however, a sizeable bar just off to the right, which quickly develops a massive queue. Above is the prestigious Premier League Invitational Trophy. I quite like the design of it.
The inside of Selhurst Park is mostly uniform but there are odd little bits, like this corner space, that have been randomly covered by a club flag. I assume that corner appears on TV because there’s another one, I’ll show you later, that is uncovered and just looks like someone’s house.
We’re in the back row. The view is fine. You have some roof and support beams but I had no trouble seeing around them. I couldn’t actually see the top deck of the home end, I assume it was quite impressive. There’s only two stands open. Our side and the home end. We’re sat next to a family of, what I assume, are Dutch fans, but the mother is clapping and singing along to the Palace chants so I don’t know. I notice the father makes a point of video taping PSV free kicks so I have my doubts. All of them seem to be having a nice time. Glad to have shared the back row with them.
Pete the Eagle is out here rousing up the home fans and, as you can see, the ultras are out in force. I was concerned I wouldn’t get the famous Crystal Palace atmosphere at this game but I did, in spades. Fair play to all these lads for turning up and making a racket for the U21s. We have flags and drums. It’s a bit weird seeing one fella with a megaphone leading the chants like we’re in MLS or Serie A but hey, it seems to work. I can’t knock it. The fans bang out “Glad All Over” by the Dave Clark Five. The fella next to me smacking the metal behind us with both hands for the “BOMP, BOMP” before the chorus. A proper decent atmosphere for this game. I’m glad (all over).
Here are the teams. Palace are an enthusiastic bunch who play the game at 100mph and create many chances. PSV prefer to sit back, absorb pressure and see what they can do on the counter. Palace get lots of joy with the wingers and full backs and there are a lot of dangerous balls across the six-yard box. Despite this it’s PSV who go ahead. A routine cross is left to go right across the box and it’s hit back to the far post and drilled home by Dante Sealey. 0-1. PSV lead. Just before half time a sensational curling effort from Palace’s #9, and best player in the first half, Scott Banks makes it 1-1.
Here’s the crowd down my side, plus the aforementioned house in the corner. A see curtains twitching occasionally. The attendance is given as 5941, which is a fine effort for such a competition that doesn’t get much attention in the big scheme of things.
Behind us is this big white wall and on top of that is the area for commentators and reporters to sit. I can’t see into it but this little shock of white hair suggests a veteran reporter was at this game. I bet Kammy a nightmare being heard at games here. Half time allows me to look around myself and get a few snaps. There’s a big “no smoking” sign on the pillar that’s closest to us. As with Luton there are prominent examples of wood in the stand. We don’t want another Bradford.
Here are the steps, seats and wooden boards. Not much legroom here and I was grateful to be sat at the top of the steps so I could stretch my legs out. Half time music included “London Calling” by the Clash. Is there a London club that doesn’t use this? I reckon Fulham should have dibs as they literally “live by the river”.
Pete the Eagle makes his rounds and he’s up in the stands! The second half is underway at this point but he’s up here slapping hands. I’m impressed by his dedication. He could have just buggered off up the tunnel. The crowd around him chant “Eagles” to show their support. I also notice a fella in a Philadelphia Eagles jacket. Hey, same bird. Go birds!
The second half is a madness. Palace should score at least three goals where the ball trickles across the front of the goal or a defender blocks it at the last second. These goalmouth scrambles are commonplace in the second 45. There’s a late appeal for a penalty, which looked like one, and Palace’s #10 fired a lame free kick in the middle of the wall from a great position. Palace should score at least once to win the game. They don’t and we go to extra time. In extra time, Palace legs are gone, and Mathijs Tielemans (I think it’s him, he wore #6), takes over the game from midfield. He drops deep, breaks up play and reads the game sublimely. His distribution is a game changer. He’s so calm and composed.
It’s all PSV in extra time and Palace are hanging on, waiting for penalties, which never come. The game is settled by Jason van Duiven, finishing after another goalmouth scramble. Van Duiven then gets booked for provoking the home fans by running in front of that home end and pointing at his shirt number. Does he know there’s no name back there? Palace try hard to get back into it but the game gets a bit scrappy and #10 is lucky not to see red for reacting to PSV provocation. Simon Colyn curls in a perfect free kick to show #10 how its done and PSV run out 3-1 winners. As the free kick enters the net the stand we’re in just empties.
Because it’s a Premier League tournament we get the whole stage business for the presentation. We watch them set up some of it but it becomes apparent it will make us very late getting home if we sit through the whole thing and head out.
The home end is still full though and they make a point of staying to applaud the efforts of these young Palace players. The players reciprocate and what a lovely little mutual moment this is. A shame they couldn’t win the trophy. The last rallying call at 2-1 down with minutes to go gave me goose bumps. Incredible support.
Before we head off into the London night, let’s hammer out some ratings to see how Palace did, shall we?
It’s hard to complain about this. Sensational effort from the ultras at this game. I know it’s a cup final but it’s a cup final nobody really knows or cares about in the big scheme of things. Awesome performance from them. Especially that one last rallying call in extra time. ****½
This is a rare one. It was so cheap (£5), that I really have no option but to go full boat. *****
The game was really good too. Crystal Palace controlled large spells of the game and played really well in the process. PSV came back in extra time and had chunks of play that were excellent too. ****
EASE OF ACCESS:
Palace is a shit to drive to. However, if you take the train the station is close to the ground and should be a lot easier. Having said that, we had no parking issues and street parking looks doable. ***½
The one issue with Crystal Palace is it’s not a big ground, it’s not a small ground. It’s not a classic ground, it’s not state-of-the-art. It’s not any of these things. It falls in between a lot of criteria. I liked it but it’s not as good as some of the older grounds I’ve been to in terms of appearance (Hillsborough, Villa Park) and it’s not as good as some re-done grounds like Burnley, where it takes an old ground and makes it fresh. Does any of that make sense? I liked it but take those fans away and do I still like it? Not sure. It is a little bit janky around the edges, which is a plus but it’s scored so well in the other sections it doesn’t need any bonus points. *½
This is a surprisingly high score. It’s just above Villa Park, which is a ground I really like and manages to just about edge Plymouth and Brentford. Both of which I prefer as grounds but I didn’t spend a fiver to get into. Getting a good game of football for very little money helped the ground out. If I’m being realistic, I think this should be just below those grounds.
Anyway, I had a great time. Here’s a picture of Albert Bridge, lit up at night, as we leave London. Hope this finds you in a fabulous mood.