Crystal Palace F.C.  -  A Personal History

As this is a 'personal' history, please excuse my frequent use of 'we' and 'us' in this document. This is not an official history, and as such it reflects my personal involvement with the club over the years. My love affair with Crystal Palace has spanned many years. We have had our ups, and we have had our downs, but Palace have always been, and will always be, my team. Back in the early spring of 1957, when I decided it was time to enter the world, my mother was living in the town of Purley, just a few short miles from Palace's home at Selhurst Park, so consequently that is where I was born. 

It wasn't until April 22nd, 1967 that I was first taken to Selhurst Park to see Birmingham City beaten by a score of 2-1 in the Second Division as it was then. A note which may, or may not, be of interest to readers here, is that I went to this game with a friend of mine and his father, a Leeds United supporting neighbour who at the time was named Bernard Ingham, but who was destined to became Sir Bernard Ingham, a man who served as Margaret Thatcher's Press Secretary during her long tenure as Prime Minister. I know he still lives in the Purley area, because my Mum sees him in Tesco's from time to time. Anyway, due to my tender age, and football not having the purest of reputations back then, my next visit wasn't until early in the 1969-70 season, (2-0 against Sunderland) by which time Palace were playing at the top level for the first time in their history. I had followed their progress closely, and can still remember the realisation after a 1-0 win at Derby County late in the 1968-69 season, that Palace might actually make it. I can remember quite clearly watching the results from the last home game of the season on a black and white TV in a small cottage in north Devon. Fulham had been beaten after we had given them a two goal start, and Palace were up. 

Life was tough at the top. I made as many visits as I could, but not as many as I would have liked. Memories include the early November 5-1 defeat by Arsenal, a game memorable for my returning the ball to George Graham for a throw-in. Memorable for me anyway, though somehow I doubt that Mr. Graham remembers that moment quite so clearly. The Leeds United game when John Sewell scored a rare goal because of a not so rare Gary Sprake blunder. My first away match in 1970-71, at Arsenal - a 1-1 draw with both goals being scored within a minute. For four seasons, Palace teetered on the brink, but finally even John Jackson's brilliant goalkeeping couldn't save us, and Palace were relegated in 1973 after a defeat at Norwich City, a few weeks after appointing the flamboyant Malcolm Allison as manager. I remember seeing the goals on TV at the end of the Nine O'clock News on BBC with my parents and grandparents having not the slightest idea of how devastating the loss was to me. Not the first or the last time my parents hadn't understood me it must be said.   

Following relegation, the big man promised the fans that Palace would not stay long in the Second Division, and no one can say he wasn't true to his word. It was just that dropping into the Third Division wasn't quite what most supporters had in mind. Nevertheless, I have to say that from a personal point of view, those were some of the best Palace watching days of my life. In a perverse sort of way, the relegation season of 1973-74 was actually kind of fun. We didn't win a game until, I believe, the 18th game, and after that played well enough to stay up, in the end being somewhat unlucky to end the season relegated. A change in the rules that season meant that for the first time, the division had a three up, three down format, and of course Palace were the first team to fill that extra relegation spot. Typical.  

On to 1974-75 and we were the biggest team in the Third Division, had the biggest crowds, played entertaining football, and in 1976 we had an FA Cup run which had to be seen to be believed, and which still evokes powerful emotions within me. It started off quietly enough with wins over Walton and Hersham in the First Round, and Millwall in the Second Round after a replay, before the Third Round saw us drawn away to non-league Scarborough. A 2-1 win was enough to earn us a trip to Elland Road to face the mighty Leeds United, a team that just a few months earlier had been playing in the European Cup Final. Malcolm Allison, loving the limelight, donned a fedora hat and promised a Palace victory. Palace then stunned not only me, but the football world too by not just winning 1-0, but by outplaying Leeds for almost the entire 90 minutes. The miracle wasn't that we'd won, but that we hadn't won by more. My first football bet followed that game, two pounds on Palace at 66-1 to win the FA Cup. Into the Fifth Round and another away game, this time across London at Stamford Bridge. A huge crowd of 54,407 fans watched Palace take a 2-0 lead, before Chelsea came back to tie the game at 2-2. Then a Peter Taylor special, his second goal of the game, from a free kick just outside the area, put us ahead - a lead which we held on to for a 3-2 win. "3-2 Palace KO Chelsea" read the London Evening paper's headline, a paper I still have in my possession. More than a few Chelsea hooligans in the packed Palace end, which meant that more than a few Palace fans were clenching their buttocks for more reasons than what was happening on the field, but what a great way to spend St Valentine's Day. The Sixth Round, the Quarter-Finals, and another away tie, this time in the far reaches of the British Empire. Well, Sunderland to be precise. Four British Rail specials left London that day, only one managing to arrive in time for kick-off. Sunderland were flying high in the Second Division that year, and hadn't yet been beaten at home all season. An Alan Whittle goal in the second half was enough, and for the first time in their history, Palace had reached the FA Cup Semi-Finals. Unfortunately, my rather happy story up to this point now turns into a tale of tears. Palace failed to play anywhere near their potential, and fell to a Southampton side who went on to beat Manchester United in the final. At least Mel Blyth, a Palace stalwart during our seasons at the top, and who incidentally is still a regular at Selhurst Park today, picked up an FA Cup winners medal. Small consolation for most Palace fans, and after leading the Third Division for most of the season, the distractions of the cup run proved fatal to Palace's promotion campaign, and it was goodbye to Malcolm Allison, and hello Terry Venables. 

Arriving from Queens Park Ranger's along with Ian Evans in 1974, in a deal which saw Don Rogers make the return move, Venables had his first coaching position under Allison. In his first season at the helm, Palace were back in the Second Division, though it was desperately close. Palace needed to win their last game at Wrexham on a Tuesday night, and then rely on Mansfield to either beat Wrexham in the last game or hold them to a draw. The difference depended on whether Palace won by one goal or by more than one. A loss or a draw and we weren't going anywhere. Half-time, and Palace were cruising 2-0, but the second half saw us with our backs to the wall, and with a few minutes left our lead was gone. The finish to this game was one of the most exciting moments of my Palace life. Not only did Palace manage to regain the lead, a score that few Palace fans thought would be enough, but in the dying seconds contrived to score a fourth, a goal that gave us real hope of promotion. As it happened, Wrexham timidly folded to champions Mansfield Town on the final day, and Palace were up. 

During his time at Palace, Malcolm Allison had started a youth scheme which proved most successful. The youth team won the FA Youth Cup in 1977 and 1978, beating Everton and Aston Villa respectively, and many of the players progressed into the first team. Palace were labeled the 'Team of the Eighties', a label that we could probably have done without. A championship season in 1979-1980 and ten years on, Palace were back. There was much promise, and Palace actually topped the table for a week, but as is so often the way, the promise for many reasons wasn't fulfilled, and after relegation in 1980-1981 Palace began a miserable spell struggling in front of small crowds, with a succession of managers all failing to make much of an impression. By this time Ron Noades had become chairman, and though not always the most popular of chairmen, he produced a master stroke with his decision to appointment a young Steve Coppell as manager and Ian Evans as assistant in the summer of 1984, a decision I read about while I was holidaying on the Greek island of Rhodes. Slowly but surely, things improved, and as the 1980s were drawing to a close Palace were again looking for promotion. They achieved it in 1988-1989 after coming from behind to defeat first Swindon Town and then Blackburn Rovers (4-3) in the play-offs having been 1-3 down after the first leg of the final. I missed the Swindon home leg due to a vacation in Mallorca, but I called a friend to get the result, and the celebrating went a little too far. Attempting to drive a rental car home from the celebrations proved beyond me, and I managed to drive all of ten yards before slamming into the side of a parked car. Fortunately no police were around, and my brother-in-law was able to do a better job of driving me home. He did leave me to sleep it off in the car though, and we had the slight problem next day of explaining a few hundred pesetas worth of damage to the rental car owner, but Palace had won, and that was all that was important. Made it back for the Blackburn games though, and weren't they epic encounters.   

So once again, ten years on, and Palace were back at the top. 1989-1990 didn't start off too well, with an early season debacle at Liverpool (I apologise here, but if you want to know just how bad it was, you will have to look for the score elsewhere), but the club went out and purchased Bristol Rovers' highly rated goalkeeper Nigel Martyn, and Palace finished the season, by Palace standards, quite comfortably. But this season wasn't about the league. The highlight of the season, if not of our lives, was seeing Palace reach their first ever Cup Final. The cup run didn't draw too much attention at first, with relatively easy home games against Portsmouth, Huddersfield Town and Rochdale followed by a tough away draw in the Quarter-finals at mighty Fourth Division Cambridge United. Palace duly won 1-0, and almost by accident it seemed, were in the FA Cup Semi-Final for the second time in their history. The draw against Liverpool was probably not what most Palace fans would have chosen, but it proved to be undoubtedly Palace's finest hour. In one of the finest games ever witnessed in the history of the world, Liverpool were left stunned as Palace saw them off 4-3 after extra time. Maybe a slight exaggeration there, but not much. Sweet revenge for the 9-0 drubbing earlier that season, (OK, so you didn't have to look too far), our star player out through injury, written off by all the experts, but there we were -- through to our first FA Cup Final at Wembley. One of the reports said something along the lines of "if Palace arrived in the semi-final through the back door, they certainly reached the final through the main entrance." Manchester United were the opponents in the Final, and a thrilling game saw Palace 3-2 ahead in extra time (goals from O'Reilly and the mercurial Ian Wright), only for a Mark Hughes goal seven minutes from time to take the game to a replay. A replay in which Palace never got going. Palace had a clear penalty refused, and ended up on the wrong side of a 1-0 score-line. 

The following season saw Palace achieve their highest ever finish in the league, third, but relegation followed two years later in 1993, by which time I had departed this green and pleasant land to live in the United States. Coppell left at the end of that season, to be replaced by Alan Smith, who led the Eagles to the First Division Championship (the Premier League having been formed in 1992). Relegation the next season in 1995, and in 1996 in jeart breaking style lost the Play-Off Final at Wembley to Leicester City as the ball flew in off the shin of ex-Eagle Steve Claridge just seconds from time. But in 1997 we were at Wembley again, and this time the luck was on our side as we scored late to beat Sheffield United, and we were back. Not for long however. Relegated again in 1998, and not back since. Yet.

The club were in dire straits financially for much of the 1999-2000 season thanks to a certain Mark Goldberg who had more money than sense, but Coppell performed heroically to keep Palace up. Simon Jordan took over the club in 2000, and after a few disappointing pre-season results, Coppell was on his way to be replaced (again) by Alan Smith. Despite a run to the semi-finals of the Worthington (League) Cup where they lost to eventual winners Liverpool, it was a disappointing season which nearly ended in disaster. With two games left, Palace were staring relegation in the face. Smith was finally fired, and Steve Kember, a Palace man through and through, took over. Winning their last two games, both on the road at Portsmouth and Stockport County, Palace survived. Kember's heroics were not rewarded with a permanent job offer however, and Steve Bruce was appointed manager during the close season, with Kember secure at his side. 

2001-2002: Steve Bruce turned out to be a complete arse, and after a few short months in the job, decided that he would quit for Birmingham City. After a protracted dispute between both clubs which saw Bruce placed on 'gardening leave', Bruce finally changed places with Trevor Francis who had previously been manager at Birmingham City. Bruce had not done a bad job, and Palace had actually been top of the table briefly. Always on the fringe of the play-offs, Palace eventually finished in tenth place, a great improvement on the year before, but in the end probably a little disappointing.

2002-03: Undoubtedly, the highlight of this season was the fourth round FA Cup replay win over mighty Liverpool at Anfield. So enormous was the surprise that yours truly, living in California at the time, thought that his girlfriend had been drinking more heavily than usual, when he called her for the final result. As a consequence of discussing this result with a fellow Brit, my euphoria became replaced by some doubt that perhaps she had transposed the scores and we were, more credibly, on the receiving end of a 2-0 score line. So I didn't totally allow myself to believe it until I arrived home and checked the score on the Internet for myself. Great stuff. As for the league, although on occasion it appeared that we were in with a chance of making the play-offs, the season fizzled out and we finished in a mid-table position. Trevor Francis didn't make it to the end of the season, being replaced on Good Friday, and in the close season club stalwart Steve Kember was given the job on a permanent basis. Good luck to him.   

Crystal Palace F.C.  -  History

The Great Exhibition of 1851, held in London's Hyde Park, was housed in a large building notable for the large amount of glass used in its construction. Londoners soon came to call this building the 'Crystal Palace', and after the exhibition was over, the entire structure was moved to Sydenham Hill in south London, the surrounding area becoming known as Crystal Palace. The building was for many years a popular destination for day-trippers, and could be described as the original theme park, but in 1936 the building was destroyed in a blaze visible from all over London. Contained within the grounds was the football stadium used to stage 20 FA Cup Finals, and one replay, from 1895 until the outbreak of the Great War. The record attendance at the stadium was for the Aston Villa v Sunderland final of 1913, when 120,028 spectators packed the ground. The national athletics stadium was built close to the site of the old ground, and also within the park was a motor racing circuit which was used until the early 1970s.

The original Crystal Palace football club was formed in 1861 and were one of the fifteen teams that took part in the first ever FA Cup competition of 1871-1872, along with such teams as Marlow, Queen's Park (of Glasgow), Royal Engineers and winners Wanderers. The club excelled itself, and reached the Semi-Final where they were defeated 3-0 by Royal Engineers.

The present club was formed in 1905 by workers at the Crystal Palace, and played its games on the cup final ground. The colours chosen were the claret and blue of Aston Villa, a result of the important role in the club's formation played by Edmund Goodman, an Aston Villa employee who was recommended to the fledgling club by the Villa chairman. Edmund Goodman organised the business side of the club and later became the team manager.

The new club started play in the Southern League, alongside such teams as Norwich City, Southampton, and Croydon Common. Highlights of the pre-war era included reaching the FA Cup quarter-finals in 1907, removing along the way first division Newcastle United and Everton.

Football resumed after the Great War, and Crystal Palace became a league club in 1920 when the Football League accepted the Southern League as associate members in a new Third Division. Interestingly, the only club that had been a member of the Southern League at the outbreak of war, but which failed to survive, was Croydon Common, the first professional football club in Croydon. Indeed, it was to their ground, The Nest, near to Selhurst Station, that Crystal Palace moved after the war. In their first season as a League Club, Crystal Palace lost their opening game at Merthyr Town, but lost just six more after that going on to win the championship and promotion to the Second Division. Crystal Palace joined Preston North End, Small Heath, Liverpool and Bury as the only clubs to have won a championship in their first season as a League club.

The following season saw the formation of a Northern section of the Third Division and the Third Division became the Third Division (South). This arrangement continued until 1958 when the Third and Fourth Divisions were formed, but for now Palace were above all that, and in 1921 they opened their season as a Second Division club. During the next four years, Palace finished no higher than 14th, and were relegated along with Coventry City in 1925. A sorry end to a season that had begun with Palace moving to their new home at Selhurst Park, the site of a former brickworks.

The Third Division (South) years were not kind to the club, and were to last as long as the Third Division South itself. With only the champions gaining promotion, it was a hard division to escape from, but Palace came close on more than one occasion. The 1928-1929 season saw Palace finish second behind Charlton Athletic on goal average, in 1930-1931 Palace placed second behind newly relegated Notts County, this time by six points, and in 1938-1939 Palace finished second again, three points adrift of Newport County. When the 1939-1940 season ended, Palace ???, but unfortunately the season was only three matches old, and was cancelled with the onset of the Second World War.

When league football resumed in 1946, Palace finished in the bottom half every season but one before the formation of the Third and Fourth Divisions in 1958. Palace had the indignity of having to apply for re-election on three occasions, having finished dead last in 1948-1949, 1950-1951, and last but one in 1955-1956. During the mid-50s, Palace also had the distinction of managing to be knocked out of the FA Cup in three consecutive seasons (1952-1955) by non-league opposition, namely Finchley, Great Yarmouth and Bishop Auckland.

In 1958 Palace, by virtue of having again finished in the lower half of the table, found themselves among the founder members of the new Fourth Division.

The first major change to the structure of the Football League since 1921, and for Crystal Palace it was to be a turning point. Top half finishes in the next two seasons before finishing second in 1960-1961, two points behind league debutants Peterborough United, who became the first club to win a championship in their first season since Palace exactly 40 years earlier.

The Third Division saw Palace consolidate in their first two seasons, before a runners-up spot in 1964 behind Coventry City saw them back in the Second Division for the first time in 39 years.

Again Palace consolidated in their first season, finish in 11th place, before three more seasons of top half finishes. 1968-1969 saw Palace achieve what ten years earlier would have been considered inconceivable - promotion to the First Division. Palace lost just eight matches all season, their fewest defeats since 1920-1921, finished seven points behind Derby County, but more importantly six points ahead of Charlton Athletic.

Life at the top was never easy for Palace. Never finishing higher than 20th, they finished 21st in 1972-1973, and were relegated for the first time since 1925, and only the second time in their history. Palace didn't have long to wait for the third time.

Promising that Palace would not be in the Second Division for long, Malcolm Allison, true to his word, took Palace straight into the Third Division. A disastrous start to the season meant that Palace's first win didn't come until their 17th game (1-0 at Bristol City), and although they recovered well, and at one time looked as if they might save themselves, Palace ended up falling victim to the newly introduced three-up, three-down rule which, before the season had started, had seemed more likely to help, than hurt, Palace.

So ten years on, and Palace were back in Division Three.

(To be continued...)

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