I’ve driven up and down the King’s Road more than most. In the early 1990s I knew every – and I mean every – ridge, pothole and manhole in the road. By 1994 I could have done it blindfolded in the right vehicle. RML2452 was my favourite. But that was another life revisited, or at least glimpsed, in December as I walked up to Medlar for a pre-fitba lunch. Chelsea vs Crystal Palace.
As the train from Farnham to Waterloo passes though Clapham, one can look South, or South South East, and spot the Crystal Palace television tower. For most of my youth I could see this tower from where I lived. From 1985 until I finally left home I could see it from my bed. The sight of it from the train gives me comfort.
So: I watch Palace lose 2-1 to what was a rather average Chelsea. Alonso – the purchase price of whom was, by my uneducated calculations, roughly five times the purchase price of the football club against which he was playing – would have been slated even if he was playing for South East, rather than West, London. If Alonso is “grand cru”, then he’s the very worst bit of the Clos, or Echezeaux, or Bonnes Mares, with the wrong clone of Pinot, and full of insecticide. Since then I have learned that Alonso’s purchase price is roughly double the cost of Crystal Palace Football Club, its ground, training ground, and all of the players.
The King’s Road, Fulham Road and Sloane Square all seem a bit plastic to me. The women: manicured bleach-brunette, all look the same to me. And none of them are smiling. The Ferraris are all caged in traffic and one gets the sense that their drivers are driving badges as opposed to machines. The shops are all the same. The Chelsea Drugstore – the McDonalds, is one of a handful of retailers that has lasted more than ten years. The road is ephemeral. The road is soul-less. The King’s Road – in my book – has little of what you might call terroir. Or maybe it’s just planted with the wrong variety.
Walk from Thornton Heath station to Selhurst Park: this will take you about the same time as Sloane Square to Medlar, or Medlar to Stamford Bridge. You will meet, see, smell, feel, hear: meat, fruit, cannabis, beer, Islam, white, black, brown, chips, dogshit, diesel. And the last thing you could say about the women is that they all look the same. But they all share something. There is a community here, and there is a sense of place rather than a sense of wealth.
Chelsea were rubbish. 2-1 up to Palace and their fans were nervous. Palace played with heart and a little skill – it’s fair to say that they would have won on points if this was a boxing match. And if you are a chippy, hypocrite, vintage-champagne-socialist wine-ponce from Sydenham, you would have divined, quite easily, that we were the better team – the more “real” team – and that the result was mere accountancy.