Fanatics keeping lower profile after two members were banned
18 March ~ Last weekend’s 3-1 home win against Queens Park Rangers was another step towards Premier League safety for Crystal Palace; plenty of reason, you’d imagine, for flying the flags in the home end, a bit of bouncing around and raucous chanting. The type of stuff that has made the ultras group the Fanatics as much a part of Palace’s public profile as the Crystals dancing troupe and Glad All Over cranking out over the PA system.
However, the atmosphere at Selhurst Park on Saturday was decidedly muted. No banners fluttering in the wind, not much in the way of singing, no drumming. Before the game, members of the Fanatics handed out a leaflet to supporters entering the Holmesdale Road end, explaining that the group were “keeping a lower profile than normal” after the club installed new CCTV cameras in block B (home of the ultras) following recent coin-throwing incidents.
The Fanatics insist the coins weren’t thrown by them and discussion on Palace forums would seem to back that up, with many suggesting the guilty parties were from a neighbouring block. But what’s really upset the group is the banning of two fans for “moshing”, ie a less aggressive version of the slamming-into-each-other-in-front-of-the-stage thing seen at hardcore punk gigs. The two supporters were picked up on cameras at last month’s home game against Arsenal and subsequently barred from the ground for the remainder of the season. The Fanatics had wanted to arrange a meeting with the club, and still hope to do so, but in the meantime opted to keep things low key against QPR, lest they risk another ban.
At various points of the game, anti-Fanatics chants could be heard coming from other parts of the Holmesdale Road Stand (“little boys” and “can you shut up every week?” being particular standouts). It’s not unusual to hear grumbles about the group in other parts of the stadium; complaints that they seem to think they deserve special treatment, that all the media attention has gone to their heads, that they should drop the against-modern-football stuff and concentrate on getting behind the team.
British ultras tend to be viewed with suspicion by other, usually older, supporters. There’s a sense that they are somehow betraying this country’s terrace culture; that they’re trying too hard, that they’re all a bit nerdy. Yes, everyone wants better atmosphere and spectacle, but anything overly organised is always going to be sniffed at.
A pattern has been set in recent years. A club comes up from the Championship, wins over neutrals with its proud, vocal following, before the volume notably dips after a couple of seasons in the top tier. However, the Holmesdale Fanatics have been giving everyone at the oft-maligned Selhurst Park a gee-up for a decade now. And most Palace fans remain supportive of their efforts.
Equally, the club regularly uses the Fanatics’ displays as a backdrop for marketing material, to push the Palace brand. If that relationship between board and ultras is soured, and if the Fanatics continue to be given grief from fellow fans, you have to wonder how long they’ll be able to carry on. If they don’t, Crystal Palace, and the Premier League as a whole, will be all the poorer for it. Matthew Barker