Palace, we have a football team

Posted by Jim Daly

Crystal PalacePA PhotosEven the Crystal Palace mascot is 'cool'.

Things seem to be going from bad to worse for Palace this season. Nine defeats from 10, a manager who walked out of the club because he couldn't hack it, and a squad of players that exudes passion and effort but little quality.

Palace have always been underdogs. In their proudest moments -- like the 1990 FA Cup semi-final win over Liverpool -- the Eagles were the plucky try-hards, the Rocky to the Reds' Apollo Creed, punching well above their weight but paying no attention to the odds stacked massively against them.

Even further back, in 1976, when a Palace team led by mercurial winger Peter Taylor reached the same stage of the FA Cup by beating recent European finalists Leeds United and top flight Chelsea, they were a little Third Division side but refused to be beaten (until they actually were by Southampton).

And Palace are at their most comfortable being the underdogs, the club almost takes pride in it. The Eagles are located in a city where there are 12 professional football teams and traditionally have never been one of the big ones. Being the feisty yet underachieving also-rans is about as good as they can get.

Even last season Palace were the bookies' favourites to get relegated from the Championship to League One but exited the league at the other end and are now a Premier League side.

They actually struggle once they stop being the underdogs and start becoming the favourites. The last two seasons have seen Palace lose to a team from a lower league in the first round of the League Cup and even earlier this year when the Eagles had numerous chances to climb into the top two of the Championship automatic promotion places they failed. Yet in the semifinal and final of the playoffs when they were underdogs against Brighton and Watford they pulled off famous victories.

This season, though, they are the ultimate underdogs with little sign of upsetting the odds. They are the passionate hopefuls who know deep down they aren't good enough to compete at the top. They are basically the Premier League's Cool Runnings [Jamaica, we have a bobsleigh team]. Full of heart but not good enough.

It must be hard as players for a team like Palace when it is painfully clear there is a lack of quality compared to the rest of the league, but the team still talk of remaining positive. Defender Joel Ward said this week the players will not give up hope and captain Mile Jedinak -- who is reportedly on the verge of signing a new contract -- has claimed he is confident the Eagles will give it the best they can.

In that vein the players are being as Hollywood as you could expect; remaining as positive as possible in the face of adversity. Sadly for everyone at Selhurst, I doubt there will be a happy ending.

Like the Jamaicans in Cool Runnings, Palace are winning plenty of friends. The Premier League seems rather pleased to have the Eagles as part of the fun this season, with countless fans from other teams commenting on how great the support, at Selhurst and on the road, is from the red and blue army and the team's gutsy efforts winning praise from pundits and journalists a like. It is mostly patronising? Yes a little, but it's as good as Palace are going to get.

In the movie all the characters had pasts that haunted them and something to prove. Palace too have something to prove having been in the Premier League four times previously but always finding themselves relegated at the first attempt. In Ian Holloway the club had a manager with something to prove, but in a very un-Hollywood ending, he left before the end of the movie.

What Palace need now is a man to replace Holloway who himself has something to prove but has the guts to stick it out. Whoever comes in needs to be the Eagles' John Candy and push them as far as they can, even though it will almost certainly end in relegation. In fact if he were still alive I'd just give the job to John Candy, he couldn't do much worse than Holloway did this season.

I've watched enough movies to have a warped sense of what life is really like to secretly hope Palace can somehow pull off the greatest escape of all time. The sort that will have documentaries made about it, statues erected of the manager and players being lofted high above fans' shoulders. But 21 years of being a Palace fan has eroded a lot of that optimism; the harsh reality of the Premier League is that it is very hard for teams like the Eagles to compete unless they spend ridiculous amounts of money which the owners, rightfully, have refused to do.

To be honest I wouldn't be against experiencing the rest of the season as a montage, just to get it over and out of the way quicker. We can reconvene on the final day of the season when the Palace players will lift their metaphorical bobsleigh above their heads and walk proudly towards the Championship.


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