There are many players that are synonymous with Palace’s rise out of the dark days of the Eighties into the old Division One, and subsequently into the higher regions of the top league. But, if you were asked to name the players at the forefront, I doubt many fans would highlight Phil Barber.
Scour any highlights reel of the eighties and there will be more prominent figures. The deadly pair of Wright and Bright, the blonde beacons of Thomas and Pardew, even the quiff and curly tops of Pemberton and Madden respectively will feature more regularly than Phil Barber, but the winger’s contribution to this period should not be underestimated.
Featuring first in 1984, Barber became a regular feature in the Palace squad being shaped and developed brilliantly by Steve Coppell. In days when football was less technical than the modern era, Barber was more of a functional player, adding width to a squad that featured players on the pathway to greater recognition in the early 90’s. With this in mind, Barber’s contribution shouldn’t be under-played.
It may be fitting that the final season of Barber’s Palace career featured in the top flight. A difficult season in the league which featured heavy defeats away in Merseyside and Arsenal but was more fondly remembered for our FA Cup run in which Barber was a regular. The road to Wembley wasn’t an easy one, close games against stubborn lower league outfits proved the mean and it was Barber who scored the winner against a resilient Rochdale side to put Palace into the next round.
Barber went on to feature in the famous defeat of Liverpool in an all-time cup classic semi-final and then featured again in the final against Manchester United.
That proved to be Barber’s final full season at the club. Recognising they’d established themselves in the top flight and building a team able to compete, Palace decided to strengthen further in the summer with the signing of Glyn Hodges to compete for the wide spots along with the growing reputation of John Salako as Barber found pastures new across London at Millwall.
Barber continued to feature well as a pro, wracking up appearances for many more clubs but Palace feature heavily on his club career in a period that helped shape the future of the club in the upper echelons of English football.