Too young to have been around to follow Chelsea during our darker years, I have never experienced first-hand what it is like to watch your club slip into the despair of relegation and the second division of English football. To me, an unsuccessful season is one in which we’ve been ruled out of the title race and/or crashed out of the other competitions we may have been in the running for- including the prestigious Champions League.
My father, a Chelsea supporter, originally hails from Southport, so in addition to witnessing the ups and downs of Chelsea since long before my time, he has always paid close attention to how Southport FC have fared in the depths of English football. I have often admired the tenacity of the staunch supporters of lower league teams to wholeheartedly devote themselves to their clubs week in, week out, when it seems (at times) to bear little fruit and bring about disappointment.
With an FA Cup final against Manchester United in 1990 that ultimately resulted in a losing replay, a Zenith Data Systems Trophy (the club’s only cup win to date) and a third-place finish in the old First Division in the 1990-91 season, Crystal Palace supporters have had little quantifiable success.
They have been able to enjoy multiple promotions, top-tier football, trips to Wembley, and other significant achievements (to which they can certainly add beating José Mourinho’s Chelsea).
So following Crystal Palace these days may not be quite as dire as following Southport, but supporting a club that has spent the better part of the last two decades (and most of its existence) bouncing between divisions, in a pattern of relegations and promotions since its inception, can at the very least yield frustration and disillusionment.
Despite that, in recent years, Crystal Palace fans have made quite the name for themselves, known for their unfaltering vocal support for their team, along with other displays of commitment and loyalty – they were even lauded by Mourinho recently.
I don’t think there is any real notable dislike of Crystal Palace and its support among the majority of Chelsea fans, unlike with West Ham, QPR and Fulham. This more than likely has to do with the fact that we have not come up against them much, despite both Chelsea and Crystal Palace being formed in the same year, and both clubs being founding members of the Premier League.
Before our recent meeting, Crystal Palace’s only league win against Chelsea in 22 attempts happened nearly 24 years ago, and the change to that statistic has been damaging, resulting in the title probably slipping just from our grasp.
Meanwhile, Crystal Palace are doing their best to avoid the drop, currently sitting pretty with 34 points – just six away from the golden 40 – and six games still remaining. However, Palace’s remaining fixtures are against either teams fighting to win the title, make the top four, or escape relegation, which may pose a tricky challenge for them to get the points they need.
Have the Eagles now done enough to remain in the top flight? How much is their recent success down to their new manager? And do Palace possess the best fans in the league?
Read the rest of Nikki’s “Top Flight London” series here!