Cult Heroes Of The CPFC 2010 Era: “When everyone wrote us off against Brighton, I knew we’d be victorious” – Kagisho Dikagcoi

With 38 Premier League games to contend with this season, coinciding with a decade under the ownership of CPFC 2010, The Eagles Beak will take a look at 38 Crystal Palace cult heroes from the last 10 years.

“TSHABALALA! GOAL Bafana Bafana! Goal for South Africa! Goal for all Africa!”

Arguably one of the most iconic lines uttered at a FIFA World Cup.

Peter Dury’s African euphoria was sealed following an exquisite finish from midfielder Siphiwe Tshabalala. However, people don’t seem to recall the well-weighted pass by his fellow countryman that sealed Tshabalala’s name in African folklore.

Kagisho Dikgacoi was already plying his trade on English soil when he played his part in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Having moved to Fulham in 2009, the defensive midfielder went on to make just 16 appearances across two seasons for the Cottagers before moving across London to seek first-team football.

Speaking to The Eagles Beak, Dikgacoi said: “My loan move from Fulham happened after I wasn’t getting enough game time and Dougie [Freedman] showed interest.

“I couldn’t turn it down as I needed to play more.

“What convinced me to sign was the belief Dougie had in me. He said that he wanted to challenge for the promotion in the following season and that’s where I wanted to be.”

Dikgacoi came to England after Fulham scouts liked what they saw; a tough-tackling, no-nonsense midfielder who had an eye for a pass. Coincidently, the Fulham manager at the time who gave Dikgacoi the thumbs up was none other than current Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson.

“Roy is always supportive.

“He is more like a father figure and he always plays a big role in encouraging his players to become a better player than they already are.”

Following Hodgson’s departure to Liverpool, his replacement Mark Hughes couldn’t find a place for the South African in his starting eleven, allowing him to join Crystal Palace – initially on-loan – in January 2011.

Crystal Palace were still recovering from their flirtation with extinction and were once again struggling to establish their place in England’s second division.

“The club was in bad financial turmoil when I came in and sometimes, we would struggle to get the luxuries of what players would expect.

“After my first game [a 1-0 home victory against Sheffield United] – I realised the support the team was getting from fans was amazing.

“I had no doubt I could make a difference, I could bring in my experience and get the team promoted.”

Ultimately, Crystal Palace would survive the drop in the 2010-11 season. The following campaign saw Dikgacoi make his move to Selhurst Park permanent and the Eagles finished 17th in the Championship in an uninspiring if more comforting campaign. The club’s most iconic moment in the 2011-12 season was the EFL Cup run which saw a quarter-final win away at Premier League giants Manchester United.

Dikgacoi played the full 120 minutes at Old Trafford as the Eagles defeated the Red Devils 2-1 after extra-time.

The midfielder admits: “I never believed we would beat United away from home!

“They had a great manager [Sir Alex Ferguson], big players like [Ryan] Giggs who were also doing well in the English Premier League that season.”

A wonder strike from Darren Ambrose and a late Glenn Murray finish helped Palace book their place in the semi-finals.

“I think they [Manchester United] wanted to win it as much as we did. The only difference was that we worked twice as hard as them and that’s what got us the win.

“When Darren scored I was behind the play to provide support and give cover in case we lost possession. The shot looked a bit over-enthusiastic as it was far from goal, but knowing ‘Daz’, he had scored such goals in training and could pack a shot at goal.

“I wasn’t surprised that it went in!”

The match also saw Crystal Palace legend Wilfred Zaha take his place on the world stage, showcasing his natural ability, youthful exuberance and genuine threat on the ball, that saw him eventually move to Manchester shortly after, albeit for a short stay.

“It was a joy playing alongside Wilf. He had so much confidence, he would dribble past the defenders for fun.”

The highs of Manchester contrasted with the lows of Cardiff as Dougie Freedman’s side lost out to Cardiff City across two legs – eventually on penalties – in the semi-finals, missing the chance of reaching the competition’s final for the first time in the club’s history.

“I don’t regret the way we played on the day.

“We applied ourselves very well into Dougie’s tactics. The only thing we lacked was the confidence.

The 2012-13 season was the start of the club’s revolution. Dikgacoi was now a regular and had formed a solid partnership with Australian warrior Mile Jedinak at the heart of the Crystal Palace midfield.

“Mile and I used to complement each other very well. It was like we had been playing for over five years.

“We understood each other very well and his leadership skills, they were what made us have that hunger and desire to always win games.

“It was so important to have him as a leader.”

Dikgacoi made 42 league appearances that season. Palace’s fifth outing was a trip to The Valley, where a Dikgacoi goal saw the Eagles beat that side on the river 1-0.

“I only realised before the game that there was a rivalry between us and Charlton.

“I always thought it was Millwall who were our rivals but then I got to witness it. After I scored the fans went crazy!”

Dougie Freedman departed in October for pastures new at Bolton Wanderers and Ian Holloway stepped up to guide Palace in their continued pursuit for promotion.

“I realised when we started the second round of the season at the turn of the year, we still continued to win games and that’s when I realised that we were going up.

“Even when we started dropping points, I never thought we would not make it in the playoffs.”

It turned out that Dikgacoi’s predictions were correct. Palace made the play-offs – just – and faced their much-fancied arch-rivals Brighton & Hove Albion in the semi-finals.

“After we drew the first game at home [the score was 0-0] and when everyone started writing us off, that’s when I believed that we were going to play with confidence and we would come out victorious.”

And victorious Palace were, with two goals from Zaha booking the club’s place at Wembley in the play-off final against Watford.

“After Wilf scored the second goal, I then looked at the clock and I thought that’s it we are going to Wembley.

“The fans were buzzing!”

As we all know, Palace went on to beat Watford 1-0 in the final – thanks to a Kevin Phillips penalty in extra-time – to seal promotion to the Premier League just three years after surviving both relegation and administration.

However, it was a bittersweet afternoon for Dikgacoi who started that final, only to succumb to injury in the opening stages at Wembley.

“I was extremely disappointed.

“I felt like I was letting the team down and I didn’t want to believe that I was going out [of the game].

“I was spitting words that I don’t even know how they came about. I just said to the boys ‘please do it for me’”.

Forever the underdogs, Palace seemed destined to make a straight return to the Championship – at least according to the ‘experts’ – but Dikgacoi and co remained determined and confident that the club would defy the odds.

Ian Holloway left the club after losing to Dikgacoi’s former side Fulham 4-1. Reflecting on the departure, Dikgacoi admits that Holloway’s style of play wasn’t what was needed at the time.

“I think the way he insisted we play was the downfall.

“We never had the kind of players for the kind of football he likes to play especially in the Premier League.”

However, Tony Pulis took over and Palace reverted to a more contained and counter-attacking formation which saw them overturn a dreadful start to the campaign and finish in the lofty heights of 11th.

“After we beat Cardiff away [Palace beat the Welsh side 3-0 in April] that’s when I had confidence that we would stay up.

“If we managed to beat Cardiff away, not many teams could come back with points from there.”

Coincidently and almost romantically, Dikgacoi made his last appearance for the Eagles away at – you guessed it – Fulham in a 2-2 draw on the final day of the 2013-14 Premier League season.

“I really wanted to stay but the management didn’t offer me the fair contract I wanted.

“I felt it was best for me to go.”

Dikgacoi finished his career at Palace with 114 appearances and eight goals, playing a major part in creating some iconic memories in the CPFC 2010 era.

“I had my best football career at Palace, I enjoyed every minute I spent at the club.

“The fans were amazing, and they still are today. Whenever I tweet, I get a great response and I feel like am still one of the family.”

What are your favourite Kagisho Dikgacoi memories? Let us know below!

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