Football is an odd sport, sometimes. Every team has their rivals and for Liverpool they’re numerous. Obviously Everton and Manchester United go without saying, though something of an odd rivalry developed between us and Chelsea when Rafa Benitez and José Mourinho were the two club’s respective managers and has carried on through ever since. That’s more to do with our lack of respect for their lack of history and the fact that the London club have, pretty much literally, bought their success. Most of you might be wondering why I’m talking about Chelsea when we’re playing Crystal Palace this weekend – or talking about rivalries at all – but it’s to illustrate a point: that there are almost secondary rivalries that can build up over time if certain things fall in the right way. I don’t think that we’ll ever think of Palace as rivals in the true sense, but it’s worth acknowledging that there are a few interesting things at play this weekend.
Favourite pre-game fact; Mohamed Salah has opened the scoring in as many Premier League games (eight) as Crystal Palace this season.https://t.co/2jVmcpevIL
— Neil Jones (@neiljonesgoal) March 29, 2018
Supporters, often irrationally, hate the idea of coming up against former players. There’s a feeling that they always play harder against their former club than any other side. That’s not necessarily a concept that I buy into – after all, if it were true then Peter Crouch would be the top scoring player in world football. Yet I can’t pretend I’m happy about the fact that Mamadou Sakho will be fit for our trip to Selhurst Park. I’m also aware that Christian Benteke has had a terrible season, yet I’ve brought him into my Fantasy Football team ahead of this one. Then there’s the small matter of the manager. Never the right fit for Liverpool, most people couldn’t wait to see the back of Roy Hodgson and were entirely unsurprised when he fell flat managing England. He seems more at home in his own skin now, though, and he’d no doubt love to get one over on his former employers. In short, I don’t think this is going to be the ‘guaranteed three points’ some are treating it as, so I asked Crystal Palace fan Robbie Scotcher some questions about how he saw things going.
Just a quick introduction about you: who are you and how long have you been supporting Crystal Palace?
I’m a 40 year old Actor from South London. I mainly work in theatre and am currently in Mamma Mia in the West End.
When it comes to football, Palace fans always say ‘Palace chooses you, you don’t choose Palace’. I was born in Croydon and my dad first took me to a Palace game when I was about 7. I literally had no choice. I did waver after Liverpool beat Palace 9-0. I was the only Palace fan at my school and dreaded the ribbing I was about to take. But my dad made me wear my Palace shirt and scarf to school and I was Ian Wright in Wembley singles in the playground. I got absolutely rinsed by everyone for months. But it cemented my love for the club at that young age and I’m a very proud Palace fan.
I met you when we did the Willy Russell musical Blood Brothers together. That’s set in Liverpool, so is that why you’ve got a soft spot for the city and the club or did that come about before then?
I’d been to Liverpool once before on a tour and didn’t have the best time, to be honest. Someone had actually robbed our dressing room and my mate was mugged on the Wirral. This could happen anywhere, of course, but it didn’t make me warm to the city and perhaps made me buy into the stereotypes a bit.
When I got Blood Brothers and joined the cast as the Narrator I was then educated about the city. I had to spend some time in [the show’s producer] Bill Kenwright’s office talking to him. As a Londoner he felt it important that I understood the people and history. He kicked me out of his office one day because I turned up in a red jumper. My old flat mate, who funnily enough is playing the Narrator in the show now, was a huge Liverpool fan so I always watched every game on TV.
I actually wore a Liverpool shirt during the Champions League final in 2005 in support. When I came back to the city with Blood Brothers I had the best time. We had Mel C in the show and there was a lot of buzz. The Empire Theatre was full and the atmosphere was amazing. Jamie Carragher came back to our dressing room after one performance to say hello. Kenwright invited me to an Everton game whilst we were in Liverpool and I sat with Howard Kendall.
Touring the country with you guys, arguing about football at every opportunity, was great fun. I can also see similarities with my club’s support and yours. I’m not a cockney, I’m from South London. It’s a very different thing and we have a kind of siege mentality. I can see that when it comes to the Premier League with Liverpool. I also love music and boxing, so it’s the perfect city for me.
What have you made of Palace’s season so far?
I had high hopes for mid-table, early safety and a cup run this season. We’ve had some great results. A lot of last minute drama and quite a lot of frustration. My highlights have been Wilf Zaha’s performances. And Wan-Bissaka, an academy lad who’s come through and shown real promise.
Our injury problems have definitely been the biggest disappointment.
Looking back, do you think it was the right decision to sack Frank de Boer, or do you think he’d have turned things around given time? Looking at the stats, it seemed like hard luck that you had such a poor start rather than poor management….
With De Boer, it wasn’t just what was happening on the pitch. Lots of things behind the scenes weren’t right. But the main issue was he wasn’t backed in the window. We didn’t have the personnel to play his way. We couldn’t spend hugely as we had done that in the previous January and FFP has a big impact on us. So he was the wrong appointment. That’s on the board. It took them four months to pick him! But I’m glad they pulled the plug when they did. I honestly think we’d have been in West Brom’s position had he stayed longer.
In the last few months, you’ve been saying that Palace would go through a tough period as you faced the likes of Chelsea, United and Spurs but would come good once you started facing the teams around you. Are you still confident that you’ll stay up?
Totally. The fixture list has been kind to us. We’ve played the top teams in blocks. And providing we stayed within touching distance I thought we’d be ok. With the fixtures we have left, if we still go down then that’s fair enough. It’s been a random season. But momentum plays a huge part. The Man United match was hugely deflating, but after that we were back in the games and creating chances and still in with a chance in the last seconds of matches. Huddersfield was a huge result. We never looked like conceding. I believe staying up is in our hands.
After a season plagued by injuries, most of your first-team players are back for this one aren’t they? What do you think the team will be?
As I’m writing this I’ve just heard Zaha is 50/50. Huddersfield kicked him all over the place and he’s been recovering ever since. It’s a huge loss for us if he’s out and the game will be lesser for it, actually. I really wanted to see Zaha v Robertson, that would be a great battle.
If all are fit this would be my team:
- Van Arnholt
- Loftus-Cheek or McArthur
What areas do you think will determine the outcome of the game?
We’ve got to make you have an off day. I’ve loved watching Liverpool play this season and if we sit and watch you we’ll lose heavily. Our midfield will have to get about you and try to stop you being fluid. We can match you for pace. Wan-Bissaka v Salah will be great to watch. Van Dijk v Benteke will be a battle. There are lots of good duels on the pitch. But if you play in full flow we can’t match you. We’ve got to stop you’re fluidity. Both teams have come back from 2-0 and both go to the final whistle. The atmosphere will be crazy. Palace fans love this fixture.
You were close to taking points from all of Spurs, Chelsea and Man United but fell short at the last. Do you think you can go one step further this time?
If you have pace and Zaha you have a chance. As soon as Man United got one back you could feel they were going to get back into it. But Palace have learned from mistakes this season. There is so much quality on the pitch it’s hard to predict what will happen.
Do you think Roy Hodgson will opt for any tactical surprises? Will he be tempted to play more like Swansea than he might do if you were up against anyone else?
I think he’ll start 4-4-2 then, as the game goes on, change to 4-1-2-2-1 with Zaha (if fit) and Townsend out wide. He may start Fosu-Mensah instead of Tomkins to add more pace at the back. I’d be surprised if he went three at the back. But he won’t park the bus. We’ll have a go like we with City.
I’ve mentioned him, so I better ask you about our former manager. Obviously a lot of Liverpool fans haven’t got much time for Roy Hodgson. He acted as though the club were fortunate to have him as our manager, rather than the other way around, and regularly threw players under the bus in order to preserve his own reputation. Have you found him doing similar things at Palace or do you think he’s being forgiven more speedily by your supporters?
He’s been brilliant for us. He’s not thrown any players under the bus but we are grateful to have him. At our level he’s a great coach. He’s made brave choices. He’s turned our ship around. The players love him and he’s been a class act. He’s from the area, a Croydon boy. Was on Palace’s books as an apprentice and this feels like the perfect fit. It’s also a chance for him to finish on a high rather than that Iceland match as England manager.
We play better football under him than when we had Sam Allardyce. We’ve had the worst injury crisis since I’ve been a Palace fan and he’s not used it as an excuse. No team has lost the first 7 games and stayed up. The fact we are contention to is testament to his leadership. I fully understand why you guys didn’t like him and what he did there and I’d have felt the same. But for us I’m delighted.
Do you think he’ll still be there next season?
If we go down, no. And I think that’ll be the right decision. If we go down then I’d like a younger manager to start the rebuilding process. Whatever happens this summer is huge for us. Lots of players out of contract. The new stadium looming. If we stay up I want him to stay.
If you had to guess at how the rest of this campaign will pan out for both clubs, what would you say?
I think we’ll stay up. It’ll be tight but West Brom, Stoke and West Ham will go down. I actually thought that you’d chase down City and finish within about 5 points of them. I think you’ll get to the Champions League final. You’ve been my favourite team to watch this season. Love Salah and Robertson.
Prediction for the game? How do you see it panning out?
I think it’ll be open. I never bet against Palace. I’m excited to see what the best team we have does against such a strong Liverpool team. 2-1 us. We’ll get a pen. I hope it’s a great game. Good Luck!