AS part of our two-part TAW: Unwrapped special on the Anfield atmosphere, our man GLENN PRICE spoke to Jim Daly from Crystal Palace fanzine and podcast The Five Year Plan about Selhurst Park’s upturn in decibels thanks to the work of the group calling themselves the Holmesdale Fanatics (HF05).
TAW: What was the atmosphere like at Selhurst Park like before the work of the HS05 came into full effect?
JD: I wasn’t involved in it but I can only really remember the HF05 becoming really prominent five or six years ago. The atmosphere at Palace has never been really bad. As a kid growing up, the atmosphere was one of the things that attracted me to supporting Palace.
Invariably, it would improve depending on how bad things were going on at the club. The bigger the crisis, the better the atmosphere would be!
As a kid growing up, when we went into administration in 1998 that was when I started going regularly and the atmosphere was fantastic because it brought everyone together and fans closer to the club.
There have been some seasons where it’s been a bit dull and there’s nothing to play for. The atmosphere can sometimes reflect what’s on the pitch but we’ve never had mass walkouts or people refusing to sing. That’s probably because, having nearly lost the club twice in last the couple of decades, the fans appreciate that they’ve got a club to support.
TAW: How did those improvements come about?
JD: My understanding is that the group of fans (HF05) were influenced by Ultra fandom from across the continent and wanted to recreate something in England, which hasn’t been done before or really since — other clubs haven’t managed to do it with the same levels of success as Palace. They’ve proved that it can be successful in England.
It’s been a slow process that was speeded up by the fears of administration in 2010. Suddenly, there was this need for the fans to be really vocal about keeping the club going. There was a march against Lloyds Bank in London, when Lloyds basically owned the club at the time and there was talk of liquidating the club.
The fans got together and marched up to the headquarters of Lloyds to show that it wasn’t going to happen. They were the leading group behind that and brought themselves into the eyes of a lot Palace fans.
That spurred them on a bit more and they started doing a few more displays. Since then, Palace were actually bought out and have become more successful on the pitch. That has led to the rise of the HF05 and it has spread around the ground.
Where they are in the Holmesdale End has always been the noisy part of the ground but their songs have reverberated around the ground so it’s become more than just one pocket now.
TAW: How do the club deal with the group?
JD: I think they’ve got a good relationship with the club. There’s four owners at the moment and one of them, Steve Browett, is the main liaison between the HF05 and the club. He helps them sort themselves for aways games and makes sure the banners are ok, stuff like that.
I’m sure they’re a bigger group than when they started and their success has helped them recruit new members. They do have a very good relationship with the club and they should be recognised for that because I’m sure there are others clubs that maybe don’t support similar groups.
Palace started an advertising campaign a few years ago using billboards to promote the club and they tagged it ‘South London and proud’. It was really this idea of building on the South London identity and the HF05 helped with that. The club used to show that ‘we’ve got great fans and a great atmosphere’.
It works both ways. HF05 help Palace by promoting the brand and Palace help them by making sure they can sit together and expand as a group.
I’ve dealt with the club a few times with my podcast and I’ve found them to be very open. They are fans themselves and they want Palace to have a good reputation and that the fan experience to be as good as possible. That helps as they have an understanding of what fans go through.
TAW: How did other members of the crowd, maybe older folks, take to the HF05?
JD: Football fans don’t take to things overnight and I think it took the Palace fans a few seasons to appreciate this group that were trying to make a change to the atmosphere. This was something that was positive and the other Palace fans then started taking it on board.
It felt like an overnight thing but I know it wasn’t. They were there week-in, week-out working hard on it.
As for the banners, that’s always been something they’ve done now and then but with the increased awareness following their success, they started asking fans more regularly for donations and they were happy to help out because they can see that they’re making an effort.
Then when we got in the Premier League, it was the perfect excuse to make as many banners as possible and to prove to the rest of the world that Palace are a well-supported club. A lot of people now associate Palace with having good support.
TAW: The relationship between most clubs and their supporters seems to be growing apart, how is the HF05’s with Palace?
JD: Earlier this season, they weren’t allowed to put a banner in front of a TV camera and that wasn’t communicated beforehand. They got to the game and were told that they weren’t allowed to unfurl the whole thing and it meant that their message on the banner couldn’t be fully read.
Clearly something went wrong there and you’re always going to have ups and downs because it’s a big organisation from both sides. The Holmesdale guys work very hard to make their banners and spread the message.
On the whole, it does seem like there is a good relationship. They’re never going to get everything right because running a football club is one of the hardest businesses in the world to run.
You’ve got hundreds and thousands of ‘customers’ (thankfully Palace don’t see us as customers, they see us as supporters) so it’s difficult to keep everyone happy.
TAW: As a supporter of Crystal Palace, do you feel that they value your support then?
JD: Personally, yes. But then again, I’m able to afford a season ticket, away travel and so on. I understand that some fans might not be in the position I’m lucky enough to be in.
Palace have put on free coach travel for away games. Ironically, recently they have had a bit of trouble with the coaches because the company they have used haven’t been making it to games on time.
They were late for one game recently and Palace apologised by offering free coach travel to another game. A lot of the fans were like ‘why would I go to another game on the coach when I didn’t get there until half-time?’.
But from what I see, Palace do try hard to make sure their fans are valued. There’s more communication now between the current board and the fans than there has been with previous regimes that didn’t want to talk to fans at all. These guys currently seem to be doing alright. It’s never going to be perfect.
I genuinely think these are kind of the glory days at Palace. I hope they get better but I am aware that this might be as good as it gets. We’ve got this new investment coming in from America. Thankfully, it’s only investment and it’s not a new owner. But things might change.
Right now, we’ve got four men in charge who are Palace fans all brought up locally, supported the club and care about the club just as much as us. Defeat will hurt them just as much as us. I doubt it hurts Randy Lerner just as much as Villa supporters.
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