Let’s start with some history. In 1855 the wines of the left bank of Bordeaux were “classified” at the behest of Napoleon III, who wanted the greatest wines of Bordeaux to be showcased at the Exposition Universelle in Paris that year. One of the aims of the Paris show was to trump London’s Great Exhibition of 1851.
The 1851 London Exhibition was held in the Crystal Palace, which was originally erected in Hyde Park, then moved to Sydenham in 1854 to the area that now bears its name. So there is another connection between Bordeaux and Crystal Palace, albeit another rather tenuous one, other than me and a few other wine trade chaps.
I’ll get to the point. It’s the common language theme again. I described the E-type Jaguar as the Lynch-Bages of collectible classic cars to a friend (and owner of examples of both, hence the comment) in the pub yesterday, and something on this will follow. But, for the moment, if an E-type is Lynch-Bages, what football team is Lynch-Bages? And more importantly what wine is Crystal Palace?
To get some calibration we’ll look at the top (and I’ve thought long and hard about this, and I can come back in and edit): Ch. Latour. What is the equivalent English team? We know the candidates, and I reckon we can narrow it down to two: it’s Manchester United or Arsenal. Liverpool just aren’t there anymore (not just today; a few cup runs over the past few years and that’s it) and Chelsea, well, they just don’t have the pedigree nor any real form before their current owner came in.
So Man U or the Arse. Tricky. Which one has class? Pedigree? Both. And I’m almost changing my mind just thinking about it. But it has to be the Gunners. 83 consecutive seasons in the top flight of English football. The unbeaten season. Arsene Wenger. Thierry Henry. Liam Brady. Pat Jennings. And the football. Who would you most like to watch without prejudice? Where is the class? Man U run them close but I’m afraid that they’re Lafite-Rothschild and Chelsea are Mouton-Rothschild with their recent form. Liverpool are Haut-Brion.
So where the Eagles? A club that may well be in administration by the end of the month. A club from a part of South London that one can only really love (as I do) if you grew up there. A mercurial club always showing signs of potential but invariably pissing it away at the last minute. A club that very nearly won the FA Cup in 1990 (Man U beat us in a replay following a 3-3 draw; the 4-3 win over Liverpool in the semi-final at Villa Park that got us there even better). A club that finished 3rd in the top flight the following season.
If I’m honest this is a question that I have been struggling with for many years, but I think it has just come to me:
We’re not in the classification because we’re on the wrong side of the river (or the right one, depending on how you look at it). We disappoint. We are misunderstood. But we are loved by a few. And just once, once in a while, we really do it, we really pull a diamond from our shoe. The clue is the year: 1990.
We are Ch. Beausejour-Duffau-Lagarrosse, St Emilion. And we love it whatever you might say.