Last season, a supporters’ group, The Holmesdale Fanatics, requested that we re-position them in Block E of the Lower Holmesdale Stand for the 2018/19 season. Their idea was to try to create a central “singing section”, instead of in the corner, in the hope it would further improve the atmosphere inside Selhurst Park. They also said they felt the group would find it hard to continue if we could not facilitate this move.
The club, and particularly the chairman, saw merit in this idea and when season tickets went on sale we held back the entire Lower Holmesdale with the intention of looking at it further and hopefully implementing. Given that nearly 100% of Lower Holmesdale season ticket holders renew (and 92% for the stadium as a whole this year), the only practical location to move those supporters in Block E to facilitate such a move would have been either at the front of block B - in effect swapping seats with the Holmesdale Fanatics - or offering them seats that are considerably less desirable towards the back of the Arthur Wait stand.
News of the proposal leaked out and we received a large number of written and verbal objections from supporters in the area that would have been affected. Many of those supporters writing to us pointed out that they had been in their seats since the stand opened and were strongly opposed to what they saw as them being forced out of their seats.
We explained to the Fanatics that we felt it would be hugely unfair and disruptive - as well as potentially cause a great deal of ill feeling towards their group - if we pressed ahead. Instead, we promised that we would revisit this once the Main Stand was rebuilt and we had better alternatives to offer those who would be displaced.
For their part, the Holmesdale Fanatics felt that the plan should be to move supporters in the middle along to make space for them and re-shuffle the entire stand around in order to create the central area for the group and other supporters who wanted to participate. This felt considerably more complex as it would involve moving an even greater number of supporters.
We kept the usual allocation of 100 seats in Block B available on exclusive option to the group as we have in previous seasons, but these were not taken up during the season ticket renewal period. We chased the group up on this during the summer and asked them their intentions. We were told that they would not be using the tickets: they felt they had been promised the move and would not be returning, which was obviously very disappointing. We kept the seats open in the hope they would reconsider until the last possible moment, before putting them on sale two weeks prior to the start of the season. To date, around 35 of those seats have been sold as season tickets and the rest are being sold on a casual match by match basis, some we believe to members of the original group.
There is nothing to stop the Fanatics returning to support the team as a group; we are sure that everyone would greatly welcome their presence back at Selhurst Park, but unless 100 supporters at the centre of block E would like to give up their seats voluntarily on the basis that the club will do its very best to find them alternatives, there is no real prospect of facilitating their wish of a move to the centre of Block E at this time.
We have also looked at a safe standing area, and should this be allowed in the near future we will see if this can help facilitate a solution.
We are not aware of any club embracing and working with a supporter group in the way Crystal Palace has done with the Holmesdale Fanatics, the safety group and the authorities. It is a great shame that they feel that they do not want to attend and support the team as a group this season, but in the absence of any other suggestion - apart from that of moving long-term season ticket holders out of Block E - it is difficult to see how we can do any more to make that happen.
We remain open to any ideas and sensible solutions that do not disadvantage our other valued supporters.
Should the group choose not to return, we know the 23 plus thousand of us that remain will do our level best to make the atmosphere at Selhurst Park as vibrant and positive as it has always been.