Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Palace Magic #1

The first in a series of posts to give us a fix when there are no Palace games ... This flashback needs very little introduction ... 

Still Dreaming of Villa Park

It was billed as a complete miss match. The moment Palace were drawn against Liverpool in the 1990 FA Cup semi final I could hear the sniggers. Not just from Brighton, Millwall and Charlton. It was a lot further afield. Why? Well it's simple and this is where the story began.

The return to the top division was our first flirtation with the play off system, a successful aggregate win over Blackburn in a two legged final in the 1988/89 season. A midweek trip to Liverpool in September 1989 after only a draw and a win to our name was not ideal. It was a rout, 9-0 (nine) as it appeared on the vidiprinter. This is why there may have been some wry smiles within the football fraternity when it became clear that Liverpool would play Crystal Palace at Villa Park less than seven months later. But as the old saying goes, football is a funny old game.

The day lives long in the memory. I remember colour, atmosphere, excitement and a stomach full of nerves. And the nerves were warranted as Ian Rush put Liverpool one up at the break. It was inevitable or so we thought but John Pemberton had other ideas. Liverpool kicked off the second half but Pemberton picked up the ball in his own half. He ran with it, and ran, and ran, flying past Liverpool players to send a deep cross to Phil Barber who couldn't get on the end of it, it fell to John Salako who fired it straight at Grobbelaar, it fell to Mark Bright who made no mistake. Palace were level, players and fans alike went absolutely mad. I still have the scars to prove it, that one magical moment. We were back in the game.

Against the script once again, Palace dared to take the lead through Gary O'Reilly from a free kick. Palace were ten minutes from the FA Cup final. But elation turned to despair as Steve McMahon put Liverpool level with a thunderbolt. Despair turned to tears as Liverpool converted a dubious penalty through John Barnes to put them 3-2 up. But Palace simply would not give in. Three minutes from time, another free kick pumped into the box, Andy Gray somehow managed to pop up and nod the ball home. Cue pure tears of joy.

So extra time, nervous, tense, hardly any action to match the occasion. The game threatened to filter out, until one final, dramatic moment in the second half of extra time. A corner to Palace, Andy Gray with it, almost in slow motion, the ball flies through the air and lands on the blonde head of Alan Pardew who manages to meet it and put it right into the bottom corner of the net. No words can describe the feeling in the Palace end, we had been through it all. Never again would I feel that way again, or so I thought ...

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