My second ejection, like the first, is a story about being over excited and the things that it can involuntarily make you do, leaving you feeling embarrassed.
If you missed the first part of this story, you can find it here.
As it is almost time for Crystal Palace to play Brighton I thought I would post the story about the second time I was ejected from Selhurst Park, against Brighton.
About a year and a half had passed since my first ejection and during that time I’d been a good boy. I was never a hooligan or a fan who went looking for trouble, probably like you, I just enjoyed singing songs and generally mocking the opposing fans.
In ‘my day’ the singing area was the Arthur Wait Enclosure, in particular, the end towards the ‘away’ corner, which was situated between the Arthur Wait Stand and the Holmesdale Terrace where the TV studio is today.
This generated a lot of atmosphere because both sets of vocal were next to each other.
It was on Easter Monday, 27th March 1989, that Brighton came to Selhurst Park. We were on a good run at the time, climbing the table that would see us finish 3rd, eventually gaining promotion in the memorable playoff victory over Blackburn.
This game ended 2-1 to Palace with goals by Wright and Bright (pen) with Brighton replying through Curbishley (pen). The win left us in 7th place and would become infamous in among Palace fans because of the 5 penalties awarded by Kelvin Morton.
Of the five penalties, Palace scored one through Bright but missed three by Bright, Wright and Pemberton. Brighton scored one through Curbishley.
The Second Time
All throughout the game, there had been a fantastic atmosphere. A good Bank Holiday fixture against our bitter rivals, what could be better?
It was mid-way through the second half of the lively game when Palace was awarded the fifth penalty of the game. With the game at 2-1 and having seen Bright score one then miss one and then Wright miss one, John Pemberton took the responsibility to put the penalty away.
‘Pembo’ placed the ball on the penalty spot in a confident manner and took a good few strides back to the edge of the ‘D’. I think we all knew what was coming given that he was taking that kind of run-up. Sure enough, Pembo, in a moment of confusion went for a rugby conversion, sending the ball up the back of the Holmesdale Terrace.
Inevitably the Brighton fans laughed and mocked us, as they had done before when we missed from the penalty spot.
As we were being jeered by the Brighton fans a good number of people responded verbally or by ‘flicking a V-sign’ at the away corner. I think I opted for a combination of the two but at the very least performed the latter!
As we’d now missed 3 penalties I guess I had responded in a similar manner before. I know other people had done and whatever happened on this occasion someone in the police control box made a decision to take action.
A Tug From Behind
I felt a tug, not the good kind and once again I found myself travelling backwards up the Arthur Wait enclosure steps.
This time there wasn’t as much force as before, which must have been because it was a derby game and twice as many people were in the ground.
I guess there wasn’t as much room to drag a football fan without being hindered.
This time I had a good idea of what was happening and who was behind me. As I was passing fans they seemed to be voicing their defence or support of me instead of ignoring what was going on.
I saw the friend I was standing with turn to see me depart as I went and gave me a smile. He was standing with me the last time it happened as well so probably knew I’d be back soon.
At the top of the enclosure, I was once again hurled back against the wall, however, this time I was expecting it and lent my head forwards so my backside and back took the brunt of the impact. My head was spared and once again I was led away with my arm behind my back.
I took the same route as before only this time I was more conscious about where I was going and quickly realised that I was going to have to pass all the Brighton fans en-route to the top of the Holmesdale.
The inevitable started as I got to the end of the Arthur Wait enclosure and turned to go down to pitch level. The Brighton fans at the front started mocking me, insulting me and so on.
I was able to look around me and was amazed that I seemed to be the only one being led out. I wouldn’t want other fans to be thrown out but I wondered why they picked me out of the few hundred making a gesture.
I think it was just pot luck and the police needed to make an example of someone to send a warning to other fans.
Walking The Gauntlet
So we began the long walk from pitch level up to the top of the Holmesdale terrace.
I’ve always been a fan of music ever since I was little. I was lucky enough to grow up in a pub so the jukebox was always a fixture in my life. Back in the seventies, the pub was more of a working man’s domain than it is today.
We had a public bar, which was a little rougher than average, a proper working man’s pub. Of course, there was a saloon bar too, which had a carpeted floor and was the place the women sat or men with their wives.
Yes, things really were like that back then! Pubs opened at 11.30 and closed at 15.00 to open again at 17.30 until 23.00. The life of a publican wasn’t like it is today. Food? A few rolls and some pork scratchings!
I mention the pub because I was aware of the song by Stealers Wheel called ‘Stuck In The Middle With You’ long before it was made infamous by the film Reservoir Dogs.
As I was walking up the I started thinking about the chorus to that song. On the left of me were the clowns, the Brighton fans who were taking the pi*s, being abusive and some of them aiming a punch at me through the railings. I think some of them even spat at me.
The policeman, being a sensible chap, stood to the right of me who was a joker. He was telling me to ignore them and when I told him I was being hit, he said he didn’t see anything.
The Palace fans in the middle pen of the Holmesdale did what they did the previous time I was ejected. They voiced their support while at the same time throwing abuse back at the Brighton fans.
I survived the long walk to the top and received some bruises but nothing major.
My Home From Home
I was taken into the little brick building again for the same routine as before. The policeman sitting at the desk asked what I’d done and my escort said ‘crowd incitement’ which I thought was a fair reflection.
I would have thought crowd incitement was the reason I was ejected the first time rather than the ‘racial incitement’ which was quoted at the time.
In case you are wondering, I hadn’t done anything racist the previous time I was ejected. All I and several hundred other fans did was hum the ‘Hovis’ tune and shouting the word ‘shit’ at the end of it in the general direction of the Middlesbrough fans.
I was again asked for my name and address but this time as I wasn’t suffering from near concussion and with the suspicion I was just going to be thrown out of the ground, I gave my friend’s name and address whom I just left behind in the Arthur Wait. Well, he did just laugh at me for being dragged away…
The policeman at the desk gestured at the exit and once again was led towards the big iron exit gate. It was opened and I was pushed out onto Holmesdale Road.
All in all the experience was more pleasant and a lot less painful than the previous time. I decided not to hang around and went round to Park Road to see if I could get back into the ground.
Sure enough, the exits were open. Luckily not for the away fans!
Just as before I made my way down the stairs towards the Arthur Wait enclosure, passing the Brighton fans who some minutes before had been mocking me. A couple right at the front recognised me, I guess I have that kind of face.
They tried to tell the policemen at the bottom of the stairs that I had been thrown out. The policemen just ignored them and I gave them a ‘Nescafe’ hand gesture.*
*Back in the eighties Nescafe had a commercial where Gareth Hunt, basically, did a handshake to mimic coffee beans being to transform into granules.
I found my friend who said he wondered how long I’d be and took the piss until I told him I gave them his name and address. That wiped the smile off his face.
The game ended and a good day was had by all.
The team: Suckling, Pemberton, Shaw, Madden, Hopkins, O’Reilly, McGoldrick, Pardew, Bright, Wright, Barber. Sub: Burke (Shaw).
I made it clear in the first part of this article and I want to make it again, I don’t think it is funny, clever or big to be thrown out of a football ground.
Those of you who went to matches back then, especially away games, will know how we, paying customers, were treated. Especially notorious was the West Midlands Police for their heavy-handedness and lack of intelligence.
I used to wonder what came first. The football fan’s lack of respect for the police or the police’s heavy-handedness when dealing with football fans. Maybe it was an evolution that went hand-in-hand.
I honestly didn’t think to hum the Hovis tune would incite the crowd, with or without shit being shouted at the end. Neither did I think flicking a V-sign at a group of fans would make them blind with fury, which when you compare to some of the things sung at the time is kind of trivial!
It was all part and parcel of the experience of being a football fan at the time. We were treated like shit and acted accordingly at times. The police just saw it as a way to let off some steam because, as you know from the Hillsborough Inquiry, they could do what they wanted to do to us without any comeback.
It should be noted that this happened before Hillsborough. That horror was to occur 3 weeks after this match and the attitude of the police did chance for a good few years because they, quite literally, were getting away with acts of bullying, GBH, false imprisonment and ultimately, manslaughter.
I don’t like the fact that the police are so handicapped today but what went on back in the 70s, 80s and early 90s to football fans was disgusting and the culture had to change.