When you talk about the Premier League, there's always some chat about the modern game, and the competition's far-flung appeal. The United States are a key market for the league, with NBC agreeing a new $1bn deal this week, and clubs like Palace pick up supporters near and far because of our noise, colour and character. And yet, there are some fans in the States who have been fans for longer.
More than ten years ago, when the appeal wasn't as great and the finances involved were far less, Bryan Garcia happened upon a live Palace match - and became hooked. Here's the tale of his initial infatuation, which resulted in his first trip to Selhurst Park last season.
My favourite Palace/Arsenal match is the one I remember the least about.
No, I didn’t consume too many adult beverages before the match. It was November 2004 and I was just a teenager in Florida channel surfing until I wandered onto some new TV station called Fox Soccer Channel.
Soccer — sorry, football — beamed on to the screen. It was the first time I saw football since the 2002 World Cup. And because this was a time before smartphones were easily accessible, I couldn’t run back to the desktop to search — on Yahoo!, obviously — for the full names of the scoreboard abbreviations found on the top left corner of the TV. The only thing that looked vaguely familiar was the “O2” shirt; I occasionally saw that “O2” when I passed fellow students when walking to class.
The shirts on the other team intrigued me, though. A number of Major League Baseball teams in the States use pinstripes in their uniforms, including my hometown Chicago Cubs, but the thick red and blue stripes on these football shirts were a novelty for me. The combination of red and blue, which I already loved because of my Cubs, looked great as stripes. As I quickly found out, the stripes were just the bait.
It was the name “Churchill,” printed in white letters at the heart of the shirt, which snagged my attention. This was personal; it was never about the Prime Minister or (what I would later learn was) the insurance company. Before my family and I moved to Florida, I grew up in Bolingbrook, Illinois, a suburb about 30 miles southwest of Chicago. The Bolingbrook street I lived on: Churchill Drive.
A few minutes after that discovery, the team in red and blue equalizes. I had no idea who the blond “Riihilahti” was, but I was happy the team with the cool colors scored. After the team in red and blue hung on for a draw, the TV flashed “Crystal Palace: 1 – Arsenal: 1,” a bald eagle — America! — for Palace, and something about a “Premier League.”
That all looked and sounded exciting. So on that fateful day, after stumbling upon my first Premier League match and watching Crystal Palace draw with Arsenal, I chose to support Palace. The red and blue, Churchill, the eagle badge — as symbols for something so far away, they made Crystal Palace already feel like a home for me.
Palace line-up: Kiraly, Boyce, Sorondo (Leigertwood 24), Popovic, Granville, Routledge (Lakis 52), Riihilahti, Hughes, Watson, Kolkka (Freedman 80), Johnson. Subs Not Used: Speroni, Torghelle.
Follow Bryan on Twitter.