In a change from the usual Away Fan Angle, Patrick Stevens tells us a little about his mate, an Aston Villa fan that has taken a shine to Palace...
George Guest is 24 and lives in the same town as me in Hertfordshire and works in London. His family on both sides hail from the Black Country and Birmingham and are all Aston Villa fans. Villa has been traced through his dad’s side back to 1888, and as George states, “he did not choose, he was chosen”. George follows the Villa home and away and has been to over 200 games since his “debut” (a 0-4 home defeat to a Chris Sutton inspired Blackburn Rovers in August 1997).
I’ve known George for years, as one of the few genuine football fans in the town. I’ve known his dad since our playing days and George now manages and plays for my old famous Sunday League side Gossoms End FC. Bumping into George, our conversations inevitably gravitate towards football, and in particular Palace and Villa.
George has developed a soft spot for Palace, through my constant facebook posts but mainly due to what he describes as “the best home support I’ve seen in the Premier League”. He cites the Holmesdale Fanatics as something he hopes Villa’s fledgling Ultra group, Brigada 1874 can aspire to.
“The Holmesdale Fanatics are probably the reason I enjoy watching Palace - because it’s certainly not Pardew! The constant noise, the original sounds and the bouncing means I’ve struggled to concentrate as an away fan on the previous two trips to Selhurst Park: You can’t take your eyes off them.”
George, like me, is concerned that atmosphere's in the premier league are deteriorating and cites how he recently watched Villa at St Mary's and was amazed at the lack of atmosphere: "Southampton were five nil up in 30 mins and about to confirm their highest ever Premier League finish, yet you could hear a pin drop". He also remembers how awful it was at Stamford Bridge "8 nil up and the loudest roar of the day was when Guzan saved a penalty!" For such reasons, he is convinced that Ultra groups are a force for good in football, “When the Holmesdale Fanatics are on form, it generates atmosphere, defibrillating the opposition support into action.”
George is disappointed with the lack of atmosphere at Villa Park in recent years, citing dwindling attendances due to poor football and a real lack of identity at the club, which seemingly only exists to stay in the Premier League. He is one a dying breed who would gladly have sacrificed the apparent holy grail of premiership status for that one afternoon at Wembley, with his family, watching Villa lift the FA Cup. “Our Cup run last season was the best thing to happen to the club in years. Although ultimately, it ended in failure, beating our ‘rivals’ ('we barely notice them in reality' he quips) from West Bromwich in the Quarter Final, and then outplaying Liverpool in the Semi, despite being so-called underdogs, were truly memorable moments.” George has travelled to Germany, Holland and Portugal in the past three pre-seasons to say he’s seen Villa in Europe and it’s an experience he hopes he can fulfil if Villa really go for it in domestic cup competitions.
“I think there’s a strong perception of Palace at this moment in time, a great survival story in the first season as well as a very steady performance in the second after Pardew’s arrival. But really it’s the fans who’ve put Palace on the map.”
George has been to a number of European grounds as a neutral fan, Villa fan or England fan but lists Goodison Park as his favourite as “it feels like it’s about to fall down every time Villa score”.
“I’ve booked my tickets for Palace away in August already and hopefully we can keep the Holmesdale Fanatics quiet with another smash and grab 1-0 win!”
Dream on George; without Benteke and Delph that seems even further away than a dreamed of win in May. Despite that, admiration of the atmosphere at Selhurst, and a belief of how important the noise we make is, is something we both share. And even though with Villa as visitors George will oppose us as loudly as he can, he will also hope it Palace fans continue to inspire more fans to get back to what they do best, and follow the dreams of old, year after year.... Just like me and George.