Fathers And Sons: Four Generations Of Supporting Palace

Our latest lockdown offering is courtesy of Steve Amos who is author of ‘Two Sides Of An Indie Dad’ where the following article appears which won the Hastings Literary Festival Sports Journalism award in 2018. Thanks to Steve for allowing us to share the article, and if you’re interested in a read, his book is published by Silverhill Press.

I blame George Amos for all this. One Saturday afternoon in 1936 he took his three year-old son, Donald, to watch Palace play at Selhurst Park. It’s one of Don’s earliest memories, alongside standing outside his childhood home watching the Crystal Palace burn down.

In the 1930s there wasn’t a lot for fathers and sons to do on Saturday afternoons, so George and Don became regulars on the Selhurst Park terraces. Although Palace were in the Third Division South, crowds were good and the team were doing well. In 1939 they finished second, narrowly missing out on promotion. Then war came, bringing football to an abrupt stop, and George joined the army.

The post-war years were bad times for Palace. In 1949 and 1951 they finished bottom of the Third Division South and had to be re-elected to the Football League. George, and the now teenage Don, kept on going, a Saturday ritual of football followed by sausages and chips.

In 1958 Palace found themselves in the new Fourth Division. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. By Fourth Division standards they were quite good, and they had a rising young star – Johnny ‘Budgie’ Byrne. Don reckons he was the most skilful player Palace ever had.

In July 1960 I was born, and Don became a dad. A few weeks’ later he was at Selhurst Park to see Palace start the season by beating Accrington Stanley 9-2, Byrne scoring a hat-trick. I’m not sure which of these events he found more exciting.

That season Palace won promotion to Division Three. The following November Byrne made his England debut, and a few months later joined the likes of Bobby Moore at West Ham.Palace’s progress stalled, but then Dick Graham built a team which, in 1964, gained promotion to the Second Division.

George and Don weren’t there to see it. They had both moved to Saltdean, so were no longer able to stroll down to the ground. Going to football had become an event which needed planning, particularly as Don was now a father of two young children. And then George got cancer, and never got well enough to go to the football again. He died in the summer of 1967.

That November, Don took me to my first match. Palace played Queens Park Rangers and won 1-0, although I only know that because I just Googled it. The noise of the crowd of men, all standing and smoking and shouting, made much more of an impression on me than the score. ‘Glad All Over’ by the Dave Clark Five blared out before kick-off, and everyone sang and stomped along.

It was the following season that football really gripped me, probably because Palace got promoted to the First Division. Don and I were on the terraces for the final game, when Palace came back from 2-0 down to clinch promotion by beating Fulham 3-2. There was even better to come, because Palace’s first game in top flight football was against Manchester United, complete with Best, Charlton and Law. Again I remember the crowd, a record-breaking 48,610, and the incredible noise of the United fans behind the goal. Palace went ahead twice but couldn’t hold on, and the final score was 2-2. That night I was allowed to stay up and watch the highlights on Match of the Day.

There were four seasons of struggle before Palace were relegated in 1973, ironically the season of their greatest triumph. In December they beat Manchester United 5-0, with the brilliant Don Rogers skipping through the mud to score two outstanding goals. In March, the flamboyant Malcolm Allison replaced Bert Head as manager, and Don and I were there to see Palace win his first game 2-0 against Chelsea. Then they barely picked up a point for the rest of the season, and found themselves back in Division Two.

With the optimism of youth I was convinced that this would only be temporary. And it was – the following season they were relegated to Division Three. Undaunted, Allison smoked cigars and donned a Fedora, which became his lucky charm as they went on an FA Cup run which included knocking out Leeds and Chelsea, before losing the semi-final against Southampton. After that their form fell apart, and they failed to gain promotion.

Don became disillusioned. It was disappointing for him to see them back in the Third Division, and although they were always near the top, every match we went to was terrible – 0-0 against Leyton Orient, 1-1 against Reading. So he stopped going and never went back, although he still follows the scores every Saturday afternoon.

I moved to South London, where I could easily get to Selhurst Park. I witnessed the rise and fall of Terry Venables’ ‘Team of the Eighties’, the misery of the Alan Mullery years, then the renaissance under Steve Coppell, culminating in an FA Cup final when the mighty Ian Wright somehow recovered from a broken leg to rise from the substitutes’ bench and score two goals. Sometimes I went alone, sometimes with friends – but none of them were Palace fans, with any loyalty or commitment.

There was only one thing to do – I had to inflict the burden of supporting Palace on my own son. Just as George had done to Don, and Don had done to me, I took my son Ben to Selhurst Park. Palace were comfortably placed in the Premier League, with the exciting talents of Zaha and Bolasie in the team, but they still lost 2-0 to Hull. Ben thought it was great anyway, and blamed the defeat on the referee.

Sometimes when writing this piece I was reminded of Philip Larkin’s line…

Man hands on misery to man

But then came a joyous afternoon at Selhurst Park, when Ben and I saw Palace play brilliantly to beat Leicester 5-0, which just for a while left us feeling ‘glad all over’.

That’s the glory of football, that’s what football can do.

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  1. Enjoyed reading this. My son is a 4th generation Palace fan/supporter folloing in mine, my late father and grandfather.

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