Saturday August 24th 2013, kick of 3pm.
Barclays Premier League at the Brittania Stadium.
Stoke City (Red/White Stripes/White) 2-1 Crystal Palace (Black with Red’N’Blue Sash/Black), att 25,270.
Admission 25 pounds, programme 3 pounds, match specific badge 3 pounds, Marstons ‘Pedigree’ 4 pounds.
Arriving early having dropped Ros at Trentham Gardens ‘Monkey Forest’. I congratulated myself for getting a parking spot so close by, alongside the Stoke City FC academy. Although having paid an extortionate five pounds for the pleasure, at least it should entail a quick getaway after I thought, and just a four of five minutes stroll later I was passing the turnstile for the South end, away turnstiles, even better, great. This being my 486th Palace away game, see >
Walking behind the main stand in pursuit of ‘Stan’, I noticed how the land fell away from this side of the ground, and that the Britannia really did sit high up on a ridge, thus explaining its fearsome reputation for being one the coldest and windiest venues in the football league. This was to be my third visit here, my second with Palace (a 1-1 draw in the 02-03 season), having ticked the stadium v Middlesbrough early in its stadium life.
I found Stan (x3) lurking in the corner of the car park behind the home end. Clearly Stan Statue (x3), is a favourite meeting place of the Stoke City FC branch of the lager and cider quaffers, as various ner’do’wells stood around swigging from bottles. They sounded pretty harmless, I overheard them talking matters Stoke related, and with no pubs near the stadium, I guess on a warmish day they find this a convivial place to meet and drink.
Stan Statue (x3) is hugely impressive, one of the finest I’ve seen at a football ground anywhere. A son of Stoke on Trent, he is depicted at the three stages of his career, early, mid-career as an international and at the end (he played until 50 as a professional!), all in authentic kit and boots. Clearly a man of a different era, his must surely have loved the game to have played for so long, and been a very fit man.
In the weeks leading up to our first away game back in the top flight, there had been a little bit of grizzling by some on our bbs forum pages (and I have quite some sympathy with this). Generally about how much enthusiasm and discussion some were involved in about tickets to our away game at that monolith to football tourism, which is also known as ‘Old Trafford’, due on September 14th (KO 12:45!). Whilst ticket sales for Stoke were good, many, including I, felt this match should have quickly sold out. 2,500 is not an enormous allocation when one considers how quickly we shifted 33K for our play off final in May.
Many had responded on the BBS suggesting that Stoke away is/was a far more important game than Man Utd away, a game most of us expect to lose, and a venue we have visited many times over the years. Including a famous LC QF win there two seasons ago. Unfortunately, as the upside is larger attendances in the Prem league, the downside is attracting the tourist fan, who happily and excitedly wants to visit the likes of Man U and Arsenal but would rather not join the foot soldiers to Stoke and West Brom. The sort of games that could be massive to us this season, and decide our fate. Hey ho, such is the modern football ‘fan’.
Even so, pre match we’d shifted 1800 tickets, and expectation was for about 2,000 on the day, many like I having trawled through the slow-moving M6 traffic to get there.
There wasn’t much doubt we’d make a few changes after last weeks one nil defeat to Spurs. Although we were still missing injured wingmen Thomas and Bolasie, new signing Campana was in for Owen Garvan, Aaron Wilbraham was dropped in favour of Chamakh and Puncheon was in for Dobbie. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Stoke, under new management in Mark Hughes, one wondered if their long ball ‘get at em’ style of play so succesful under Tony Pulis would be continued with.
Stoke started the strongest, but Palace soon got a hold of the game, and the early exchanges were end to end. A minutes applause in the 14th minute for a local 14 yr old lad who’d recently died in a car crash was impeccably observed by all.
A long punt out of defence by Palace saw Chamakh run on, and strongly hold up the defender, before rounding another and slotting past Begovic, a quality goal, and suitably celebrated in the Palace end.
After the goal, Palace remained on top, and the passing in midfield of Campana, Jedinak etc was of high quality, and it looked possible we may sneak another goal. Moxey had a long shot just drift wide, and so all was well in Palace land at HT, 0-1.
The second half was an entirely different affair, as Palace were pushed back by a rampant Stoke. And a mad three minutes soon into the half did for us. First Palace were guilty of ball watching as the ball pinged around the area, and Charlie Adam finished calmly into the bottom corner first time. Then a couple of minutes later Chamakh was guilty of a very half-hearted challenge in the box, that saw the ball drift under his foot to fall to Shawcross, who made no mistake with a first time finish. So, a good half of endeavour was now up in smoke, 1-2.
A tiring Palace tried hard to get a foothold back into the game, but Stoke's physical approach and all round experience was a little too much for us. Even though Jonny Williams and Kevin Phillips had added a little bit of a spark from the bench. So a 1-2 defeat, no embarrassment, but frankly a game we could have got something from if our concentration had been better during the first period of the second half. So a lesson learnt about the harsh reality of Premier League life.
I was back at my car within a couple of minutes of the end of the game, but then found myself in a static gridlock as we all queued up waiting for the main access road away from the Britannia to be opened by the Police, who had set up some sort, of laughably called 'Traffic Control' operation! Which seemed to entail not opening this road to car traffic until all the away coaches and buses (to the station) had departed the away car park, which took a good twenty minutes after games end to happen.
Hassle, especially having paid five quid for the privilege of being so close to the ground. For this reason, I probably shall not be returning quickly to the Britannia.