Arsenal fan Julius @OneGunn3r on the differences between life at the top of the Premiership and Championship.
It only really struck me last night just how sheltered a fan I am. I decided to get a ticket to the Crystal Palace vs. Brighton play off semi final, caught up with the romance of a big rivalry and the opportunity for both sides to get one over each other on a march to the big time that is Premier League football. It was always going to be a heated clash, but for me, the iron didn’t strike in the way I thought it would.
I have heard so much about the competitiveness of the Championship, and judging from the game on offer that viewpoint was certainly not without reason; It was a match of true heart, with full-blooded tackles flying in and incessant goading from both sets of supporters. The only times I’ve genuinely been exposed to an atmosphere like the one at Selhurst Park have been watching Arsenal get creamed at the San Siro and seeing Ronaldinho receive a red card at the Camp Nou.
It was a genuine throwback to the days before the modernisation, and some would say commercialisation, of football. There were fans without tickets crammed in the isles, wooden seats that were stood on, smokers, a camera team relying on crummy scaffold to keep them from falling into an abyss of South London smog. In all honesty, it was absolutely awe striking. The only real blotch on the show that the Holmersdale and Arthur Wait stands put on was the sheer amount of homophobic abuse towards the Brighton contingent.
Yet, the football was atrocious. Without the stereotypically brazen snobbery of an Arsenal supporter, there was so little to get excited about on the pitch it made sense that the Palace fans generate such a fantastic atmosphere. So much of the chanting is rolling, thundering around the ground whilst the ball is lumped back and forth to the apathy of thousands, so many songs sung to the theme of Peter Ramage and co. slicing the ball out for throw ins and corners.
The contrast between what I experienced at Selhurst Park and my day job as a Gooner is massive. Whether it’s in the comfort of Islington’s leather seated Emirates or standing up on an away day at Swansea, everyone is always watching the game, waiting for that spark of magic the team is capable of. There is a tangible reaction to what happens on the pitch, a smattering of applause for a Cazorla flick or groans when Sagna opts to pass the ball backwards rather than cross into the box. Palace’s contingent seems less reactionary and more relaxed than Arsenal’s about the state of affairs on the pitch.
It left me wondering why that could be. If Arsenal plays bad football, often there is not an aura that is negative so much as barbed and drenched in poison. As opposed to an acceptance that no footballer is perfect, there are cries and yells when someone cannot function in the way highly expectant fans crave. The high ticket prices at The Emirates surely contribute to the obsession with perfection on the field. My £30 ticket for the Palace game would have cost me about £90 had it been Arsenal vs. Spurs. The higher the price, the more significant the quality is.
To qualify the difference, I can point to two matches against the cash cows of England. Last season, a ticket for a League Cup game at home to Manchester City was on sale as cheap as £25, whilst this year, when Chelsea came to the Emirates, fans were paying up to £126. Whilst the side lost both matches, there was a marked difference in atmosphere. Against City, the fans were very supportive of the players, even when they failed to match the quality on offer from the away side. Against Chelsea, even at 1-1 and playing well, every little mistake was met with roars of discontent and frustration. This culminated with an own goal, the first loss of the season and a red exodus.
When comparing the dynamics of Crystal Palace fans and those supporting Arsenal and the like, genuine footballing factors also have to be considered. The Eagles have been in the second tier for the majority of the last twenty years, whilst Arsenal fans have been accustomed to the best football on offer in the country. Their fall from a position of such strength has resulted in frustration at the failings of 2013’s Arsenal; namely through means such of almost callow anger.
In my opinion, Palace aren’t brilliant, but they do they really care? Arsenal used to be fantastic, and they really do mind their relative fall from grace. There is an inferiority complex around The Emirates about the team’s shortcomings, whilst at Selhurst Park they welcome their side’s imperfections as a true reflection of themselves. There is a siege mentality at Crystal Palace, which I am sure is common amongst many sides playing away from the glamour and glitz of the Premier League.
Which mentality do I prefer? Well, it depends on what you’re looking for. If you want your wallet emptied several times over to be entertained but almost unfailingly disappointed, pick the Emirates. But if you prefer the good old days of being unfashionable and proud, pick Palace. For me, it is, and always will be, Arsenal. Then again, I’m just a modern football fan.