Would Relegation Be So Bad? (Part 3)
I regard the six years between 1987-1993 as the best period of my life, both personally and professionally not to mention as a Crystal Palace fan.
In those six years a lot happened in my life. I basically made the journey from boy to man as I went from a 16 year old to a 23 year old.
Along the way I left school, got different jobs, different girlfriends, different motorbikes, different cars, different tech, different clothes and different hair cuts. The only constant, besides friends and family, was Palace.
As I mentioned in parts 1 and 2 of this series, getting relegated from the top tier of the league can be a positive. Had we not been relegated from the old Division One in 1973 we’d not have had the ‘Team of the Eighties’ or that memorable night against Burnley in May 1979.
Had we not had the fiasco of a season in 1981 resulting in relegation we’d not have had the Wright and Bright years, the pantomime villains of Venables and Allen (among others) and everything else that followed promotion in 1989.
Would we swap those disastrous times for a set of unknown events? No, probably not, because we know it all leads to where we are today and who knows where we’d be if history was changed.
Doctor Who, Star Trek and Quantum Leap have taught me this much – you can’t change one aspect of the past without it effecting everything, not just the part we change.
Had we been in Division One in the mid-eighties we’d not been hard up enough to have taken a chance on Ian Wright. If there was no Ian Wright that would mean we wouldn’t have needed Mark Bright. It is the ultimate domino effect which not only changes the form of our club but us as people.
How different would we, as people, be today if we’d just had the last 16 years that Chelsea have had?
Promotion In 1989
There is a big question within the community of Palace fans that I know which is this – what is the best game you have seen as a Palace fan?
For me, the best game I have seen Palace play was the 1989 play off final against Blackburn Rovers at Selhurst Park. The day had everything.
It was the first Palace ‘event’ for me. We knew it was going to be on television, being just legal age I went to the pub before the game, I was with my brother, I was with my mate (who I always went with), it was a 30,000+ sell out and it was at Selhurst!
There was so much tension on the day because going into the game we were two goals down on aggregate and we knew we had to win by two clear goals. The team didn’t let us down and the release of pressure at the final whistle, the running on the pitch to celebrate with the team and realisation that we’d got promoted…
For me, it was better than the FA Cup semi final win over Liverpool. The last ten minutes of normal time would have been the best in history had Andy Thorn’s header gone in at the end. The extra time made the game a little flat and more tense not to mention the journey home on the train.
But I digress!
Promotion to the First Division was achieved and being a seasoned Palace fan I was just wondering how we’d stuff things up.
The first season back in the top flight we were beaten 9-0 at Anfield. Everyone to a man who was there says we didn’t play badly, we didn’t! Liverpool scored with every shot they had. It was just one of those nights. I still feel for Perry Suckling.
The week after the game I was at the Palace training ground training with the Palace Supporter’s Team and Danny Baker came down to interview a few of us for the Six O’Clock Show. I didn’t realise at the time but the whole thing was just to take the pi$$ out of us.
In the run up to the cup final I went to the training ground a few times to see the lads train. For some reason it wasn’t closed sessions. Wrighty was in the practice game, as were one or two others who ended up not featuring.
Standing by the side of one goal, I was about five feet from the touchline. Suckling was in goal and someone had a long range effort. With impressive reflexes, Suckling went across the goal, dived and plucked the ball out of mid-air. He threw the ball back out, looked back at me and said “it was going wide!”
I always felt sorry for Suckling. I don’t know if he was made a scapegoat for the Anfield massacre, if his confidence was shot after it or if it was a coincidence that Nigel Martyn signed but from what I saw in the training sessions, Suckling was still a good goalkeeper.
We finished the season on the same points as Manchester United but two places below them because of goal difference. Manchester City were the ‘meat in the sandwich’ that year and the word in the media was that Alex Ferguson would be sacked if we beat United in the final.
We didn’t! We came bloody close, just eight minutes in the original game but lost in the replay. The referee was Alan Gunn from Brighton (?!?!) and he failed to give us a penalty when Geoff Thomas was fouled and dragged outside of the penalty area. We got a free kick instead.
So, Fergie kept his job and for him the rest is history. The season may have ended in cup final defeat but at least Charlton Athletic and Millwall were relegated!
The second season started well for us. To this day I do not know why I said what I did but I said it and was completely serious.
We were playing the second game of the season at home to Chelsea. On this night I was standing on the ‘Sainburys Terrace’ with the parents of a friend, herself and her boyfriend. The parents hated Steve Coppell. It was an irrational hatred which I never got to the bottom of.
The clock was running down while we were winning 2-1 and I turned to them and said ‘This season we’re going to surprise a few people and do really well! Top five!’
My friend’s boyfriend, who also happened to be my friend, looked at me stony faced and said ‘You’re serious, aren’t you?’ And I was.
That season we finished third in the league, our highest ever position in the top flight.
Our team that year was a monster! Strong, pacy, physical and great to watch. Though we finished third we were some way off the two teams above us. Seven points behind Liverpool in second and fourteen behind Arsenal in first place. We were five points ahead of Leeds in fourth.
It was a massive achievement. In a way it was not far off what Leicester City achieved last season because we were certainties for a relegation fight but instead we were knocking on the door for a European place.
Yes, Liverpool were banned from Europe so in the last two months of the season we took our foot off the gas a little. In our last eight games we recorded three victories, two were in the last two games!
We were certain we’d qualified for Europe until in mid-April the Football League announced that, should they finish in second place, Liverpool would be put forward for a UEFA Cup place the next season.
Everyone was under the impression that when their ban was lifted that they’d then have to qualify but they were ‘fast tracked’ and remains one of the great injustices of our time.
We had another day out at Wembley where we beat Everton in the Zenith Data Systems Cup Final 4-1. Neville Southall sat against his post and sulked at half time but who really cared? Three goals in extra time. A Wembley final is a Wembley final!
Things seemed to be going from strength to strength. Maybe this time we wouldn’t stuff things up and self-destruct.
Maybe this time it would be different…