Arsenal spoil the Eagles' party, but emotional Selhurst bids fondest of farewells to Roy Hodgson
“Roy Hodgson, he’s one of our own,” they chanted in unison from all corners of Selhurst Park.
The players of both sides formed a guard of honour before kick-off for the man who has done the Eagles proud for the past four years.
If this is to be retirement and not the prelude to one last hurrah somewhere else, it is well merited. Seventy-three years young and still enamoured with the game, but deserving of a rest if he wants it now.
How fitting it should be that Croydon-Roy should leave his boyhood club in such decent shape – having made them part of the Premier League furniture after staving off relegation in his first year in charge.
The Eagles may be an ageing team in need of renewal, but they are a squad with experience and nous, and have shown great resilience too in recovering well from a 7-0 home mauling at the hands of Liverpool in mid-season.
Mikel Arteta broke from the line to offer a warm embrace to his counterpart. Respect in the game for the former England boss runs deep.
Fans demanded a wave and got several. Beaming smiles all round.
The eulogies were loud and heartfelt but the bouncing Holmesdale Road Stand was only just getting warmed up. “Glad all over” was joyously revived.
There were prolonged guttural boos and some choice language directed at Kieran Tierney for making a meal of a challenge, as Eagles fans saw it.
The roars when Wilfried Zaha danced in from the left flank and Gart Cahill sent a header just wide were goosebump-inducing. You forget just how loud penalty shouts are from home fans harbouring a sense of injustice. And those whistles of frustration when decisions didn’t go their way.
We have missed all this, even those of us lucky enough to attend in an official capacity in the past year.
The stadium may only have been a quarter full with 6,500 souls present, but it felt like so many more – in keeping with the feeling in all grounds up and down the country which started readmitting spectators on Monday.
Like a team reduced to 10-men, everyone pulling together to make up the missing numbers. It takes quite a bit to drown out Ray Lewington on the touchline. And lest we forget, Roy’s assistant is also leaving these pastures after a very fine shift.
And he won’t be just marking time this week. At the interval he was busily giving young starlet Tyrick Mitchell a few pointers as the defender trooped off.
How wonderful it was to experience once more that familiar irritation of busy trains heading to the stadium – of the nearby Clifton Arms full of flags and rammed with customers in the build-up to kick-off.
The game was peppered with rich applause for little moments of skill, which in recent months were greeted by just a few ripples of appreciation from the team benches.
Was it just imagination, or was the pace and energy of the game greater than it has been during the behind-closed-doors months? Certainly, the players seemed to feed off the energy pouring down from the stands. It was all more hurried. More urgent.
Nicolas Pepe’s first-half volley put Arsenal ahead and threatened to spoil Hodgson’s farewell but current goal machine Christian Benteke headed an equaliser in front of home fans just past the hour to change the mood – just a tad.
‘The roof comes off’ it said on the BBC feed of the reaction. It was a moment to savour for Eagles fans.
Alas, it was not the final word and Arsenal silenced the boisterous natives with a late winner from Gabriel Martinelli before Pepe rubbed even more salt in the wound in injury time. Such is life.
After the sense of deflation there was only warmth. Fans stayed behind to see Hodgson and Lewington receive commemorative gifts from chairman Steve Parish.
He was handed a mic and gave a speech saying he was sorry Palace could not have signed off with a win, thanked the fans for giving him such backing and said how good it was to see them again.
He used the word ‘privilege’ and talked about the pleasure he has had in working with the group of players at his disposal. “I shall miss everyone, but this has been a fantastic journey for me,” he said.
Then he set off with his pal Lewington for a lap of honour.
There is one last assignment now for the boss. Sunday’s swansong at Anfield against one of his former clubs. His time at Liverpool will feel in a way as though it were only yesterday – much like his earliest forays into management many moons ago.
However it feels to him on the day, it will undoubtedly be another occasion where host fans will shower more affection on the Palace boss, even if his time with the Reds was not the most memorable phase of his illustrious career. It is sure to be emotional. Thanks for the memories Roy.