Within the English game, the words â€œeleganceâ€ and â€œfootball managerâ€ are rarely spoken in the same sentence. And the only time it normally occurs is due to the increased presence of foreign managers and their taste in sartorial wear, such as Guardiolaâ€™s hoody-cardigan or Manciniâ€™s natty scarf. Now take those words back to a time when foreign managers were not even a thing in England â€“ the 1970s â€“ and the dress sense of footballâ€™s leaders becomes even more prehistoric. Brian Clough would often sport a Nottingham Forest tracksuit while Bob Paisley went for the suit and mac combo. Even Ron Atkinson hadnâ€™t yet developed his full Mr Bojangles look, waiting for the 1980s to unleash his collection of oversized jewellery upon the football world.
But then there was Malcolm Allison. A clue to his persona came after his playing career was tragically cut short by the need to have a lung removed following a bout of tuberculosis while playing for West Ham. After leaving football he initially worked as a car salesman, then a professional gambler and finally a nightclub owner. Suffice to say, the man did not settle for a boring lifestyle and it was a great gain to future journalists that he decided to return to football as a coach. Over the following years, he would prove to be gold-dust to Fleet Street.
It all started in little Bath City before he landed at Manchester City in 1965 to be the assistant to Joe Mercer. The combination of Mercer as manager with Allison proving to be a great coach and tactician led Manchester City to great success in the late sixties, winning the Second Division Championship in 1966, the League title in 1968, the FA Cup in 1969 and the European Cup Winners Cup and League Cup in 1970. It was an impressive list of honours powered by players of the stature of Book, Doyle, Bell, Lee and Summerbee.
Following on from the double-trophy winning 1970 season, Allison secured a place on ITVâ€™s panel covering the 1970 World Cup. It was decided to have a panel that would shake up the usual dry analysis and so ITV boldly went for a quartet of Allison, Derek Dougan, Pat Crerand and Bob McNab. It proved to be perfect alchemy as the four played off of each other perfectly. But there was no doubt who ultimately stole the show. Puffing on a big cigar during the discussions (it was 1970 after all) Allison would throw out the occasional outrageous statement while also explaining tactics. Allegedly the group were sequestered into a Hendon hotel for the month, woken with a bottle of champagne and given the keys to the mini-bar. For the first time ever, ITV beat the venerable BBC in terms of ratings. By the end of the tournament, Malcolm Allison had become reborn as â€œBig Malâ€ â€“ a new personality that would remain with him thereafter.
Following on from this success, Big Mal could no longer be kept in the shadows at Manchester City. He felt that he now deserved to be given the managerial job and alleged that it had been promised to him in the past when he rejected opportunities such as Juventus. But Mercer had no intention of moving aside just yet. Eventually, a boardroom coup saw Allison given more power and in the end, Mercer saw the writing on the wall and moved on to manage Coventry in 1972. Allison had finally achieved managerial status â€“ only for Manchester City to struggle under him and force him to resign nine months later. An inauspicious start to his managerial career left him looking for a new job which he quickly secured, moving from Manchester to South London and Crystal Palace.
On joining Crystal Palace in March 1973, Allison was immediately thrown into a relegation battle as Palace struggled to remain in the top flight. It was too short a time for Big Mal to make a difference, and five defeats in their last seven games saw Palace relegated. Allison decided that a revolution was needed in the sleepy London suburbs and the 1973-74 season saw him make several changes, such as renaming â€œThe Glazersâ€ as â€œThe Eaglesâ€ and replacing the traditional claret and blue kit with a stylish white jersey with diagonal red and blue stripe. But a disastrous start to life in the Second Division saw Palace without a win through their first 15 matches â€“ before finally securing a 1-0 victory away at Bristol City on November 10. Things did not markedly improve from then on, resulting in a second successive relegation for The Eagles to the depths of the Third Division.Â Big Malâ€™s managerial career was continuing to spiral.
However, amongst the disappointment of the 1973/74 season, there was one development that went largely under the radar but would have future implications for the South London club. The preceding season had seen Southend United gain promotion to the Third Division and among their players was one who had previously had an unsuccessful trial with Palace â€“ a young winger named Peter Taylor. On October 11, 1973, as the Eagles were mired in their dire start to the season, Allison splashed out Â£110,000 for the 20 year old. Taylor had an immediate impact on the struggling team and ended the season as Palaceâ€™s Player of the Year. A future star was in place.
1974/75 saw Palace remain in the Third Division but with signs of improvement as they finished fifth, just four points short of promotion. Allison began blooding some of the youth talent at the club in an attempt to rebuild the team, aided by his number two, a certain Terry Venables. Having steadied the ship, the 1975/76 season saw Palace win their first five games, before losing 1-0 at home to Brighton in front of an impressive 25,000 crowd. By Christmas, they were five points clear of the pack and it appeared that the Big Mal revolution was finally yielding fruit. A promotion looked distinctly possible and Palace fans were firmly focused on the league campaign. But attention was soon to switch to the FA Cup.
Being a Third Division side, Palace had begun their FA Cup campaign on November 22 with an unspectacular 1-0 win over nearby non-league Walton & Hersham at Selhurst Park. The second round provided Palace with tougher opposition, in the shape of a South London derby against Millwall at the fearsome Den. A hard-earned draw saw them take The Lions back to Selhurst Park where a goal from Taylor helped Palace secure a 2-1 win. and with it a place in the third round and a chance to compete with the biggest clubs in the land.
The third round draw did not provide Palace with any glamour tie, but instead a trip to the North-East in the shape of Scarborough. A professional 2-1 win, including another Taylor goal, saw the Eagles progress but it was another event at the game that would become infamous.
Jack Tinn was the Portsmouth manager from 1927 to 1947. During Portsmouthâ€™s FA Cup campaign in 1938/39, he decided to wear a pair of spats on his shoes. When asked why the fashion addition, Tinn said that â€œWeâ€™re going to win the Cup with these spatsâ€. And win the Cup they did. Why is this relevant? Because Allison had remembered this and decided that he too needed something iconic to wear to provide Palace with cup luck. Spats were okay for the 1930s but in an era of TV coverage, Allison wanted something a lot more viewable. And so the Cult of the Fedora was born.
Of course, being Big Mal, there was more to his managerial look than just the fedora. He paired the hat with a huge alpaca wool coat, wide tie and cigars â€“ but the fedora became the iconic symbol. Ahead of the Scarborough game, Allison tells the story:
â€œAs I was going past the Scarborough dressing room, all their players were in the bath and I could hear them saying, ‘What do you think about that big-headed bastard? First chance we ever have of getting some publicity and he comes along in that stupid hat’.”
Â The fedora was to get its next FA Cup outing in January in a much tougher environment than Palace had experienced to date. The fourth round draw had sent them to Elland Road, home of Leeds United, one of the greatest teams of the 1970s. A team who had won the FA Cup itself in 1972 and been losing finalists in 1970 and 1973, before controversially losing a European Cup final to Bayern Munich in 1975. A team who sat second in the First Division. A team playing in front of their passionate home crowd with the firepower of Allan Clarke, Duncan Mackenzie and Peter Lorimer.
According to Allison, he bumped into then Leeds manager Don Howe at the stadium ahead of the game, where Howe said â€œHello Malcolm how are you? Weâ€™re playing brilliantlyâ€ to which Big Mal replied, â€œYou’ll need to today son, youâ€™ll need to todayâ€.
The game got underway in freezing conditions with snow showers falling under a grey Yorkshire sky, with Leeds in their traditional all-white and Palace in blue and red stripes. Four train-loads of Palace fans took up their places behind one of the goals, while Allison looked on in his now trademark fedora. Allison was well aware of Leedsâ€™ famous reputation for preparing detailed dossiers on opponents, so he and Venables decided on a then almost unheard of 5-2-3 formation to throw Leeds research off completely, with Taylor out wide on the right, but with license to cut in and support Dave Swindlehurst upfront. After a strong start, Taylor was brought down on the left-hand side of the area. Taking the free-kick himself, he floated it into the area where Swindlehurst powered in a header to give Palace a well-deserved first-half lead. Elland Road was in shock.
Taylor continued to torment Leeds down the right as Palace started the second half ahead. Rather than trying to protect their slender lead, Palace continued to attack, with one beautiful flowing move almost leading to Taylor getting a second, the ball being passed around on the deck at speed. Attack after attack led to two close calls, both from Swindlehurst. Taylor and Swindlehurst were combining to bewilder the Leeds defence. And then Taylor had the cheek to nutmeg Frank Grey, who by then had been twisted and turned all afternoon long by the little winger. It was magical stuff indeed from a Third Division outfit.
With highlights of the game shown nationally, the flair of the Palace performance alongside the panache of Big Mal brought the team attention from around the country, with glowing reviews for their performance. To travel to Leeds and come away with a fourth-round victory surely deserved an easier fifth round draw. But for the fourth round in succession, the Eagles were once again drawn away â€“ this time at fellow Londoners Chelsea. They had successfully negotiated a trip to the Den, now Stamford Bridge was to be their next port of call. Big Malâ€™s typical response to the draw – â€œChelsea? A nice little team, but weâ€™ll enjoy going to Wembley.â€
Â Unlike the Chelsea that we know today, the 1976 version were languishing mid-table in the Second Division â€“ so not too many places above Palace, although in a higher league. It was their first season outside of the top flight for over a decade and was disappointing in that they never mounted a serious challenge for promotion back to the First Division. But they had advanced to the fifth round of the FA Cup, albeit through the fairly non-challenging route of surmounting Bristol Rovers and York City.
So on February 14, 1976, 54,000 fans packed Stamford Bridge, persuading loved ones that they would still attend Valentineâ€™s Day celebrations later that evening. The feared Shed End was filled to the rafters â€“ home to the loudest and most passionate section of the home support. As Allison stepped out with the Palace team ahead of kick-off, he strode over to face the terrace. In a now famous image, wrapped in a wool overcoat and sporting the now ubiquitous fedora, Big Mal held up a number of fingers to the Shed â€“ predicting a 3-1 victory to Palace. An audacious move indeed.
The match was covered by the BBC and commentated on by the great John Motson. Chelsea made the early running but without being overly threatening. Then, after 37 minutes, a Chelsea attack floundered under a tackle from Alan Whittle, falling to Nick Chatterton who launched the ball forward to Taylor on the right. On his own upfront and faced by three Chelsea defenders, Taylor jinked left, jinked right, beat a defender and then crashed a shot against the underside of the bar. Luckily Chatterton was following in to tap the ball into the empty net and Palace had the lead through the inspiration of Taylor.
The Eagles were suddenly flying and just two minutes later, Taylor once again received the ball outside the Chelsea area. This time a neat little one-two with Chatterton set Taylor up on the edge of the area where he curled a shot into the bottom corner. â€œAnd this man may have just won the tie in the space of two minutesâ€ was the response from Motson as Taylor celebrated in front of a tumultuous Palace section. â€œPeter Taylor takes Chelsea apart and Malcolm Allison raises the hatâ€.Â The fedora was once again working its magic.
Early in the second half, Paul Hinshelwood should have ended the tie following a marvellous cross from that man Taylor again before Taylor then fizzed a shot just wide. But just as it looked like Palace were likely to finish off the tie at any moment, Chelsea began to stage a comeback. Firstly a then 19-year-old skipper Ray Wilkins lashed home a great shot into the roof of the net. Then another 19 year old, Stevie Wicks, headed home from a corner and Chelsea were level with just under 20 minutes to go and with momentum on their side, along with a cacophonous Shed End.
But cometh the hour, cometh the man. A few minutes later saw Palace earn a free-kick a few yards outside the penalty area. Taylor took control of the situation, facing the Chelsea wall in front of the great Peter Bonetti. A dummy run from another player drew Bonetti slightly off his line before Taylor chipped a beautiful shot over the keeper and into the top corner.
â€œWhat a goal by Peter Taylor. And what a one-man performance he is making this for Palace. And no wonder Malcolm takes the hat off again.â€
Palace held on to win a classic cup tie 3-2, only one goal off from Big Malâ€™s pre-match prediction to The Shed. And Peter Taylor had put in a sublime performance, way ahead of anything one might expect from a Third Division player. Having tortured Leeds for 90 minutes, Taylor had now scored twice and assisted on a third to put Palace into the quarter-finals. Surely they would finally get one more home tie this time around.
But the FA Cup gods can be a fickle bunch and so Palace were once again drawn away – this time at Sunderland, winners of the FA Cup in 1973 and eventual Second Division Champions in this season. FA Cup fever had gripped South London but at a price â€“ Palaceâ€™s league form began to slump horribly, with a seven-game winless streak dropping them down to fifth. And so the Eagles travelled to the North East at the start of March to see if the FA Cup dream could continue.
Ahead of the game, Kevin Keegan commented that he had always viewed Taylor as a First Division player. And as if in recognition of this praise, one run saw him pick up the ball in his own half and run at the Sunderland defence before drawing a great save with a right-foot shot from the edge of the area. Once again he was leading Palace forward. And then the defining moment â€“ Taylor again picked up the ball in his own half, he again ran at the Sunderland defence, he beat two players to reach the byline and then crossed for Whittle to convert from six yards out.
Crystal Palace were now one game from Wembley and had become the first team from the third tier to reach such as stage since Norwich City back in 1959. But , ominously, no third tier side had actually made it to the final. If Palace could win one game more, they would make FA Cup history.
The other three teams in the hat were high-flying Manchester United and Derby County and Second Division Southampton. Palace finally enjoyed some luck in drawing Southampton and, given their performances to date, many actually backed Palace as favourites despite their lower standing. The omens seemed good as Stamford Bridge was named as the venue given The Eaglesâ€™ earlier victory there.
Unfortunately, the dream was to end on that April 3 afternoon. Both sides looked flat during a disappointing contest, but Southampton had enough to score twice in the final twenty minutes and move on to a famous FA Cup win over Manchester United the following month. Once again, a team from the third tier couldnâ€™t make that final step â€“ and to this day that is still the case, with Chesterfield coming closest in 1997.
As the FA Cup bubble burst, so did Palaceâ€™s season overall. They lost twice in a row in the league after the semi-final defeat and eventually finished fifth, three points behind promoted Millwall. A season that had looked so promising ended with nothing concrete to show from it. But it did also end with an everlasting memory for Palace fans of joyous trips to Elland Road, Stamford Bridge and Roker Park, Big Malâ€™s fedora and Peter Taylorâ€™s electric performances. It was just a shame that none of the key ties were played in front of a sell-out Selhurst Park.
So what of Malcolm Allison, Peter Taylor and Crystal Palace immediately after? Well, Malcolm Allison resigned at the end of the season, allowing his place to be taken by his number two, Terry Venables, who would build an exciting youthful team dubbed â€œTeam of the Eightiesâ€ after winning promotion to the First Division in 1979 before topping the league for one week in September 1979. Allison himself made the fatal mistake of going back to Manchester City, where he and chairman Peter Swales spent money like drunken sailors in a doomed attempt to recapture former glories â€“ a whole other article in the making.
Taylor meanwhile received two England caps while still at Crystal Palace during that 1975/76 season, both against Wales and both seeing Taylor on the scoresheet. In doing so he became the first third division player to receive such an accolade since another Palace legend, Johnny Bryne, had done so in 1962. Since then only one other player has been capped by England while in the third tier; Steve Bull. On the back of such a great season, it was no surprise that, with Palace failing to secure promotion, Taylor moved on that summer to join top-flight Tottenham Hotspur for Â£400,000. Four years at White Hart Lane saw Taylor score 31 goals in 123 appearances, similar to his Palace record of 33 goals in 122 appearances. He then went on to enjoy a long managerial career, including 3 years as England U21 coach and even being caretaker England manager for just one game â€“ a 1-0 defeat to Italy away in 2000, that saw David Beckham handed the England captainâ€™s armband for the first time.
The 1975/76 season will always be remembered around Selhurst Park for that magical FA Cup run. While ultimately doomed to fail, there is no doubt that Big Mal brought fun, glamour and publicity to that part of South London. His Crystal Palace side played with verve and panache, winning on the road at bigger sides as a young winger by the name of Peter Taylor tore defences apart and showing that a third-tier team could take on the best. The newly named Eagles had truly soared.
Maybe if Rangnick had just paired his sweater and jacket with a natty fedora, Manchester United may still have been in this yearâ€™s FA Cup.