About a minute after Jason Puncheon (he’s one of our own) scored, I noticed that my eyes were a bit watery. Watery in the same way that they get when I listen to Nina Simone sing “Mr Bo Jangles” (it’s all about the dog). For about a minute, maybe longer, I thought we were going to do it.
Football fans are superstitious. I have a choice of Palace shirts to wear. My favourite in terms of how it looks is the 2005 centenary shirt, though my “lucky” one is my 2000 – 2001 shirt. That the Churchill sponsorship looks like it was ironed on at the last minute rather sums up the club: we are not the elite, we are not *** Michelin. We’re from South East London. We’re from Sydenham, Croydon, Thornton Heath. We don’t do glamour very well.
So: shirt picked. And yellow socks (a nod to away strips of the past, and more superstition: we played in our yellow away strip on one of the best days of my life, the 2004 play-off final. I was wearing my 2000-2001 shirt). Same coat as for the semi-final. Same shoes. Same underwear. At the Guildford station car park my heart is warmed by the availability of the same space that I parked in prior to the semi-final a few weeks back. This is all looking good. A decent contingent of Palace shirts at Guildford Station adds to it. No Man U shirts – Surrey is all Chelsea and Barcelona fans.
We meet in Clapham. We are drinking Cronx Kotchin: there is no ale closer to the soul of Crystal Palace, or to that of South London. I have drunk rather too much of it when my Dad calls. Another omen of happiness. All is working, all is good. My face is painted. I drink more Kotchin, though maybe not quite as much as Dead Dog Dave.
The journey to a football match is always superior to the journey back, regardless of the result. Anticipation. Fresh beer in the bloodstream. Confidence and dreams combined. It’s our train, particularly when south of the river. We encounter some surprisingly genuine United fans on the tube – they actually appear to be from Manchester – but I know it’s my day, not theirs.
The game is a bit of a blur. Until the Puncheon substitution at least. And then that goal (which looked offside to me though this is part and parcel of watching from the stands). Celebration, and a one-ness that reminds me of church, the Rite of Peace in particular. We are all friends. We are all together. And a minute or so later is when my eyes start watering. The pollen, obviously.
And that, as they say, is that. A few minutes or so of … no, not glory … more joyous disbelief, of faith rewarded, of the stars aligning, of all things aligning, into their righteous order. Of Crystal Palace: FA Cup Winners.
There is no vinous link here. I could try to spin in something about terroir; about genuine wines; about commerce and commercialization (the Emirates FA Cup?) But, no. It’s not even about football: it’s about a place, a postcode: SE25. I’ve just googled the same for Old Trafford (which is what I imagine most Manchester United fans would have to do; for what it’s worth: M16). I’ll write some twaddle about 2015 Bordeaux, about how Pontet-Canet is the Manchester United of Bordeaux and about how Mark Clattenburg is the James Suckling of referees some other time.