The Story Of The Holmesdale Fanatics
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The English Premier League in the country that gave birth to the game is the most watched league in the world, but it's widely accepted that atmospheres in English grounds have been in decline for a while. At one ground that's always been known to be fairly loud, the fans of one club have been looking to Europe for tips on how to back the trend, Selhurst Park, Crystal Palace. Since 2005, Selhurst Park has been home to the only self-titled ultra group in the upper tiers of English football. The Holmesdale fanatics have brought continental style support to south London.
Nick Philpott has been watching Palace for over 40 years. He's seen plenty of changes since the Holmesdale fanatics arrived on the scene.
Nick: Every home game it is full of vibrance, full of noise, full of passion, flags.
Reporter: And the occasional T4 also a novelty in the English game, although some have been more popular than others.
Nick: You might not want to include that because it looks like a couple of cocks that they're doing to the Holmesdale. It really did. The classic example, the real example of that is the Wembley display for the 2016 cup final. It was something that had never happened before. It was outstanding. The display that they put on Wembley had never seen it before. It's never happened again since.
Speaker 1: Everyone is so into it because we all love Palace. We all just here because we share the thing that we love Palace. It's nice that we can portray that in ways that other clubs can't.
Reporter: The drum, the flags and the choreographed displays that the Holmesdale fanatics have brought to Selhurst Park are all fairly unique in English football. They're hallmarks of European style support that's never really caught on in the UK.
Nick: Italy, Germany, even France to a degree, Holland, where the ultra culture is really established, here in the UK it's not.
Speaker 2: What you get here is what you get in Germany at every game. You don't get anywhere else in the country.
Nick: It may not be on the level of the German ultras, the Italian ultras, it might not be on that level but for the UK product, it's second to none.
Reporter: Obviously, the fact that England doesn't have any ultras, doesn't mean that English football doesn't have its own terrace traditions. Humor and spontaneity on the stands are hallmarks of fan culture in the UK and support in British stadia.
Speaker 3: I love the humor, that's part of the reason why I go. I don't just go to see Palace win, I also go for the band now.
Reporter: European ultra style songs tend to be a bit light on lyrics and banter as Palace fans are finding out.
Nick: They've obviously gone to see their European counterparts and looked at what they're doing song-wise. There has been introductions of our own specific songs and some could even describe a couple of them as, do you know what, a little bit dirty.
Reporter: Still, that certainly doesn't mean that there are no laughs to be had.
Reporter: Fans up and down the UK have had their fan with the Holmesdale fanatics. Not least when Palace played away at Doncaster in the FA cup. At least he was in the Palace end.
Speaker 5: They don't know themselves, do they? He's probably got the right intentions, but does he really need to have his face covered up in a cup game at Doncaster.
Speaker 6: It's the rain, isn't it? You can't really say much of-- That's what he wants to do.
Nick: The most of what I see and read on social media is born out of jealousy because there is a lot of other fans would love to have the vibrant atmosphere that we have at Selhurst Park.
Reporter: We thought we'd give Selhurst Park and Palace the best chance possible to show us their brilliant atmosphere so we've come to the derby, which for some reason is against Brighton.
Speaker 7: Dates back to Allan Mallory which you might want a bit of a history lesson on that one. It's a real rivalry. It's a really intensity to it.
Nick: The M23 derby, it's not the M23 derby, please do not refer it to the M23 derby, we call it the Palace-Brighton derby.
Speaker 2: We live in Brighton.
Speaker 1: Yes.
Speaker 2: We've driven up this morning.
Speaker 1: It probably means more to us than a lot of people because of the stick we're going to get when we go home if we lose.
Nick: Don't give me your Liverpool, Everton. Don't give me your Man United, Man City, they are your rivals. In your case, don't give me Aston Villa versus the Blues. Come to Selhurst Park and see the boil that's actually spatted out by the fans. It'll be a cracking atmosphere.
Reporter: We're now at East Gordon Station on our way to the pub. It's half seven in the morning. Some things about a derby day match day are fairly constant everywhere, early kick off, early meet, if you're lucky, pine with breakfast. This is what happens. I see this is like this every Sunday, I suppose it ought to be. I tell you what mate, Brighton turn up now we're sitting ducks mate, keep your eyes on the fire escape. Palace's rivalry with Brighton might have history but their ground goes back far further. They've played in the same place in south London for almost 100 years.
Atmospheres in English football have suffered in recent decades. The fact that lots of clubs have left their old grounds and moved to identikit bowls on the outskirts of their cities hasn't helped.
Speaker 8: When you go to these plastic stadiums full of plastic fans, and it's just void. It's void of any atmosphere.
Nick: You go to the Walkers stadium, you go to the Emirates, you go any of these newgrounds, and they're boring. Where was it we went the other way? Huddersfield. It was just an awful place.
Speaker 9: Liverpool was absolutely appalling. Brighton's appalling.
Reporter: That's never been a problem for Palace.
Speaker 9: I think nothing beats Palace.
Speaker 10: Nothing that compares to Palace.
Speaker 8: In a world where a premier league is just full of soulless bowls, this is a proper football ground.
Nick: The beauty about Selhurst Park, and there is not beauty about Selhurst Park because it's a run-down old dog. It's our run-down old dog and we love it. The beauty about it is, is an original stadium and creates the volume.
Speaker 9: The atmosphere, yes, it's something special I say. It really is.
Speaker 7: It's Selhurst Park, it's the atmosphere, isn't it?
Speaker 4: When this place is rocking, there is no place in the country like it.
Speaker 9: When you get inside there, you're going to feel it.
Reporter: While Selhurst Park is an old ground in a traditional English style, it's loudest inhabitants have been taking tips from the continent. Turns out though that pyrotechnics are pretty unpopular with British police as the fanatics found out. All right, it's a little minor scuffle to be fair just on the way up to the ground essentially from watching up. I have to say mate the march is fairly impressive to be fair. The pyro respect to understand at the bottom of the road, the march up to the tunsel and the noise was- and they announced their presence in pretty solid style.
Inside the ground, the fanatics beat out a rhythm which is hardly ever heard in English football stadium, but they're flying their nest from their place in the corner. As of next season, the fanatics will be behind the goal in Selhurst Park's Holmesdale end after they forced through a move from their current position over in the corner of the ground. Now group achieved that move in part through protests withdrawing their support for much of this season as their dispute with the club continued.
That boycott and the fact that the current occupants, season ticket holders, in some cases longstanding season ticket holders in Block E are going to have to be displaced have ruffled plenty of feathers among other Eagle supporters. When the fanatics disappeared from the ground, their boycott seemed almost universally unpopular.
Nick: One of their taglines is, no matter what. That's one of their taglines. Now, they support the team no matter what, unless they don't get what they want.
Speaker 7: I think it's a good thing the solution has been sorted, but then I think it's a bad thing that people who are having to move for it. I think it's a bad thing the way they went about doing it.
Speaker 9: Toys being thrown out of the prem, I think that's pretty what happened.
Reporter: The sight of organized supporters protesting and holding firm until they get what they want is rare in English football. Their unpopular boycott was a success, and the fanatics have got what they were after.
Nick: What's quite apparent these days in football is player power. What we've seen a great example with the Holmesdale fanatics is actually fan power.
Speaker 9: They had a lot of support from European ultras as well. Generally, if you had to say was it positive or negative, what they did, what they achieved was positive.
Reporter: The central singing section in the Holmesdale into which the fanatics will be moving can't come soon enough for the fans, who have now seen Palace get beaten by Brighton twice in one season. I think it's fair play to the fanatics for getting something started, for importing something that works brilliantly in stadiums, and other places around the world. Even when the rest of the crowd is pretty dampened, for example, after Brighton just put themselves two-one up, you can still see their fanatics are making noise.
As derbies go, I've seen better. For me, the attraction about this place is still the fact that it's just a sick old style English football ground. It might not be the last English football ground to see the arrival of European support.
Speaker 1: We're not quite the same as Ajax or PSG, but we started in the Premier League.
Speaker 2: Yes, exactly. We've definitely started it off.
Speaker 3: I think, in English football, I'd like more singing sections and cultures, more atmospheres.
Nick: Over the course in next two or three years, more stadium will do what we're doing. I just want it to be organic, as opposed to manufactured. The more stadiums that do it, the better for English football.