So, the International break is over, and England have managed to win a group containing Spain, and World Cup Finalists Croatia, to qualify for the inaugural Nations League Semi Finals. Back closer to home, Aaron Wan-Bissaka withdrew from the U-21's due to injury, and Mama Sakho hobbled off for France, leaving us facing a possible injury crisis as we head up for the easiest of games at Old Trafford!! Plenty to talk about then, but not in this article. Instead, I want to talk about a topic that has become a real buzz of enjoyment for me in the last few months, Crystal Palace Ladies.
Now, first, let me put my hands up and say, prior to August 2018, I knew very little about our Ladies team(s). I have been aware over the last couple of seasons that they were enjoying great success, with Gemma Bryan racking up the goals, but to be honest, my knowledge stopped there. With 30 years of supporting the Palace under my belt, why did I know so little about our Ladies? It would be a mixture of things I guess, from a lack of information being readily available, to me not knowing where to find it, and me not making the effort to find it. It is surprising really that I hadn't made more of an effort, because for years I have kept an eye on the England Women's results and watched their games on TV when able to. It was my error, and now I am realising that I really missed out.
That changed though in the summer, courtesy of two stories that caught my attention. The first, was the situation around the new Women's Championship League. Clubs had to put together an application package in order to try and gain a place in the new league, and the criteria from what I am aware of, was clubs showing progress and efforts being made to improve as a club. When the successful clubs were announced, CPLFC were not one of them. Despite growing success, we had missed out to clubs who finished below us, and a Man Utd team that hadn't existed since 2005, but naturally had the persuasive financial power to gain a spot. It was a typical Palace story really, only thankfully, it had a happier ending then we are used to. Due to unfortunate financial circumstances at Doncaster Belles, they dropped out, and we were given their spot. Hurrah!
The second story surrounded our finances. It was reported that Parish and the club had given no financial support to the Ladies, that they were having to ask for money from fans to pay the players and that it required a financial sum from Wilf to keep things going. Now, as always, this was a story twisted for negative effect. I did discover though, that there were opportunities to sponsor the players. This set off alarm bells for me. For years, I have wanted to sponsor one of the men players. I enquired once, many years ago, and it was about £500. Last year, I enquired again. In October 2017 I became a self published author of a fantasy fiction book called The Lost King(yes, I had to plug it), and being self published I need to constantly find ways to advertise. I thought that sponsoring a player would provide some publicity, while at the same time fulfilling something I wanted to do with my beloved club. There was one flaw however, the price was now £2,000!! Way out of my reach. So when I discovered I could sponsor one of the Palace Ladies, for the cost of £250, I was sold.
Now here is the thing, it was a random situation regarding my book that led me to taking the step into sponsorship, you could say it was the wrong intentions to a degree and It would be hard to argue against that. However, in becoming a sponsor, It opened up my world to something new and fantastic. My first live game was the league opener against Leicester, and while we suffered a 2-0 loss, I was hooked!
I have become one of the CPLFC Loyal, a core group of fans who go to games regularly. Any of you reading this can become one too, you simply have to go to games, something which I highly recommend. That is the point of this article, to bring more attention to the Ladies and encourage as many people as I can to attend their games. I am aware that I can take a little time to get to my point, it is the writer in me I guess, so let me now just crack on with it.
For all true Palace fans, especially those who have seen our ups and downs beyond the last 6 years of Premier League football, you will not find a more Palace feeling then with our Ladies. What do I mean by this? Well, first and foremost, we were added to the league with three weeks left until kick off. Gemma Bryan had left, as had a few others. All planning had been made for the third tier and was in progress, when suddenly we were getting thrust into the second tier. The club have had to go into the season behind everyone else in regards to preparation, while facing a big step up in the level of talent. Fighting against the odds courtesy of a random scenario, it is just so Palace.
Looking beyond that, the passion and the heart of the club is very, very real. On the pitch, the girls give it everything they have, each and every week. They play for the shirt, they fight for the shirt and you can clearly see how much it means to them. There are no big money lazy players that so many moan about on the men's side, instead there is a squad of women hungry and passionate to give their blood, sweat and tears on that pitch every single week. One player who exemplifies that is striker Nikita Whinnet, who's heart and drive for this club reminds me of some of my heroes over the years that inspired new fight in the crowd when it is needed. That fight spreads throughout the squad, and the ladies never give up, even when 5-0 down to the riches of professional team Man Utd last weekend. If the game is still going, the players will keep on going, battling for every scrap. There are a few in our men's team who could take some inspiration from that.
Off the pitch, Manager Dean Davenport and his team work hard to guide the players, to lead them and help them adapt and enhance their skills for this new level. Beyond that, there is a dedicated team of passionate staff such as club secretary Paula Jonhson, who work tirelessly day in, day out, to make sure that from top to bottom, the club runs well. Whether it is office work, or managing ticket sales and programme sales on the day, they put in the graft that is taken for granted at Selhurst Park. Now, I am aware that I keep repeating myself with words like passion, but that is because it is something that stands out for me. Everyone connected to Palace Ladies gives everything for the club, and they deserve recognition for it.
As a fan, going to games is great fun. With all the grief that has surrounded this season with the HF, singing sections and atmosphere troubles, match day at Hayes Lane has been a breath of fresh air. Some of us stand in the end terrace, flags up on show, providing a vocal support. We get to have a good old sing song, trying to give a little something back to our players on the pitch who go into battle for us every week. I have very quickly discovered the bond and connection between the CPLFC Loyal and the team, it is something that is earned and grown together, and all the millions in the world can't buy. As corny as it may sound, I generally feel a part of something special at CPLFC, and I really hope that continues. You see, it isn't about results, it's about enjoyment. It is about supporting a group of players who give us everything, no matter what. As Palace fans, we always want to see players who care about pulling on the famous red and blue, and with the Ladies, you get that.
Have I sold it to you yet? I hope so, because the game against United drew a crowd just short of 1,000 and it showed a glimpse of what could be for the club. It provided a support that all of the team truly deserves, and I for one would love to see it more often. If you aren't quite sold yet, then let me add this. These ladies have other jobs, and give their spare time to training so that they can be the best they can be. They can't spend all week training together like the men do, they only get a couple of sessions, yet they have continued to build foundations of success, not just in the first team, but the reserves, development team and all the year groups down. It is a success built on hard work, desire and unity, something I always associated with Palace. Recently though, there have been some questionable actions on the men's side of the game that have certainly saddened me, only for the Ladies to restore that good feeling when it has been much needed.
So, once again, let me say that if you are seeking that good old Palace feeling, if you are looking to reconnect with your club, then get down to Hayes Lane and support the Ladies. More than that, if you can, sponsor a player. The £2000 for men's sponsorship probably never reaches the player, it has no need to given their wages, and if it did, it would not make a difference. With CPLFC though, it does. You make the sponsorship knowing that it will be of help to the player, even in a small way, such as paying for her match fees for the season. Trust me when I say, your sponsorship will be rewarded on the pitch time and time again.
As a sponsor, I am both proud and honoured to sponsor left back Hope Nash, who joined the club in the summer and impressed me straight away with her battling performances. I am hoping that this season is the start of a long and enthralling journey for me with CPLFC, and I whole heartedly encourage you all get on board and start a journey of your own!
Feel free to contact me on twitter @michaeljcuell if you would like more information about CPLFC