THE best ideas on a newspaper are usually the result of a brainstorm - reporters, editors and anyone else with two penneth coming together to come up with the perfect package. Sometimes, though, you get a hunch or a feeling for something that might just work at the most unlikely of moments. For me, it was driving along the Brighton Road between Purley and Coulsdon on Tuesday. Reflecting on the afternoon after the night before (if there is such a phrase) I thought - 'Crystal Palace have had a ridiculous season haven't they?' Soon, I'd changed that to - 'Crystal Palace have had a ridiculous four years, haven't they?' A couple of weeks back, I had a meeting with our Palace correspondent and sports editor, planning our end of season coverage. We agreed at the time that, while Palace had enjoyed an extraordinary campaign, running any kind of souvenir supplement or front page to commemorate an 11th place finish would have been, well, a bit weird. I was minded to recall the mockery Spurs fans were once subjected to by Arsenal supporters, for releasing a commemorative DVD of a drawn game a few years back. If we went over the top for finishing mid-table, would you all think we'd lost our marbles? But then, you have to step back and look at the bigger picture. This is so much more than just finishing in a Stoke/West Ham sandwich - for Palace fans, this really is the Nirvana, their Champions League. It's all about the context. This club almost went out of existence four years ago; now it is tearing up the Premier League and tearing apart the title race. Then, there are the fans. Ryan Joy, voted Palace's fan of the year by Advertiser readers this week, sums it up perfectly:"This is a unique club. The fans are brilliant; everyone deserved that award to be honest. They really are the 12th man at Crystal Palace." Every club claims to have the best fans, but at Palace this season, it really has been the case. They make the most noise, provide the most colour and have added some much-needed reality and authenticity to the sometimes plastic world of what Owen Coyle would doubtless call the Barclays Premier League. They say the best singers are those who have lived, and can convey the emotions of that 'living' through their music. This is exactly what Palace fans have brought to the top division. They are real fans who have 'lived' - through administration(s), near relegation, cup semi-final heartbreak - but they've come through and are now enjoying a deserved moment in the footballing sun. And that's why, I hope, tomorrow's Croydon Advertiser wrap front (and back) page isn't just an overblown reaction to finishing 11th. It's much, much more than that. It's about recognising the pride this club has brought to our town. And, most of all, it's about saluting the loud, proud Palace fans.
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