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      Weird and wonderful: Elephants, UFOs and tanks


      In its near-100-year existence, Selhurst Park has hosted a collection of the weird and the wonderful – here, we look at three of the most bizarre items to end up on the turf in SE25.

      To read about some of the weird and wonderful characters from Selhurst days gone by, click HERE.

      Selhurst goes intergalactic

      Perhaps the most unique item to be housed in SE25 arrived on April 1st, 1989.

      In one of the grandest and most memorable April Fools’ pranks, Virgin founder Richard Branson caught the nation's attention by flying a supposed UFO over London. A south Londoner himself, Branson used Selhurst Park’s pitch to launch his 'Virgin Galactic Airways' balloon into the atmosphere, and only a select few inside the club knew the fully story.

      "What would you do if you had an idea to make people smile, and April 1st was coming up fast on the calendar?" Branson wrote in a post on Virgin's website a few years ago. "My answer to this question was simple: let’s build a UFO and launch it over London."

      Branson's practical joke caught the country by surprise, and the prank was kept quiet even from Palace employees. So when staff arrived at Selhurst for work, none were prepared to see the balloon readying for flight on the pitch.

      "By the time we’d reached the motorway it was beginning to get light," Branson continues. "We could see every single vehicle grinding to a halt and hundreds of people looking up at the UFO flying over them.

      "It was great fun watching their reactions. What we didn’t know was three police forces had been mobilised, the army had been alerted and radio and TV stations had all gone on the air about a UFO flying low over London!

      "The police surrounded us and then sent one lone policeman with his truncheon across the field to greet the alien. The UFO’s door opened very slowly, with plenty of dry ice billowing from it. ET (ok, somebody in an ET costume!) walked down the platform towards the policeman. He quickly spun around and sprinted off back where he had come from!"

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      The police surrounded us and then sent one lone policeman with his truncheon across the field to greet the alien.

      Richard Branson

      Branson sponsored the Palace kit the same season, and the Eagles took the Fly Virgin tagline all the way to the FA Cup final in 1990. It wasn’t quite outer space, but for Palace, it was still quite a high.

      Elephant in the room

      Admittedly this wasn’t for a Palace match, but still: an elephant. On a football pitch.

      There’s been the odd donkey over the years, and a fox and a dog, but this animal – quite literally – stands above the rest. Animal rights aside, Wimbledon Chairman Sam Hammam supposedly thought this was a good idea before a game with Nottingham Forest in 1995, when the then-occupants ended their campaign in celebratory style.

      The elephant, with staff from Mary Chipperfield’s Circus, was paraded around the pitch, fed by fans and photographed with Hammam.

      As the Forest and Dons players prepared to line-up, however, staff couldn’t shift the animal from the pitch, prompting referee Steve Lodge to give it a yellow card. When the elephant eventually left, the Crazy Gang were able to close-out their campaign with a 2-2 draw.

      Forgotten this one? The Elephant won’t have.

      Tanked up

      Palace hosted Manchester United at the end of the 1970/71 season, and before the game two tanks paraded the pitch, firing blanks in the process.

      “How’s this for firepower?” quipped Brian Moore on The Big Match that night. ‘Firepower’ would prove to be an apt pun, with the clash ending 3-5 in United’s favour.

      The tank was there to drive army recruits, with the Territorial Army based in Mitcham and encouraging fans to join through the matchday programme. This in-your-face approach was relatively widespread, with soldiers often marching or firing rifles and sub-machine guns as part of the events. Supporters at Selhurst didn’t seem swayed, however, with most covering their ears as the tank rolled past alarmingly fast.