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Crystal Palace 2007

Reporter Makes Selhurst Park Bow By Stuart Pink

While growing up in the mean streets of Farnham I, like pretty much every kid, dreamed of becoming a professional footballer.

Unfortunately, not many hopefuls make it on to the big stage and instead have to seek other, less glamorous careers to earn a crust.

But last Thursday at Selhurst Park, the fundraising organisation Football Aid gave me and 23 Crystal palace fans of all ages, shapes and sizes, the chance to fulfil a dream and sample the typical match day experience of the Eagles stars they pay to watch every week.

In order to play, the fans visited the Football Aid website to bid in an auction to play in a particular position for either a half or the whole 90 minutes.

The Home side, managed by Dougie Freedman, wore the Palace Home shirt and my side, the Away team, wore the Club’s second strip and were led by Eagles legend Jim Cannon.

After a quick debriefing in the players lounge, we were taken to our respective dressing rooms where our shirts, with name and squad number were hung up on the pegs above our shorts, socks and team sheet.

This is when the real match day experience started to kick in, as every attention to detail is considered.

After getting changed into our brand new kit (which we got to keep) and having a brief warm-up on the turf while the teams are read out on the PA systems, we trotted out again through the tunnel with 'Glad All Over' ringing in our ears in front of the small crowd made up of players guests.

As I was confirmed for the second half at right back, I stood alongside boss Cannon for the first 45 minutes, seeing our side take a 1-0 lead into the break.

The gaffer gave his half time pep talk in the dressing room and we returned to the field once the bell sounded – here was my chance to impress.

Unlike the last Football Aid game at SE25 which ended up as a 15-1 win for the Away team, this game was a much closer affair which made for a much more competitive encounter?

A well-taken volley by our centre midfielder doubled my team’s advantage, but the Home side pulled one back in controversial style when their forward slotted home a 25 yard free-kick after I was somehow adjudged to have fouled his strike partner as he had a shot on goal.

With professional referees and linesman deployed, I could not even give the officials some lip in case I got booked!

The Home side were now on top and pushing for an equaliser, until we scored 2 quick fire goals to blunt their resistance and put the game beyond their reach.

Only a dubious late penalty allowed them to breach our strong defence to make the final score 4-2.

After some banter and handshakes, we got showered and changed and returned to the Players’ Lounge, where each manager chose their team’s man of the match, before the moment of the match was decided, which was won by the goal scorer of the Away side’s first goal.

I did not let the omission from being man of the match ruin my experience and felt privileged to have taken part in a memorable day.

Playing among Eagle fans meant there was no trouble or petulance on the filed and both sides clearly revelled playing on the fine turf. After a while, you forget you are playing in front of the big stands and it starts to feel like any other game.

But that is football – it’s the same wherever you play, except on this occasion, it was slightly more special.

If only I had bagged a hat trick!

Many thanks to Stuart from all at Football Aid for letting us reproduce this fine article which appeared in the Croydon Guardian on May 9th.

Team Line Ups

Home Team: R. Cunningham, C. Lynch, P. May, D. Marsh, D. Herron, J. Cairns, R. Perry, D. Bowden, T. Gill, D. Rowson, S. Walder, T. Davies, J. Pollard

Mascot: Harry Bowden

Away Team: F. Bennett, D. Simpson, J. Burdon, D. Neilson, B. Rixon, D. Killick, D Shoubridge, P. Styles, B. Broom, N. Amato, K. Maidan, S. Pink, J. O’Sullivan

Mascot: Natasha Neilson

Scorers: (Home) Bowden and Marsh (penalty) (Away) Killick, Broom (2) and Maidan

Man of the Match: (H) Peter May (A) Dwayne Simpson

Moment of the Match: David Killick’s First Goal