Belfast Telegraph

Full steam ahead for FA Cup finalists Crystal Palace

There was no shortage of glum faces among the Crystal Palace fans at the final whistle of a game in which their team had convincingly been beaten 4-1.

Southampton had threatened a fifth goal in the final minutes, Alan Pardew was unhappy with the refereeing, while the match in which the popular Julian Speroni equalled the club's record appearances for a goalkeeper will largely be remembered for his mistake that gifted the hosts the lead.

However, just a brief walk from St Mary's Stadium after the final whistle, at Southampton Central train station, the result and t he disappointment had largely been forgotten.

Fans lined the station's platforms to watch their players board the vintage steam train taking them back to London, nurturing the optimistic atmosphere building towards next week's FA Cup final with Manchester United, and relishing the prospect of mixing with those they pay to watch like supporters once would have in eras gone by.

Indulging a personal passion, Palace co-owner Jeremy Hosking - a collector of vintage steam trains - had organised the locomotive Lord Dowding to take paying fans from London to Southampton with the promise Pardew and his team would join them on the return.

Pardew, who had encouraged the venture, mixed with those present, and the popular Speroni, Jason Puncheon, Mile Jedinak and others posed for photos and conversed with fans when the train emptied to refuel.

"We need to give them something back, we need to make sure that they know that we appreciate that, and this is a great opportunity for that," Speroni told Press Association Sport. "The atmosphere we've had for many years, the support is incredible."

There has been much for Palace's fans to be grateful for to the consortium which rescued the club from the risk of financial ruin in 2010, not least the momentum that has gradually established them in the Premier League, recruit a manager in contention to take over from Roy Hodgson with England, and inspired them to next week's FA Cup final. But few would ever have expected to be joining them as they did.

Hosking had also funded a helicopter to follow the train to record footage of their journey, while on the way back in a carriage walkway Pardew's mother could be heard contributing stories regarding the significant size of her son at birth.

"There's very little connection between the supporters and the actual players (throughout football), which is regrettable" said Hosking. "(The distance is) probably greater than it's ever been."

The return trip took Hosking, players, management, supporters, chairman Steve Parish, chief executive Phil Alexander and other club directors in the same direction, in the way Pardew had spoken of wanting to do to develop their club, with next week's final at Wembley rarely out of conversation, or minds.

"It's childhood obsession meets mid-life crisis," Hosking added of his venture.

There were children on board, falling asleep close to London at the end of a lengthy day, while their parents relaxed with a sense of satisfaction a 4-1 defeat will rarely provide.

"It's a great experience to have a train like this, all our fans on it, and all the players on it, which gives you a kind of camaraderie of what the club's about," said Pardew, a prominent figure of the Palace team that, in the more accessible times of 1990, lost to United in the memorable final replay.

"We've always been about that. The fans, the players, the staff - we're connected - we're all together; we win, we lose and we draw."


From Belfast Telegraph