The Crystals: meet English football’s only cheerleading squad

The glitziest match-day experience in English football can be found in an unglamorous corner of south London. Siân Ranscombe paid a visit
Crystals at Selhurst Park

By Siân Ranscombe
The Telegraph
April 21, 2015

Selhurst Park is an unlikely home to the glitziest match-day experience in British football. It is the Premier League’s fourth-smallest stadium, a venerable 91 years old, but its tenants, Crystal Palace, are the only club in the country to have their own cheerleaders.

The Crystals pose in the Selhurst Park dugout Photo: Dan Burn-Forti

The Crystals pose in the Selhurst Park dugout Photo: Dan Burn-Forti

Stacey Greenhead, 23, is the Crystals’ head coach. South London born and bred, she joined the squad in 2013 after graduating from university with a degree in dance. “It’s great to have some pre-match and half-time entertainment,” Greenhead says. “I love the fact that we’re the only team with cheerleaders and we get a great response. That’s one thing we can pride ourselves on, that we definitely have the best fans in the Premier League.” (League One’s Leyton Orient once had the wonderfully-named Cheery-Os but the squad has since disbanded.)

[Click here to visit the Crystals on Facebook]

Although cheerleading is seen as a traditionally female activity, the first organised cheerleaders in America were men – Ivy League students who whipped up the crowd before college games at universities such as Princeton in the 1870s. Women were not allowed to participate until the 1920s, and began to dominate cheerleading only during the Second World War.

The Crystals' head coach, Stacey Greenhead. PHOTO: Dan Burn-Forti

The Crystals’ head coach, Stacey Greenhead. PHOTO: Dan Burn-Forti

It is technically a global sport in its own right now – the International Cheer Union has 104 member nations, including Great Britain – but while cheerleading is a regular feature of professional sporting events across the United States, it has never really caught on in British arenas. There was a half-hearted attempt to introduce it to football matches in the early 1990s. The Sky Strikers, who performed during broadcasts of Sky Sports’s Monday Night Football, lasted the 1992-1993 season before the idea – and squad – hit premature retirement.

The Crystals’ 21-woman team was formed nearly two decades later, in 2010. Some are professional dancers but others, such as 24-year-old Jay Slaughter, fell into it by chance. Slaughter, a midwife, had been a Crystal Palace season ticket holder for three years when she was invited along to audition for the Crystals last year. “I tweeted a picture of my dad and me in the crowd one day and the Crystal girls’ Twitter account followed me shortly after, sending me a message asking if I would be interested in auditioning,” she recalls.

Jay Slaughter is also a season ticket holder at Selhurst Park. PHOTO: Dan Burn-Forti

Jay Slaughter is also a season ticket holder at Selhurst Park. PHOTO: Dan Burn-Forti

She had taken lessons in ballet, tap and modern dance as a child but had given up dance once she got to college and began studying midwifery at Plymouth University. “It’s funny actually because normally at half-time we’d go inside and have a drink or a burger, so I hadn’t actually watched the Crystals much,” Slaughter says. “I assumed they’d all be professional dancers. Being part of the team for my first match was a surreal blur because it was so weird to be on the pitch watching the crowd rather than the other way around.”

As well as providing pre- and mid-match entertainment, the Crystals also venture out around the ground collecting for the club’s chosen charities.

The Crystals pictured before Palace's match against Everton in January. PHOTO: Dan Burn-Forti

The Crystals pictured before Palace’s match against Everton in January. PHOTO: Dan Burn-Forti

“A lot of the dads want the kids to have a picture with us – then maybe get one themselves, too,” Georgia Krelle, a Crystal since 2012 says. “It’s lovely when the girls pay attention to us. We appreciate that even more.”

Krelle, 23, credits joining the Crystals with more than just adding to her fitness regime. “I had no confidence, growing up,” she says. “I was bullied at school and left with no GCSEs as a result. Being in the Crystals and being a part of this group has built up my confidence so much; I’m like a different person.” Now she also dances professionally.

Georgia Krelle, a member of the squad since 2012. PHOTO: Dan Burn-Forti

Georgia Krelle, a member of the squad since 2012. PHOTO: Dan Burn-Forti

The squad meets up to choreograph its routines on the Sunday before a home fixture (they are not allowed to perform at away games and when Palace reached the Championship play-off final with Watford in 2013, they were denied the chance to perform before the match at Wembley). The match-day ritual is always the same. “I get the girls in two to three hours before the game,” Greenhead says. “We get changed, get glam, and then go out around the ground interacting with the fans. After our group warm up, we get ready to go on to the pitch.”

The Crystals are free to go home once they have completed their half-time cameo. Slaughter, however, has a season ticket to make use of, even if it only gets used for half a game at a time. “If we’ve not got anything else on, I’ll jump back into my seat so I can watch the second half,” she says. Most of her seat neighbours don’t blink an eye, except to wonder why she always arrives so late. “We do wear quite heavy make-up and big hair though,” she says. “So I do get a few people looking at me going, ‘Well, she’s made a bit of an effort for the football.’”

It’s A Trans-Atlantic Team-Up! Crystal Palace Cheerleaders And The ROAR Of Jacksonville

The ROAR of Jacksonville were in the UK to shoot their 2014 Swimsuit Calendar. But they still found time to make a music video with Crystal Palace Cheerleaders.

[ROAR of Jacksonville]

[Crystal Palace Cheerleaders on Facebook]

Crystal Palace – Gangnam Style

The last time I mentioned the Crystal Palace Cheerleaders, it was because they had been robbed of the opportunity to perform at the London Olympics. The judges thought the Crystals were a little too sexy, an opinion partially based on their version of Carly Rae’s “Call Me Maybe.” Well the girls are back, and they’re keeping up with the latest trends in viral videos.

Photo of the Day – August 4

 


A member of the “Crystals”
Dance team for London’s Crystal Palace Football Club

London calling: The Crystal Palace Cheerleaders “Call Me Maybe” video

Sure, London has been experiencing a royal wedding, a Jubilee, recent wins by Federer and Serena to wrap up the Wimbledon fortnight, and have the Olympics on the horizon. But, truthfully, it looks like the real fun is to be found at the Crystal Palace FC, an English Football league club based in South Norwood, London. Sharon Lacey, Head of Marketing for the Crystal Palace FC writes,

“With just over a month to go to the start of the 2012/13 season why not transport yourself to sunny Selhurst where the Crystal Palace cheerleaders have been preparing for kick-off? Dressed in brand new Palace bikinis the girls took part in a video filmed around Selhurst Park as we started the countdown to opening day.

You can watch the video here…”

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6N2vwe9Swk&feature=youtu.be[/youtube]

Better watch out during the Olympic marathon, I bet some of the runners may take a “wrong turn” and end up heading to look for this squad in action!