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It is all about 90 minutes

Coventry - Crystal Palace 2-1
Crystal Palace - Sunderland 2-1
Sunderland - Crystal Palace 2-1 (4-5 on penalties)

“What would you do if you scored the winning goal for getting the promotion? ”, we were asked before the season for our match day programs.

I can’t remember what I answered. Now I might have to check it up just in case. Ok… I might be an unlikely scorer, but for a long while as unlikely it looked like we would even be this far. In December we were deep in the relegation battle. It seemed we could have started booking our summer holidays. We have also twice been only a minute away from being on that vacation.

Now we are 90 minutes away from The Premiership. 90 minutes away from the ultimate goal for this season. 90 minutes away from a dream come through. 90 minutes away from travelling to Arsenal instead of Rotherham. 90 minutes can decide club’s future. 90 minutes can decide my future. 90 minutes can be so important professionally, emotionally, economically… 90 minutes of football.

I watched the FA Cup final Millwall- Man Utd from the telly. What a carneval that is! I was thinking next week I’m going to be in the same situation. Playing there at the Millenium Stadium. In front of 70000 supporters. So am I scared of it? Possibly playing for where I’m going to live for the next few years? Will the occasion and supporters put us off? Or the over 20 million pound stake? Is the circus too much?

If it was and you’d take your eye off the ball, then it would be purely down to luck what happens to you. That’s not us. We don’t believe in luck. Obviously in one off game luck does play a role. So do ability, fitness and tactics. However the most important thing is to be ready. We are. That has already won, can and will win us miracles. So I can’t wait to be there to play our “FA Cup final”.

Sir Clive Woodward made me realise this. I participated last week Sport Writers’ Association’s yearly dinner because of my other job as the writer of this column. I only went there because I didn’t have any food at home, but in the end I was fed by some wisdom by this great man. Sir Woodward said in his speech, that the only pressure England had before the Rugby World Cup was to be the team that was best prepared for it. They were. They won.

There is only a week before the biggest game of our lives. How are we going to prepare for it? What special we have to do? Nothing, I’d say. We have had the optimal preparation every day for the past six months. This massive occasion and possible promotion are only outcomes. All this is won in the training ground and in the every day hard work we have done. We have now achieved the benefits of it and reached the final. This last week we are still going to do the same things that got us there. We are already prepared. That is the reason we can be confident. It is a relaxing, a great feeling to go to the game when you know you have done your best preparation for it. You don’t need to be nervous because you are confident you can give your best go. It won’t guarantee a win but already gives you a great chance. In the end of the day you can just about accept somebody beating you with good performance, but you could never accept not being prepared enough. We believe if we do our bit in the game, we are over half way there.

I’ve been constantly told that there are no friends in this game. Greed, envy, ruthless competition, selfishness are unfortunately written into modern football with big letters. Normally you can have a laugh with your teammates or even go for a drink with them. You can take your time with the fans. You can do little favours for people working for the club. And you don’t mind all this. But everyone seems to be thinking that you can’t trust anybody in this business. Too often in football you find that behind the smiles and words there might be something else, you feel many people have hidden agendas. At bad times almost everyone most likely turn they back to you.

However our resurrection has proved that there is still a place for good things in football. Our hard work has been based on good values and standards. Honesty, loyalty and commitment are big words. Often used by small people in their cheesy speeches, or columns. I feel not cheesy but honoured to use these words about us. Our management team has not just turned around the result but also the personal views of the game. One learns that team is more powerful than any individual. However many people play like trying to forget that. We instead made our ground rule “togetherness”. There are trust, honesty and loyalty to the team and the cause in our everyday work. You can’t buy that from the transfer markets. For this play-off final I wouldn’t change any of my teammates to any big name footballers in the world. This is our final, our team, our journey. We have carried ourselves here with belief into our cause and values.

We played before last semi-final a training game of us starting 11 versus other 11 in our squad. I looked the commitment of our opponent and thought playing against anyone in the playoffs is going to be easier than playing against this bunch of my teammates. However when I looked at my own side I saw people who I would happily go to war with. They would stand right next to me. In 90 minutes anything can happen, but I know we’ll go through it together.

After these 90 minutes the season is over: as always some players will leave, some new will come in. It will never be exactly the same again. I don’t know if I see some of these people ever again. But I’ll always consider them as my friends. In my wall there is a picture that our fitness trainer made for all of us. In the picture there are all our team members and it says: ”You’ll forget the shots, the tackles and the plays. You’ll even forget the results, but you’ll never forget your teammates.” This sums up our journey and Crystal Palace football club at the moment.

So now I know my answer to the first question. If I scored the winning goal I’d love to dedicate it to people I think deserves it: myself, my family, friends, people who have helped me, the fans, people working for the club. I won’t though. It would belong to people who deserves it the most: my teammates, or my true friends as I’d rather call them. In the end of the day scoring a winner would be easier than having friends like these.

"There is no point getting to the Play-off Final unless you are going to win it"
- Matt Clarke

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