BY ANDREW McSTEEN
Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish stated in his pre-match programme notes before tonight’s Premier League clash against Burnley that the game “will be an occasion like no other in our stadium.”
The Eagles return to their home ground for the first time since their 1-0 win against Watford on March 7.
Despite playing twice already in the resumed behind-closed-doors league, Palace are one of the last clubs to play at home and it will be a very different Selhurst Park they enter – not least with a pristine pitch to use, having had no action on it for 114 days.
There will also be no fans inside the 25,486-capacity stadium, while all the lower tiers throughout the ground have been dressed in banners, with support for the NHS and Black Lives Matter movement prominent, alongside club sponsors and sections of supporter chants including “Follow, Follow, Follow” and “Palace, Palace, Palace” taken from the fans’ favourite ‘We Love You’ chant.
Also sitting prominently in Block E, centre of the Holmesdale Road end is a large banner, urging people to donate to the Norwood and Brixton Foodbank, which they can do by texting ‘DINNER £5’ to 70085.
The South London Press understands that the club had asked the vocal ‘Holmesdale Fanatics’ supporters’ group if they wanted to have a banner presence in the stadium in their usual section for games, but the group requested they use it to promote the foodbank, something that the club were happy to oblige with, having supported the same foodbank for the past 18 months.
To comply with social distancing, the club have adapted their changing rooms – the home one has been enlarged with the away one taken over for Hodgson’s men too. Visitors Burnley will find their away changing room in a converted Portakabin nearby which used to be the club offices. This has also been dressed for the occasion.
Alongside the now familiar use of crowd noise through television and radio broadcast, in-stadium music and supporter video walls, the club has also launched, through www.cpfc.co.uk, a free virtual matchday experience enabling supporters to listen to an hour-long pre-match show and then audio match commentary from Palace TV, as well as taking part in private video calls with friends and family before, during and after the match, starting tonight.
For Palace manager Roy Hodgson and his players, it will also be a new experience, after their plans to get used to the new environment before tonight were scuppered by their twice-weekly Covid-19 testing.
“We intended to go there and train [on Saturday] but unfortunately the testing put a stop to that, so we had to change that and train in Beckenham – we won’t train at the stadium before the game,” said Hodgson to the South London Press.
“There was a moment where we thought it was a good idea and we would have liked to have done so, but it was logistically difficult. With the testing being based in Beckenham it would have made it counter-productive.
“However, if you can go to Bournemouth and then Anfield to play a game of football, you can certainly go to Selhurst Park and play. We know the pitch, of course, and it will be very good, the dimensions will be the same, but we know all the other pitches and most of our players have played on these Premier League teams’ pitches many, many times.”
Despite the lack of supporters inside the ground, Hodgson is well aware of the support his team has both in person and virtually and is looking forward to seeing the newly-dressed ground and messages of support.
“What our supporters do in terms of their support for the club never surprises me, it always pleases me and always gives me a good feeling to have this type of support behind us,” he said.
“I am looking forward to seeing those things and I am looking forward even more to the time when we can have those supporters inside the stadium, and we can get back to having their support close to hand and vocal.”
To support the Norwood and Brixton Foodbank and the crucial work they do, text ‘DINNER £5’ to 70085.
PHOTOS BY SEBASTIAN FREJ
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