Worth the Arthur Wait
By NNFox
Sunday 14 Mar 2010 10:43:00
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It doesn't look like much, does it? I absolutely love it. For the uninitiated, this beautifully constructed work of art is the Arthur Wait Stand at Selhurst Park. It is my favourite stand in the whole wide world - and this is why.

Selhurst Park seems to be notorious as somewhere that is difficult to get to. I've been there three times now and I could probably negotiate the route from Thornton Heath station to Palace's away end blindfolded. Over the road, quick stop at Wetherspoons, cut through the houses, down the long road packed full of cheap takeaways, left at the pub, past the petrol station on the right and soon the fine arena will make itself known. London away games have always been a bit special and we've had some beauties in recent years, very few of which have actually resulted in City wins. A couple of gallant cup defeats at Craven Cottage and one at Stamford Bridge, a draw and two defeats at Selhurst, relegation at the Valley and finally victories at the New Den and Loftus Road.

Tuesday will be our fifth visit to Selhurst Park in four seasons. I say "our" very much by design, for Palace away is when the Londoners come out to play. In our select band of City fans, we have representatives from all over the capital and beyond - Whitechapel, the Docklands, Twickenham and Maidstone to name but four. Soon they will all converge on Victoria station ahead of the most anticipated away day of the season.

The first Palace away - March 2007 - was notable for anything but the game. Literally. I can't remember much at all, other than the fact that we lost 2-0 and it wasn't the best. We met in the Duke of York opposite Victoria at 11, took in the sights, sounds and smells of Borough Market and eventually sourced a train which would transport us to within staggering distance of Selhurst. Glancing now at the illustrious midfield men we entrusted to do battle in South London that day, a 2-0 defeat appears positively successful. Stephen Hughes, Andy Johnson, Levi Porter and Jason Jarrett. Against all the odds, everyone had a jolly good time and Selhurst had truly captivated us. We went for a few beers after the game.

Trip number two followed shortly, but a lot had changed in the five intervening months. By August 2007, Milan Mandaric had turned City upside down. Nigel Worthington had come and gone, handing the poisoned chalice over to Martin Allen. Things were looking up. On a gloriously sunny day in the capital, with a new £1.6million striker up front and various records to set straight after our previous defeat at Selhurst and an opening-day reverse at home to Simon Grayson's newly-promoted Blackpool, we had hope in our hearts when we met up ahead of the hallowed fixture.

This time, it was across the road from the Duke of York that we began the day's drinking after one of our number got turned away for the gross negligence of wearing a City shirt for a London away game. Instead, we piled into The Stage Door and took turns wearing a straw hat for the camera. In a surprise move which defied all conventional wisdom, I started on the whisky before midday. Two of our party made an even less intelligent decision to forego the toilets ahead of the train south because "they're bound to have toilets on the train". They didn't have toilets on the train, which itself was every bit as full as our intrepid heroes' bladders. One of these geniuses decided to down his can of lager in readiness to use as a vessel for the urine that was on the verge of making a desperate escape plea. Unfortunately, he then bottled this hare-brained scheme due to imploring looks from parents across the carriage. I'm pretty sure he broke the land speed record in the time it took between leaving the train and utilising the gentlemens' facilities at Thornton Heath.

We were rubbish. We were losing 1-0. Then it happened. We actually went and scored a bloody goal at Crystal Palace. Gathered at the back of the famous Arthur Wait Stand, we inflicted carnage on each other. Two of my mates actually met each other for the first time when DJ Campbell scored that unexpected equaliser. It wasn't exactly a dinner party moment though as one of them came flying down three rows from the back and kicked the other in the head as he sailed over the entangled bodies. They're firm friends now. You can't really make out the head-kicking, but the general ambience of the moment was captured forever here.

 

And yes, that's me shaking my head at the end. Hello.

We scored again to go 2-1 up through Patrick Kisnorbo. Cue similar scenes. They scored in the last minute. I wasn't that bothered to be brutally honest. It had already been a fine day out in the big smoke. One of my mates went one step further than most and decided to keep his seat that day as a memento. I believe it's currently adorning his downstairs toilet. We went for a few beers after the game.

Curses! Tragedy strikes! The noble Leicester City Football Club have been relegated to unchartered depths of English football! Fear not, for the God of London away days hath listened unto our impassioned plea and, despite being in a whole different division to Palace, we actually got to visit Selhurst twice last season. It was unbelievable, Jeff. Firstly, we go and knock down the man-made mental boundaries of endless pre-season friendlies away to non-league clubs and "mouth-watering clashes" at home to middling La Liga teams by scheduling a pre-season bloody friendly at Selhurst bloody Park on my mate Marsh's bloody birthday. Truly, we had been blessed. Then we went and drew them at home in the FA Cup, securing a tactical draw which would send us to Selhurst for the replay - but more of that later. We have a friendly fixture to fulfil.

Back to The Stage Door we go for more preparatory beverages. Bad news upon arrival, though. No Arthur Wait Stand this time around for the City supporters were to be housed behind the goal opposite the Holmesdale End. We weren't happy bunnies. City gave a good account of themselves, outplaying the team in the higher division and leading through Matt Oakley before Victor Moses equalised for the home side. Marsh spent most of the game bawling professional advice at these well-paid sportsmen from the comfort of his drunken stupor, along the lines of "Be the ball, Leicester!" and "Eyes on the prize City!"

We ended up in the pub on the corner between Thornton Heath and the ground, Marsh re-introducing his dirty pint to the world by spewing it into an upside-down viking helmet I had purchased eighteen months earlier in tribute to Nils-Eric Johansson's last minute goal at Preston. As you do. A good night was had by all.

When the draw was made for the FA Cup Third Round last season and it pitched us against Palace, it was written. We would play out a stalemate at the Walkers and head back to Selhurst for a classic. Sadly, it was a costly evening instead. We were again denied the Arthur Wait Stand, we were dumped out of the Cup after fielding a below-strength side and Aleksander Tunchev collapsed on the Selhurst turf, suffering an injury that he has seemingly failed to recover from ever since.

When the fixtures came out of the computer last summer and we were sent packing off to Selhurst on a Tuesday night, my heart sank a little. But we're back in the Arthur Wait and determined to make the best of it. Time to crack out the viking helmets.

 



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