Come on, feel the noise
Five years ago, a group of hardcore Palace fans, who'd become frustrated at the lack of soul at Selhurst Park and in football in general, formed one of the UK's first ultra groups. They drew on their experiences on the old Holmesdale terrace, combined with the ultra movement, and have now completely transformed the atmosphere at matches. Relative silence has been replaced by vast waves of sound.
In my opinion football would be nowhere without rivalry. I love the fact that Brighton and Crystal Palace dislike each other, it's one of Britain's top rivalries, and is always a surprise inclusion in related polls and surveys. So to find out more about their group, I donned a hard hat, crossed my fingers, and went behind enemy lines to interview them:
How long have the Holmesdale Fanatics been established? The group formed in 2005; made up of lads who had stood at the back of Block B (Selhurst's hardcore, standing section) since '99. We'd been going to Palace together as young kids since the late 80s and remembered the Holmesdale terrace well, and all felt in our lives we'd witnessed a massive decline in football culture. We wanted to make a stand against the threats of modern football, and fight back for the culture and believed by creating a strong unit, based on the way hardcore would congregate on terraces, that visual and vocal dominance could naturally stem from this section.
Did you have any dealings with Simon Jordan? No. The Jordan regime was to the absolute detriment of fan culture at Palace; he was always distant, out of touch and sidelined the fans, treating them as a commodity that would keep coming back, despite being treated and thought of poorly.
We had our toughest battles through the Jordan regime; massive clashes with stewards who were given the freedom to run wild; several key members were being thrown out every other game and we'd often remove the group banner in protest and leave after half time as it was unworkable – it’s a testament to the strength and resolve of the group that we made it through this period, and now enjoy the respect and freedoms we deserve.
Presumably, your work is appreciated by other Palace fans and the players now? It took some time for the group to be accepted and recognised; but that's understandable. Any Ultra group should have to prove themselves and field criticism, especially if you use that term; it's natural that it's challenged and questioned at first. The best way to show what you're about is action on the terraces however. We also always have had a strong core drinking together before/after the game, so we maintain a visible presence which is a good way of creating a focal point outside the ground.
Did the events of last season bring everybody at Palace closer together? Despite the obvious fear and uncertainty - the administration period was the perfect antidote to the 'Jordan model.' The true spirit of the club emerged, and the negative 'player ratings' culture was replaced with one of encouragement and acceptance of players, especially young players, who too often receive the brunt of negativity.
It was a rare glimpse of the unity created when fans are placed at the heart of the club again; a feeling that is sadly strangled out of the modern game.
What is your away support like in terms of numbers and noise? Does your group get attention from away fans? On its day it can be better than anything in the UK, for its non-stop, ultra-led atmosphere; Pride Park, Vicarage Road, and particularly Hillsbrough stand out as atmospheres you'd tell your grandkids about. We organise group travel to every away fixture, and take the away banner on the road with us, using it as a focal point on away terraces.
Almost every club comments on the changing face of our support, as we make an impact home and away. We take pride in showing the very people we were driven to act against, how it should be done.
On the road to Birmingham, 2012.
Is the mindset of British fans changing do you think? Slightly..The recent craze of flares up and down the country is testament to changes in the mindset of the British fan. Supporters are becoming bored and disillusioned with the way football has been pushed by bSkyb, and the authorities. There is little or no fun left. When you compare the old style of support and look at the demographics, it's completely different. Young people are in the minority now, either priced out or simply having better stuff to do, as stadia are generally over policed, over priced and soulless. I feel sorry for the average young fan growing up in this climate, never knowing how football crowds can inspire and stay with you for life.
Although we believe Celtic's club culture to be perfect breeding ground for the movement, the Green Brigade have also shown it can be done; despite repressive legislation. Would be mad for the UK scene if we were somehow to meet.
We can't think of much better than a proper scene developing in the UK. Prior to the group, some fixtures just felt meaningless, with nothing at stake on the terraces other than momentary bragging rights over a victory. With the casual scene in the 80s, you'd have a strong youth movement governing the culture, so there would be a lot at stake still with firms and groups of lads representing and running the gauntlet away from home and on the terraces. This died out with the rebranding of the game; and a lot of the tensions were lost and eventually manifested in weird online dialogue.
Away followings we see at Selhurst now are made up predominantly of pie-munching replica shirt wearing men, families and maybe 2-3 rows of hardcore piping up with outdated songs every other couple of minutes. Ideally, there would be organised groups of well dressed, switched on lads having pride in representing behind their group banner away from home, wanting to outdo the home group in every aspect; and this knowledge of the scene would drive competition producing amazing results and an incredible, electric climate. There would never be a drab fixture this way; and also, maybe more importantly - the ability to unite as one positive movement and mobilise becomes suddenly possible. Despite rivalries, groups could come together with a national voice at the state of the game and cause mass demonstrations against legislation and the way the game is being forced - reminding people that football is nothing without fans.
Are Brighton still the No.1 enemy? We've all been praying for a cup draw for the last 5 years! We've got some old school lads in the group who have many a fine story about running Brighton up and down the South Coast!
As for this season - Millwall have definitely emerged as enemy no.1. It's always been a real local hatred of Millwall, rivalries that start off at school, and are visible in Bromley, Beckenham and Penge on a Saturday night. Charlton will never be a rival, their football culture is non-existent - weird little club.
You have a good relationship with the ultras from the Panthers 1983 of Panionios Athens. How did that come about? Our model is a perfect blend of casual/ultra support - it's a foreign concept, originally based on an English ideal, that we've re-adapted to South London culture. Our friendship is with The Panthers of Panionios in Athens, Greece. Core members of each group visit each other's club once or twice a season, and the cultural exchange is massive. Their group has been going since '83 and has incredible organisation, depth and structure. They have respect and understanding for aspects of English style, and we've got huge respect for their culture.
Side by side. Holmesdale Fanatics with the Panthers in Athens.
What is the HF attitude to violence? We feel the casual scene and Ultra movement are fundamentally driven by the same set of principles; but the execution is different. We have a good mixture of casual and ultra minded people within the group; and people generally dress well, there is a blend of casual and ultra gear at the front of Block B, with Hf caps, scarves, shirts, polos on display as well as decent casual clobber!
In terms of similarities, we still get that massive buzz of representing away from home with switched on, like minded lads, working as a unit. We've never looked for trouble but have defended other fans and our own principles when called into question.
The top end execution is obviously where the differences emerge between the two scenes, as a vocal and visual presence is integral to our beliefs. We treat flags/displays as the ‘tip of the iceberg’ in terms of the culture, and use them simply as a sign of strength and in marking out the group’s territory; but could operate equally well without them.
What's been the group's biggest achievement to date? We don't think of anything as an individual achievement; but one big development that's been gradually building and gaining momentum since 2005. We've gone from a group of 6 lads to having around 80 members, 200+ in our section and many more fringe people who play an active role in the group, be it backing chants, helping with displays or just furthering the movement. The first home game this year against Leicester saw 8,000 in the Holmesdale on their feet singing ‘Pride of South London’ which is a new one we introduced – magic. It's probably the biggest ultra-led atmosphere in Britain, as has been catching on round the entire stadium recently, which is mad to see.
How do you see the group developing from here? Its progressed massively in the last two years, after overcoming some epic struggles and obstacles; and with moving to the front of Block B paying off, allowing us to represent and provide a strong focal point at the front.
The youth finally have a strong and positive movement to believe in and be a part of. The June protests in The City (Lloyds Bank), saw the pulling together of 150+ young lads, who spent the day creating a visual and vocal presence in support of their club and anger at the situation. They're being brought up in a positive climate of activism and are growing up being proud to be a part of such a movement. It makes us laugh on a matchday when we spot little groups of young lads, dressing well with a tidy scarf tied up Ultra style!
We feel this is the most positive, important movement since the casual scene in the 80s for youth activism; there was little or nothing to aspire to since the early 90s, which co-incides with Sky rebranding and rewriting the basic values and principles of the game. We want to expand but remain tight, focused and true to our principles.
HF at Selhurst 'save our club' protest - break in and occupy.
As well as backing the team, do you protest against anything such as high ticket prices? Is there a political element to the group? The group is highly political by its very nature; although we don't dictate a political stance as other groups have done across Europe. The group was born out of anger at the repressive nature of the modern game and society as a whole, and we've vocally and visually conveyed these feelings since our formation.
My favourite display from back in the day, when repression was at its highest was an ‘HF Ground Rules’ messaged banner, with 6 images behind it each banning: Police, CCTV, Money/capitalism, internet culture and all seaters – needless to say, some of the lads didn’t make it till half time on this occasion!
Last season 6 of our members were targeted by a heavy-handed police operation and thrown out of the Holmesdale stand, being given year long bans. As a result we organised a protest march against the Police at the next home fixture, and circulated a petition that received support globally, with groups from Argentina to Russia backing the cause.
We also played a big part in the protest to draw attention to the club's plight when it looked like Palace would be liquidated. A HF crew forced open the gates, leading the protest into the stadium and then into the stands, where Palace fans united behind our messaged banner, belting out chants.
We organise a yearly HF Player of the Year event, in which the chosen player comes down to our local to receive the award and have a Sambucca with the lads! I remember reading an online report of a bemused QPR fan, who saw Neil Danns outside the pub with us after last year’s fixture; you don’t get that anywhere else, but it’s massively important for bridging the gap between fans/players which has been greatly widened since the Sky takeover in 1992. We continue to fight against authority, modern footballing principles and look to restore the true spirit of fan culture.
Neil Danns accepts HF player of the award 09/10
Would you like to see a return to terracing at English football grounds? Of course - it would instantly shift the emphasis away from people attending looking 'to be entertained' to people attending and being called upon to play an active role, roughing it up a bit!
Regulations in this country are the most repressive anywhere in the world; and it's down to a lack of organisation and unity that this was allowed to happen. The French & Italian governments would gladly enforce similar laws in their respective countries if they thought they could get away with it.
This country has a massive track record of creating repression under the mask of it being 'for your own safety,' and there is no doubt the laws are more about control and monitoring than any perceived safety threats. Unfortunately, people are too easy to accept that 'rules are rules' in this country; rather than questioning and challenging them.
As a group however, we stand home and away; and feel Block B is one of the proudest most hardcore sections in the UK. We will always insist on standing, despite these utterly bizarre 'Health and Safety' laws.
Into the Valley. Charlton away.
How much planning does it take to pull off a display in the Holmsdale End? Running the group is a non-stop, full time job. Merchandise, travel, media, displays..it's 24/7. We're lucky to have our own local which a lot of the work is carried out in, group members come and go, adding to the preparations once ideas have been finalised. The matchday starts at pub opening time, as we pack out the pub and build the atmosphere from there. It's full time, knackering, dominating but 100% rewarding. A two tier display with everyone having jobs outside this takes about two weeks to pull together and costs about a grand. People enter the stadium and see the final result but don't realise the blood sweat and tears that are behind it.
Do you have a view on the "staged" displays at Chelsea on Champions League nights? There is a totally synthetic, top-down movement at the moment to try and recreate/buy into the atmosphere that people are exposed to at European matches. We've seen some fucking shocking developments this year - the Sheffield Utd official website encouraging fans to sing the 'Dale Cavese,' club funded card displays, free flags for Chelsea fans. It's at the complete opposite end of the specturm to the deep-rooted ideals that have created such organic displays and atmospheres on the continent.
Ultimately, club's have outpriced the common fan, they've repressed him, banned him, and made him know he's not wanted - so these ventures are a desperate and plastic attempt to paper over the cracks.
Despite ill-feeling towards the Mancs at Palace, we respect the movement at FCUM for taking an active stance against modern football, as they no longer recognise their own club. Chelsea support in contrast gets more laughable each year; their new breed of fan craves and expects success at the cost of the club's true culture.
Presumably the HF are reserving their biggest display of the season for the home match with Millwall on October 16? It feels a massive build up for this one already; been a long time since we played them. Will be interesting seeing the Ultra led atmosphere at Selhurst up against their outdated, 1950s 'knees up mother brown' type support.
We've also written two articles on the Brighton and Hove Albion v Crystal Palace rivalry both HERE and THERE.
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