The Decade That Made My Team Famous

Our series of articles continue which have been referred to here at TEB HQ as the ‘Lockdown Diaries’. In this latest entry, Colin Seymour shares his recollection of a time when Palace first started to make a name for themselves.

It was in the seventies that Palace first hit the headlines. I had always wanted my team to be famous, which is a little odd really, because I originally chose Palace to be my team exactly because they weren’t. That was at the end of the sixties.

I grew up in South London, but I didn’t come from a football supporting family. All of my mates at school either supported Chelsea, who were the nearest First Division team, or Manchester United, who were on their journey to becoming the first English team to win the European Cup. I wanted a team to call my own, and I chose Palace. I loved the name, which sounded exotic and different to all the other teams. I loved the kit – the claret shirt with light blue pin stripes. Best of all, they were my local League team, so I could rightfully call them my own.

The trouble is, Palace had never troubled the headline writers of any journal apart from those at the Croydon Advertiser or South London Press. They had never won anything and they had never even played in the First Division. That gave me quite a large credibility issue when discussing football in the school playground. What I needed was for Palace to grab a few headlines of their own.

My Dad grudgingly took me along to Tooting and Mitcham games in the Isthmian League, but steadfastly refused to take me to any professional games, arguing that they were uncivilised affairs. Despite this, somewhat oddly, he was quite happy for me to go on my own without any parental supervision.

So it was that, in April 1971, at the age of 11, I went to Selhurst Park for the first time, to see Palace play Manchester United. There was a display of tanks round the edge of the pitch at half time. George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton were all in the United team. The game was featured on The Big Match. Surely this was Palace in the big time. But all I remember is the crushing disappointment of Palace surrendering a 2-0 lead to lose the game 5-3. I didn’t want the headlines to be about Palace losing – I wanted glory!

The next Palace game I saw was at the end of the following season – a dull goalless draw with Huddersfield, which definitely wasn’t going to inspire any headlines. The biggest achievement for Palace that season was John “Yogi” Hughes finishing as runner-up in Goal of the Season for his screamer against Sheffield United – well, he was never going to beat Ronnie Radford’s FA Cup 3rd Round goal for Hereford, was he?

My third trip to Selhurst Park was in December 1972, once again for the visit of Manchester United. Was this finally the opportunity for glory? It certainly was, for a while anyway. Brian Moore famously described it in his commentary as “Crystal Palace’s greatest afternoon”, just before Don Rogers slotted in the final goal of our 5-0 victory. But the glory was short-lived. At the end of the season, we were relegated, alongside Manchester United.

Throughout the four seasons that Palace had been in the top flight, we always seemed like underdogs. Our squad seemed to be a mixture of unknowns plucked from Scotland, or aging players who had seen better days with better teams. We never finished higher than 18th, and it took us 32 games to finally record our first victory in a London derby – a 2-0 win over Chelsea, in which Jim Cannon scored on his debut.

However, something happened at the end of that final relegation season that was the seed for Palace to achieve the fame and glory that I craved. Malcolm Allison was appointed manager. Okay, he couldn’t save us from relegation to the Second Division – and despite being favourites for promotion he took us down to Division Three the following season – but somehow, it felt like we were going in the right direction.

Palace were certainly in the news – even if it sometimes needed a topless Fiona Richmond, sharing the communal bath with the players, to put us there. Quite simply, Malcolm Allison was box office. He changed our name to the Eagles, he changed our kit to make us look like Barcelona, and in 1976, he took us to the FA Cup Semi-Final for the very first time. That Cup run was unheard of for a Third Division team – with away victories at Leeds, Chelsea and Sunderland – and Malcolm milked it for all he was worth in his lucky fedora.

Unfortunately, the Cup run took a toll on our League form that season and after missing out on promotion, Malcolm Allison left the club. But he had laid the foundations for success, not least in the brilliant youth team that Palace had assembled. With Terry Venables taking over the reins, Palace were promoted to Division Two the following season, as well as winning the FA Youth Cup for the first time. The 1977-78 season was one of consolidation in Division Two, whilst the youth team repeated their cup success.

With Terry Venables skilfully integrating Palace’s youth talent into the first team, there was genuine excitement about the future. As we approached the end of the 1978-79 season, Palace were in with a chance of regaining their place in the First Division. In those days, postponed games were often played after the end of the regular season and so Palace’s final game was on the Friday night before the Cup Final. The equation was simple – lose, and we would face another season in Division Two; draw, and we would be promoted; win, and we would be champions.

By this time, I was at in my first year at university, but there was no way I was missing this match. I got the train down from Nottingham on Friday afternoon and went straight to the ground, where I crammed in with 51,481 other people, despite our official capacity being only 47,000 (health and safety was a bit different in those days). After remaining goalless for 75 minutes, Ian Walsh calmed the nerves with the best flying header I will ever see, before the Burnley defence conveniently parted for Dave Swindlehurst to stride through and confirm the victory. Palace were back in the headlines!

At the start of the following season, I wanted to see as many games as I could before returning to university for my second year. The last home game I could see before term began was against Ipswich. Palace had started the season well, and won the match in style 4-1. Despite the stunning nature of Dave Swindlehurst’s volley to open the scoring, it was Palace’s fourth goal which I remember most vividly. Defending a corner, Palace cleared the ball and broke quickly down the left. The ball came across and the unlikely figure of Jim Cannon was there to meet it with a volley from the edge of the area.

That fourth goal was memorable as it put Palace on top of Division One, for the first (and so far, only) time in our history, by virtue of goal difference. I went back to university, happy that, at the end of the decade, Palace were in the news for all the right reasons. We were the top club in England. Everything was rosy. We were going to dominate English football for the next decade as the “Team of the Eighties”.

What could possibly go wrong? Well, that’s another story…

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