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Croydon tram derailment: Remembering the victims five years on

Features

On November 9th, 2016, five years ago this week, seven people lost their lives when a tram derailed on its approach to Sandilands. Two of the victims were Crystal Palace supporters Dane Chinnery and Philip Seary, with Philip Logan, Dorota Rynkiewicz, Robert Huxley, Mark Smith and Donald Collett also lost in the incident.

When Palace hosted Manchester City 10 days later, all seven were commemorated by a display in the Lower Holmesdale, a minute’s silence, and applause in the 19th and 57th minutes. To this day, Dane and Phil are fondly remembered by those who knew them, both in and out of the club.

“I was watching When Eagles Dare the other day and Steve Parish says the first thing anybody falls in love with is their football club, and he’s right,” says Tony Chinnery, Dane’s father. “You’ve got to instil that, because clubs like Palace need people like us.”

Talking with Tony makes Dane’s choice of club apparent: he didn’t have one. In fact, he was almost named David as his mother nearly entered early labour on the eve of the ’97 play-off final.

‘If you want to go to the game you can,’ Tony recalls her saying. “I didn’t hear the word ‘can’,” he says, “I just went!”

As Dane grew from having a Palace “baby grow and teddy bear”, he swiftly became enamoured by the club, idolising Attilio Lombardo and Andrew Johnson. Once, aged seven, he won a Nottingham Forest pencil topper at school. ‘You know what you can do with that, don’t you?’ his father asked him. ‘Yeah,’ Dane replied, and threw it in the bin.

Dane’s first away game was a 2-1 League Cup win at the Valley, and when he became a teenager, he and his dad used to follow Palace across England, watching the game before staying overnight with a group of Selhurst regulars.

“Before the incident we played Burnley away and lost in the last minute,” Tony remembers of one such trip, Dane’s last. “There were quite a few of us, about 25, who stayed in Preston overnight. We were in a Yates and basically took it over.

“One of the doormen turned to him and went: ‘What are you lot doing here?’ He said: ‘We’re Palace fans, we’ve been to Burnley.’ The doorman went: ‘But you lost in the last minute,’ and Dane went: ‘Yeah, yeah, I know.’ He said: ‘Jesus Christ. What are you lot like if you win?’

“We came back from Leicester away the same season and came into St Pancras. There was a guy playing the piano, and 50 of us were all dancing around him. We’d lost 3-1. With us and him it was just going and supporting the team. Who cares what the result is?

“The one thing I’m glad about is Dane and my daughter actually saw Palace in a cup final at Wembley... I turned round to him and said: ‘Look, we’re not going to get to cup finals every year. We’re not going to win leagues.’ But he didn’t care about that.

“One of the best days of my life was being at Villa Park in 1990. Walking up Wembley Way with my two kids… blows that out of the water; completely tops that. It absolutely does.

“It’s the build-up, the national anthem, Abide With Me, they got to see that. I’ve been lucky enough to see my club do that twice in my lifetime. Dane saw it once a few months before the incident, and it was one of the best days as a Palace-supporting parent.”

Palace next played just days after Dane lost his life. Supporters volunteered a group of tickets at the front of the Holmesdale for Tony and his family, who wore ‘Dane - 19 - Top Boy’ shirts. The crowd chanted his name.

“It was surreal,” Tony remembers. “Especially to hear them singing his name. You only get that with a player… He was probably up there going: ‘Yeah, that’s me they’re singing about.’”

Tony calls his fellow fans’ support and the club “unbelievable”. People hugged him, gave him shirts from 1997 – the year Dane was born – and Manchester City invited his and Phil’s family to watch the return game in hospitality, something Tony calls “a touch of class”.

He talks passionately and regularly about the community at Palace, how those around him have stood close by, and of the respect shown by fans to those who lost their lives.

“[Football] helped me through the first few days,” Tony says. “Going to the football afterwards, I felt I had to be there for a bit of normality.

“After that it took me a while to get back into going. I’d go, but I’d go with a couple of friends and we wouldn’t go in the Lower Holmesdale, we’d go in the top tier or the Arthur Wait or Main Stand... It did take me a few months and still doesn’t feel right going without him.

“There are bad times, pretty s--- times, but you have to get through it. I’ve got a daughter, I’ve got a step son, I’ve got three grandchildren now. Dane’s missed out on those. He has three nephews he missed out on, one of which we found out my daughter-in-law was pregnant with two weeks after the incident. He’s missed out on a lot.

“Going to football isn’t the same, and it’s never ever going to be the same. But I have to do it.

“Dane and my daughter had no choice but to be Palace fans. It’s what fathers do.”