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16.5.2006
Hard to say goodbye

And they lived happily ever after. You know the standard ending. Liverpool winning the FA Cup final. Thierry Henry being the top scorer again. James Bond getting the girl in the end. Some endings are just written in stars. Some endings create stars. The society was not built on to emphasis beginnings, weíre defined and remembered how something finished.

I pictured myself in Cardiff, on the podium celebrating in the sea of red and blue another promotion for the club Iíve been privileged to play for over five years. In that moment of complete fulfilment I could have even sang along my tone death version of ďGlad all overĒ. Victorious moment, a mutual thank you Ė have a good summer! That would have been my perfect ending for this season. Instead my great years in Crystal Palace might have ended to a disappointing result, on a grey evening sitting behind the dugout at Vicarage Road kicking a seat in front in despair. Small injuries and failed promotion campaign leaves a bitter taste to what has been done over the years. You donít want to be remembered as bit of a sick note after youíve played 180 games for the club. Or that you didnít achieve the widely expected promotion after the club was almost relegating from the same league when you joined. In the history of sports, though, you are always as good as your last game.

I read a while ago from a tabloid paper that a fan of a Celebrity Big Brother show would have been disappointed if Chantelle didnít end up with Preston and now their marriage being the perfect ending to one of the greatest love stories ever. If something that happens in a reality show can be called perfect ending, greatest love story or disappointment then we have to quickly invent new words to English dictionary. Superlatives and big words have suffered inflation when we started using them next to nonsense. There are many celebrity reality shows, but only some affairs are real. It hit me when just before semi-finalís second leg I came across to a touching letter from one of our supporters.

He described what his playoff match day was going to be like Ė as it had been for years every Saturday. He knew exactly how he was going to act and feel from putting his favourite shirt on to sleeping with it the next night. To support Palace was something that had become part of his existence. He described his intense feelings and emotions on his way to Watford. The unexplainable social and emotional connection with the club, something his wife could never understand. How chants filled his body walking towards the stadium. What it was going to feel like being in away stand getting abused by opponent about the score line. Watching tears in his eyes how the task might be just too big. But how he still was feeling proud for wearing the colours he believed in. And how that love could never die. He was going to be there with his head up singing about pride and passion, no matter what would happen that day. His love affair with the club was not going to be finished by a result, players coming and going, another reality show being created or James Bond being blond all of a sudden. The final whistle was not an ending, it was just a disappointment.

Disappointment is a versatile word. Missing a penalty, overruled lads night to meet missusí relatives, boring starts of columns, all chefs that use celery in foodÖ itís going to hurt you. We like endings to meet our expectations. Otherwise it can get us down for some time. Most things we get over with fairly soon, though. I donít think West Ham supporters are disappointed after their sensational performance in the cup final although they were only a touch away from the trophy. They made already their great ending by overachieving all expectations. However, when everyone who cares about Palace looks the outcome of the season, we are talking about a disappointment we canít just sleep it over. The fan knows he has to spend at least a year and fair amount of money and time to travel to Burnleys and Hulls when it was supposed to be Liverpools and Man Uniteds. He still will, though. His love affair is forever real even with its disappointments.

My biggest disappointment so far was to miss these playoff games. Iím no Rooney by ability or importance to my team, but like the England hero I was also fighting against the clock to recover in time from a small injury. I lost the battle to be fit by few days. It didnít help to wake up every night to ice my leg, travel around the world to see specialists, eat ridiculous foods because they might help me that extra day. Spending 24/7 rehabilitating, training or recovering wasnít enough this time. Was I disappointed that I couldnít go socialising with friends in order to save my feet? Or about postponed barbeques? Not sleeping properly? That all this didnít pay off? Not at all. I was disappointed we didnít achieve our goals and there was nothing I could do about it. I went home from the game thinking it might well be Iím not going to play another time for the team Iíve spent most of my career at and wanted to land to the Premiership. Maybe I donít even see the lads again. Put the red and blue jersey on. Smell the grass of Selhurst Park. Feel the victory in front of Holmesdale End. All I wanted was just to be part of the crucial games. Not that it would have probably made a big difference but it would have made difference to me to at least have a chance to finish the job. Itís not a good ending to a season to sit in the stands. Itís hardly an ending at all. Itís just suddenly over. That is what disappointment is to me.

We canít change the endings but we can change every ending to be a new beginning. Only cure for disappointment is to try again. Harder. Iím looking forward to that. Iím not looking forward watching the playoff finals, though. I envy England, Arsenal, Watford, Leeds and other playoff finalists too much because whoever is still playing games now can still achieve their perfect endings also.

Whoís going to win the promotion? I donít know. There is something about both these teams. My expectations and predictions of finalists were both wrong. The two teams that performed better over two legs deservedly made it to Cardiff and I wish good luck to them. Whoís going to win the Champions League or the World Cup? I donít know that either. For the sake of English football I hope it is Arsenal and England. How is Chantelle-Preston story going to end? I know it wouldnít disappoint me the slightest if I never heard about them again. What happens to that real fan that would have deserved to be there at Cardiff? The spirit of him is creating new beginnings wherever someone wins or loses something. Once upon a timeÖ

Aki


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