<
>

Crystal Palace's 'ultras' causing anxiety among club, other supporters

On Saturday, Crystal Palace fans travel to Stoke knowing anything other than a defeat and they can pretty safely spend the return journey to London making plans for next season in the Premier League.

They probably are already safe given they are on 33 points with nine games to go coupled with the fact there are at least four or five teams below them who are in a world of trouble. But a point or a win at the Britannia and it's pretty much party time.

And it will be party time either way in the away end on Saturday as Eagles fans celebrate their annual "Palace on Tour" day, which is where all those travelling to a selected away game each season are encouraged to make it as good an atmosphere as possible; balloons, banners, fancy dress, whatever.

Of course, Palace have been impressing Premier League opposition fans and those around the world for the last 18 months but they were doing "Palace On Tour" long before that -- long before the Sky Sports and Match of the Day cameras rolled into town.

A lot of that has been thanks to the Holmesdale Fanatics, a small group of fans who took it upon themselves to recreate the "ultra" atmosphere often seen on the continent.

And it has worked. Their chants, drumming, banners and enthusiasm has swept around the ground and encouraged those who might before have politely clapped along to get on their feet and sing -- at home and away.

But against QPR on Saturday, while Palace were cruising past the Hoops, that corner of the ground was decidedly quiet. Quiet because the group were holding a silent protest of sorts, due to two of their members being banned for the rest of the season by the club.

An article at When Saturday Comes suggested they were banned for "moshing," which would appear harsh but chairman Steve Parish revealed this week they were actually banned for crowd surfing. And not the sort you see at concerts, but leaping over people a few rows in front. It sounds, frankly, stupid and dangerous.

"It's people throwing themselves in the air from three rows back, to land on somebody is not permitted behaviour in a football stadium," Parish told The Eagles Element. "It's quite clear what we have to do and people need to understand that we have higher masters -- we have a safety council that can shut our stadium if we're not in control of it.

"Our first obligation is towards the safety of people. We've got to make people safe and one kid has got hurt, you've seen it; there's a guy that was pretty badly hurt and it could have been a lot worse. People on the periphery could have easily been caught up in it, a flying boot and lose sight in an eye."

But it's not the first time the group have tested the club's patience; I've witnessed the group ignore the club's requests not to let off flares at games, and several ticket holders have informed me of witnessing the group causing damage to seats.

The club have been accommodating in the past, organising block ticket allocations for the group at big away games. Fans also stand throughout matches, something they are not able to do in other parts of Selhurst Park.

And it seems they are testing the patience of fellow fans, too. Chants of "little boys" and "can you shut up every week" could be heard from the rest of the Holmesdale Road Stand against QPR, When Saturday Comes reported.

The group are also upset at increased security measured in the area they sit in, brought on reportedly after an incident against Newcastle United where a coin was thrown onto the pitch and hit Magpies captain Fabricio Coloccini. That coin, say the group, wasn't thrown from their block.

They might be right to feel like their liberties are being infringed upon. No one likes being filmed at football matches, something police seem to do to any group of away fans these days, but when supporters are being hurt, missiles are being thrown from the stands and private property is being damaged, what choice does the club have? Safety must come first.

By and large, the Holmesdale Fanatics' offences are more silly than they are criminal. It seems like the ultras like to poke the hornet's nest a few times, usually when things are going well on the pitch and everything seems grand. It just makes you sigh and wish everyone would just grow up, have a pint and get on with things.

The thing is, the rest of the ground was markedly quieter on Saturday without the Holmesdale Fanatics doing their thing, which does suggest that when they have an off day so do the rest of the Palace fans. A bit like Mile Jedinak in the Eagles side.

No Palace fans want to see the Fanatics stop what they do, or disbanded, they just want to see them get on with the good things. Then all Eagles fans can go to games and concentrate on the one common goal which unites them all -- Crystal Palace FC -- instead of creating factions among the support. Because that is all that matters, and on Saturday against Stoke, the club will hope the red and blue army will be back to their noisy best.