This interview originally featured in the Palace v Chelsea matchday programme, and is republished below in full. You can order programmes by clicking here.
“I remember dancing down the street,” says Irene Willis of England’s World Cup triumph in 1966. It was the moment that sparked her interest in football, a first trip to Selhurst Park, and 66 years and counting as a Palace fan.
Irene began following the club in the late 60s, after “not great” experiences initially watching West Ham from their ‘Chicken Run’ stand, and Chelsea. Bobby Moore and co.’s heroics piqued her interest in the summer, and when she first went to SE25 – just down the road from her native Sydenham – “it was just wonderful.”
She didn’t take long to become engrossed by Palace – “it was fun; the atmosphere, the people were so friendly,” she says – but shortly after began a deeper-rooted connection.
“People were talking in the programme about setting up a ladies’ section,” Irene remembers, recalling the founding of the Dollies – a women-only supporter group established in 1969. “I thought it sounded good fun, and was of an age where you want your social life involved.”
The Dollies were largely younger supporters who wore reappropriated club kits, carried out charity work and even played organised football – a relative rarity for the time.