After nearly 50 years of following Palace, Steve Browett is the club's go-to man for away-trip tips
Few supporters have been to as many away games with Crystal Palace as Steve Browett – a man brought up within a mile of Selhurst Park and who used to write the upcoming guide for travelling Palace fans in the club’s match-day programme.
One of the four local businessmen who stepped in to save the club in 2010, the consortium which also bought back Selhurst Park from Lloyds Bank, today Browett is a minor shareholder and a major Palace regular.
The company of which he is chairman, Farr Vintners, the world’s leading wholesaler of fine wines, provides the specially branded Eagle Red, White and Rosé served in the Palace boardroom.
In the wine trade since driving vans in 1980, South Londoner Steve started following Palace long before then. As Palace head to Luton for the first time in 17 years, Libero speaks with the former club director and successful vintner about his favourite games and grounds.
Libero: What was your first away trip for a Palace game and what are your memories of it?
Steve Browett: Not sure what the first one was. But the first that is really strong in my memory was Chelsea away in the FA Cup in 1976. We were in the Third Division and we won 3-2 thanks to an amazing performance by our winger Peter Taylor. He was subsequently capped for England while still playing in the same league.
L: When you were first travelling for football in the 1970s, there must have been some pretty scary moments – are there any particular incidents or away games that stand out?
SB: Yes, that Chelsea game was memorable for the result but also for a packed stadium with a very aggressive atmosphere. It was a really feisty local derby. I remember hiding my Palace scarf at Victoria station as Chelsea fans were roaming around looking for Palace fans to fight.
L: Remembering (sorry!) the Third Division days – how was the experience of those kinds of grounds rather than the larger stadiums of Division 1?
SB: In those days, even First Division stadiums were pretty basic. Standing was on open terraces with no roof and very basic facilities. Lower-division stadiums (or grounds as we used to call them) were quite primitive. I remember a trip to Swansea where the Gents Toilets was just a brick wall.
L: How much of a change was it for travelling fans after the Taylor Report and the arrival of all-seater stadiums – did you actually enjoy the comfort or did you miss the old-school atmosphere?
SB: All-seater stadiums certainly did affect the atmosphere at matches but before then it did sometimes feel quite dangerous when crammed into terraces. As a teenager and young man, I enjoyed the terraces but don’t want to be on them now.
L: Once you were old enough to enjoy a pre-match pint before the game, what are your favourite memories of pubs near grounds? What makes a good pre-match pub?
SB: Like the match itself, it was always good to go to a pub with a good atmosphere. And as a fan of real ale, it was always a highlight of away trips to try the local beers in faraway towns – especially in Yorkshire.
L: Have you ever been abroad with Palace, on a pre-season tour to America, say, or elsewhere? How was it different?
SB: Not when I was just a fan, but I did go on the tour of Australia last year with a memorable match in the MCG in Melbourne against Manchester United. But, in general, I’m not keen on meaningless friendly matches where the result doesn’t count for anything.
L: Are there any grounds you would go back to even without Palace, purely because you enjoyed it so much? If so, why?
SB: I always say that I’m primarily a Palace fan. I’ve seen Palace play in over 120 different stadiums and have hardly ever been to a match that wasn’t Palace. I did go to Real Madrid once and would love to go back – but with the hope that Palace will play there one day.