Monday, 1 July 2013

What Could Have Been

The late eighties and early nineties were seriously heady days. It was perhaps impossible to believe that we would relive anything close to the promotion success beating Blackburn in the 1989 play offs. But that was topped the very next season, retaining top flight status and reaching the FA Cup final. 

"Surely the only way was to go after that was down wasn't it?"

Few would argue that the second season syndrome comes back to haunt football clubs often, particularly those that are not as used to regular success like those at the top. This was the exact scenario Palace found themselves in going into the 1990/91 season. An opening day draw away at Luton Town was the beginning of a remarkable thirteen game unbeaten run (league and cup). The run was ended away at Old Trafford with a 2-0 defeat in the first week of November but Palace were flying high. The bubble had been burst and the expected free fall was surely around the corner.

But the form did not dip as much as expected. Other than a League Cup exit at the hands of Southampton and an away defeat to Chelsea, that was the only tastes of defeat for the rest of the year. At this rate, Palace would be safe by the end of January, and dare we consider, may even challenge for the title! 

Naturally, a dip in form would happen and that began with a loss at Aston Villa on New Years Day. We became a little more inconsistent which was compounded by an early FA Cup exit but surprisingly it did not last. A run in the Full Members Cup competition may have helped more than hinder and our good form returned. Three wins, two draws and a loss in the run in to the end of the season secured something that was completely unthinkable. A third place finish in the top tier of English football. Dizzy heights indeed but the table did not lie, we were third behind champions Arsenal on 83 points and runners up Liverpool on 76 points. We finished with 69 points and an inconceivable distance between us and the relegation zone.

"But the story doesn't end there."

Our first trophy in what was our third trip to Wembley in twelve months. The Full Members Cup (see recent article here) was ours after a 4-1 thrashing of Everton was the icing on the cake. But now for the cherry gently placed on the top, a place in European. But this is where things turn rather sour. A coveted third place finish in the top division would usually secure a place in European competition for the following season. This particular year that Palace did it, for the first time in our history, it was quite different.

The five year ban on English clubs in Europe had just been lifted which was a result of the terrible Heysel disaster in 1985. But it was UEFA who dashed any hopes that Palace had of competing in European competition by reinstating runners-up Liverpool who had been given an extra year's ban. An awful lot could be said of the Football Association's (FA) decision not to fight Palace's cause but more than that, East Germany had been allocated two spots in the same competition even though Germany were a unified country. 

"All of this tainted what was a quite magnificent season, nothing of which we have witnessed since."

However, the fact that Palace had not secured a deserved place in Europe could have had quite an effect on the clubs immediate future. A tenth place finish the following season and then relegation the season after. There are still to this day so many questions following that decision by UEFA, and the lack of support by the FA. Some resentment, perhaps even a chip on the shoulder when it comes to the so called bigger clubs in this country that have the FA in their pockets.

"But I do have to say that I wouldn't change one single thing that has taken place since then."

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