For plenty of Albion fans, Saturday’s trip to Selhurst Park will be one of the highlights of the season.
Taking on our greatest enemy on their own turf, bragging rights at stake and on this occasion, the opportunity to perhaps push them closer to the trap down to the Championship. It’s not hard to see why some will be like children on Christmas Eve come Friday night.
Not me, though. I approach games with Crystal Palace with the sort of trepidation that is reserved for visiting the dentist or approaching a speed camera at 40mph and realising it’s too late to slow down to 30. Playing Palace is anything but a fun experience.
The hassle to do with the fixture in its modern guise doesn’t help. Having to carry identification papers to present to the relevant authorities when asked is something that belongs in a George Orwell novel, not a street in Croydon in April, 2018.
Yet any Albion fan wanting to get into Selhurst on Saturday will be asked to produce photo ID to prove they are who their ticket says they are before you can even approach the turnstiles of the Arthur Waite Stand. If you can’t produce ID or your ticket doesn’t match you name, you aren’t going in.
But it’s more than the over-the-top security, the prospect of being told where you can and can’t go or even being kettled by the police around South Norwood that makes me dislike games with Palace. It’s the fact that in my Albion supporting lifetime, they have always managed to get the better of us.
My generation of Albion fans first experience of a derby game with Palace was losing 5-0 in 2002 and being locked in Selhurst for 45 minutes afterwards. Not a great introduction to the rivalry, it must be said.
On the only occasion I’ve ever seen us win up there, in October, 2005, through a glorious Paul McShane header, the gloating could last only a month as the fixtures computer helpfully sent them to Withdean four weeks later where they duly triumphed 3-2 with a last minute winner.
We’ve finished above them twice in my lifetime, but even those weren’t worth celebrating. In 2011-12 our higher league placing was wiped out by the fact they wrote themselves into the history books as the first visiting team to win a league game at the Amex.
The following season we again looked down on them, yet that counted for absolutely nothing as they knocked us out of the play-offs and went on to win promotion to the Premier League.
It’s a sad fact of life, but whatever the Albion have done, Palace have always managed to go one better.
That could all change this weekend of course. So far this season, we’ve drawn 0-0 in a game that could’ve bored an insomniac to sleep and then defeated them 2-1 in the FA Cup.
Does that mean the tide is turning? Some would say yes, but I’d hold those horses – it is Grand National Day after all – until 5pm on Saturday before declaring the Albion supreme.
Leave Selhurst Park with victory however, and for the first time in over 30 years we would have a genuine case to have had a better season than our rivals. Maybe then I’ll look forward to derby games next season. Unless of course Palace are in the Championship, which would be a real shame.