In part two of the series looking at the origins of Crystal Palace’s rise to the ‘team of the eighties’ tag, we look at their second promotion in three years at the end of the seventies.
In the first part, we looked at their promotion from Division Three in 1976-77. They finished ninth as Bolton, Southampton and Spurs went up the following season. By 1978-79 there was renewed hope they could make that extra step and get back to the First Division after an absence of seven years.
Through the project started by Malcolm Allison, Palace had built an exciting side filled with young players. Many of those players forced their way into the first team and were instrumental in their success two years before. Now they had two more years under their belt. Manager, Terry Venables, had made two important additions to his squad which gave them more depth and experience.
Mike Elwiss had been a professional for seven years at Doncaster Rovers and Preston North End, when Venables paid a club-record £200,000 for the striker.
Goalkeeper, John Burridge, began his career two years before Elwiss. He started at Workington, moved to Blackpool and then onto Aston Villa, where he won the League Cup. He eventually lost his place to Jimmy Rimmer at Villa Park, went on loan to Southend and that’s when Venables picked him up. It was an inspired move as the mercurial Burridge was an excellent shot-stopper.
Both of them added to the experience offered in midfield by George Graham (ex-Chelsea, Arsenal, Man Utd & Portsmouth).
The exciting players from the youth team were headed by Kenny Sansom, along with Jerry Murphy, Vince Hilaire, Paul Hinshelwood, David Swindlehurst, Billy Gilbert and Terry Fenwick, Jim Cannon and Peter Nicholas. Thanks to these players they’d won the FA Youth Cup two seasons running.
The season began well with the first eleven matches unbeaten, although only winning six of those. Swindlehurst was amongst the goals. Elwiss scored his first for the club at Sheffield United, in his fourth appearance. Nicky Chatterton was also on target. He’d been part of the Palace side which reached the FA Cup Semi-Finals when they were a Third Division club.
At the end of September, they drew at Stoke, who were second in the table. The following week they took a Brighton side apart and moved to the top of the table. Hilaire scored twice and there was definitely a feeling of momentum around the club.
The unbeaten run came to an end at home to Fulham. Defeat at Burnley the following week prompted a change. Venables shuffled his pack. Chatterton was off to Millwall and in came Steve Kember. Kember had begun his career at Palace before moving to Chelsea then Leicester.
The move paid immediate dividends as they didn’t lose again till Boxing Day.
During November, Elwiss scored in four successive games as they remained on top of the table with Stoke, West Ham and Sunderland hot on their heels.
The Christmas period saw a strange turn in their form, scoring one goal in three games picking up two points. Palace were still top but now only on goal difference from Stoke City, with Brighton’s four wins in a row moving them up to third, a point behind.
These three teams were managed by some of the finest young talent in the league. Stoke were managed by Alan Durban (37), Brighton by Alan Mullery (37) and Palace by Venables (35).
West Ham, who’d been relegated the season before, were two points off a promotion spot. The top three went up, there were no playoffs. They were followed by five teams on the same points, Fulham, Sunderland, Burnley, Newcastle and Notts County.
The weather decimated much of the schedule for January. Palace played just one league fixture in January, a goalless draw at bottom club, Millwall. The FA Cup suffered especially. The scheduled Third Round day saw just three fixtures fulfilled. Three days later Crystal Palace were able to play their game where they held First Division Middlesbrough to a goalless draw. A week later Sansom scored the only goal of the game to win the replay.
Palace ended the month playing their Fourth Round tie two days late. Goals from Nicholas, Fenwick and Kember beat Bristol City. City were a First Division club at the time, spending their only two seasons in the top flight since the First World War. Palace were really starting to make headlines.
These were the days of FA Cup ties being replayed until there was a winner. The weather made things a nightmare for the fixture schedules. In the Third Round Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday were only separated by the fourth replay. The Fourth Round was supposed to be played on 27th January. Yet the final fixture wasn’t completed until 1st March.
All of Palace’s main rivals were all out at the first hurdle in the cup, which meant Palace would have to be juggling more than one target.
Into February and Brighton and Stoke moved above Palace, only as they were able to play on the 3rd. By the 10th Palace were finally able to play a league fixture when they took on second place Stoke City at Selhurst Park.
For Palace, this was only their second league fixture in 42 days, for Stoke it was just their third. The game ended in a 1-1 draw with Ian Walsh’s goal cancelled out by Sammy Irvine.
The draw suited both sides as Brighton’s eight-match unbeaten run came to an end at Preston.
This was a crucial fortnight for Palace as they travelled to Brighton the following week. The two played out a goalless draw, Palace’s fourth successive stalemate. They hadn’t tasted a league victory since mid-December. But at least battles against their nearest rivals were past them.
They ended the month with yet another draw, again goalless, this time at home to Preston. Five successive draws, seven games without a win and just two goals scoring during this run. Was the season starting to tell on the young players and their young boss?
Not great form to take into the FA Cup Fifth Round tie at home to First Division Wolves. They again went goalless as Martin Patching scored the only goal of the game and now their cup run had gone.
February ended with Palace now down in fourth, as West Ham had now moved above them and had a game in hand. In contrast to Palace, the Hammers were banging the goals in, ten in their last three. Stoke were top, a point ahead of Brighton who were a point to the good over West Ham. Palace were behind on goal difference, with Sunderland a further two points back in fifth.
The month of March brought about a change in the weather and Palace’s fortunes. Wrexham, who’d taken Spurs to a replay in the cup, were beaten by an Ian Walsh goal. Walsh’s goal meant they’d scored in just three of their last eight matches, and this was their first win for 10 weeks (seven games).
Stoke beat West Ham to allow Palace to move back up to third.
A week later Palace played out yet another goalless draw, their sixth in their last eleven matches when they were at Fulham, who were having a good season back in sixth.
Palace now had to negotiate their final toughest fixture as they travelled to Roker Park to take on Sunderland.
Sunderland were now moving into the picture with their fourth straight win. They were unbeaten in ten with five wins in their last six and now moved into third. At this stage it looked like the top five would fight out the three promotion spots as a gap emerged to Fulham in sixth.
Vince Hilaire and Jim Cannon scored the goals to give Palace a vital win, and now the positivity returned. Three points separated the top four, Stoke, Brighton, Palace and Sunderland.
Palace ended March with wins over Luton and Cardiff either side of a draw at Charlton. Their unbeaten run now stretched to eleven matches, and they were now back up to second. Brighton were still top with a two-point cushion to Palace and Sunderland, with Stoke a point back. Stoke had just suffered back-to-back home defeats to Sunderland and Blackburn and were now fearing they’d lost form at just the wrong time.
April would essentially sort out the promotion spots. Due to the fixture pile-up, Palace, Sunderland and Stoke were due to play seven matches during the month, with Brighton having six games.
Palace began with a draw at lowly Oldham. They’d now drawn 50% of their matches. With just three defeats all season they must’ve been wishing they’d been able to turn just a few more games into wins. Stoke beat Fulham to end their run of defeats, and strictly speaking West Ham and Notts County couldn’t be completely discounted as they had games in hand.
Palace then made the trip up to Newcastle and their unbeaten run finally came to an end. Alan Shoulder scored the only goal of the game. Palace’s run had lasted from Boxing Day to the end of the first week in April, 13 matches.
On the same day, Brighton came from behind to draw at Orient and Stoke did the same at Leicester. Sunderland were held to a goalless draw at Bristol Rovers and so Palace didn’t lose any ground.
Brighton were still top, a point above Stoke who were a point ahead of Palace and Sunderland. West Ham were five points further back but with two games in hand.
Their third game in a week was the home visit of Cambridge United. Swindlehurst scored but they could only gain a point. This was their game in hand on the top two yet they’d missed an opportunity to move into second.
Then came the Easter period. This was a time when teams played Saturday and Monday over the Easter weekend. However, the fixture pile-up meant some tried to shoe-horn other games in too.
Friday 13th April and Sunderland took on Notts County at home. They won 3-0 to move up to second. Brighton beat Charlton, 2-0. Then the very next day both Sunderland and Brighton were in action again. Managers and players would never put with that today, would they?
Brighton’s unbeaten run came to an end the next day when they lost at Cardiff. They’d gone 11 without defeat but Cardiff, who didn’t play the day before, were obviously far fresher. Cardiff were only one place above the drop zone so the points were vital for them.
Sunderland beat Leicester City and Stoke City put four past Charlton. Crystal Palace travelled to Bristol Rovers and won with an Ian Walsh goal.
Brighton bounced back on Easter Monday with a 3-0 win over Bristol Rovers. Stoke City lost ground as they were held at home by Luton Town. The big shock came at Ewood Park. Blackburn were bottom but a penalty from Derek Fazackerly gave them a crucial win over promotion-chasing Sunderland. The Black Cats had just won 11 from a possible 12 points, then suddenly it all fell apart at the club at the foot of the table.
Palace were then in action on the Tuesday. 30,000 saw Jerry Murphy score the only goal of the game to beat Charlton. Stoke City were also in action this night, just 24 hours after playing Luton. They beat Bristol Rovers thanks to a brace from Viv Busby. This was their third game in four days.
Friday 20th April. Crystal Palace travelled to Leicester City. Bobby Smith gave the home side a half-time lead but Paul Hinshelwood grabbed an equaliser and the points were shared. The top three were all now locked on the same points.
On the Saturday, Brighton dropped points. They were held at Luton. This allowed Stoke to take advantage as Brendan O’Callaghan’s goal was enough to win at Wrexham. Sunderland won at Cambridge to make things even tighter at the top.
West Ham were held at Charlton. It was their second successive draw and they were now struggling to keep in touch. It looked like their push to bounce straight back up again was over, even though they had games in hand.
Wednesday 25th April. Sunderland had their game in hand. It was at home to Sheffield United, who were only out of the bottom three on goal difference. Sunderland were relentless. Wilf Rostron scored a hat-trick thanks to two penalties as Sunderland won 6-2. The margin of victory was enough to take them to the top of the table for the first time in the season.
West Ham beat Burnley 3-1 to keep in touch after their series of draws.
Saturday 28th April promised to be a big day in the promotion race. Crystal Palace welcomed Notts County to Selhurst Park. County were in with a sniff of promotion at one point. But since mid-March, they’d won just one in eight. Goals in each half from Swindlehurst and Murphy gave Palace a crucial win.
Sunderland entertained Cardiff City. Despite Len Ashurst’s goal, Cardiff pulled off a shock win with goals from Ronnie Moore and Ray Bishop. No sooner had Sunderland hit first place, they were knocked right back again. Two defeats in their last four matches, and both against clubs in the bottom half.
Stoke City failed to capitalise as they were held at home to a goalless draw by Newcastle. Brighton did take advantage, with goals from Teddy Maybank (his third in as many matches) and Adrian Rollings to beat Blackburn.
Billy Bonds scored again for West Ham, but Wrexham’s Bobby Shinton equalised in the second half to peg them back. Astonishingly Wrexham still had seven fixtures still to be played.
Just one point separating the top four.
Saturday 5th May and all the sides in the hunt knew they had to keep winning matches, and all were away from home. Any slip-ups now could prove disastrous.
Brighton were at Newcastle United, who had taken points off Stoke and Palace in April. Brighton raced into a 3-0 lead at half-time with goals from Brian Horton, Peter Ward and Gerry Ryan. They went onto win 3-1 and were desperate to find out if this would be enough to make them Champions.
Stoke City were at Notts County, who were in awful form. Paul Richardson scored the only goal of the game for Stoke and they too were desperate to hear of the other results.
Sunderland were at Wrexham. Goals from Wilf Rostron and Alan Brown were enough to give them a 2-1 win.
When the other sides looked at the results they saw that Palace had gone to Leyton Orient and also won thanks to another Swindlehurst goal, his third in as many games.
Now Palace had a huge advantage as they didn’t drop points.
West Ham went to Blackburn and were beaten by a Duncan McKenzie goal. This now meant they couldn’t go up.
All eyes were now focused on the final fixture involving the top four. Crystal Palace were to take on Burnley on the Friday night before the FA Cup Final. A draw would see them promoted, at the expense of Sunderland. A win would see them go up as Champions, at the expense of Brighton. Throughout these three years of success Palace and Brighton had developed a fierce rivalry which still exists today.
A record 51,801 crowd packed into Selhurst Park. Kember, who’d missed the Orient game the previous weekend, was back in for Fenwick. Burnley were six without a win, picking up just two points in that time. They were tenth with nothing to play for, expect pride.
The first half was goalless. The crowd roared on the home side throughout, living every moment. They had to be patient, though. It wasn’t until with 14 minutes to go Hilaire crossed from the right to the far edge of the area. Ian Walsh threw himself at it and his header flew into the top corner.
Palace almost made it two soon after, but then eventually they got their reward. A breakaway from midfield found Swindlehurst in the centre circle. He surged forward and then shot from outside the ‘D’ and it went past Stevenson. Palace held onto win 2-0 and were crowned Champions.
Two promotions and three years and they were now into the First Division. It was Jimmy Greaves who said they could become ‘the team of the eighties’. The label stuck, but unfortunately, they weren’t able to live up to this billing. For a brief period in 1979 they were top of the football league, but then it all came crashing down. After two seasons they were back in Division Two, although now financially much worse off. Sansom had been sold to Arsenal, Venables left for QPR after discovering the board had interviewed Howard Kendall behind his back. They suffered a takeover when Ron Noades assumed control, even buying the ground. Uncertainty surrounded much of their existence throughout the eighties. In the end, it was a story of what might have beens, if onlys and why didn’t theys? But for a brief period, they were the talk of the country.
John Burridge (42 apps, 21 clean sheets)
Paul Hinshelwood (31 apps, 1 goal), Kenny Sansom (42 apps), Jim Cannon (41 apps, 2 goals), Billy Gilbert (41 apps, 1 goal), Terry Fenwick (20 + 4 apps)
Peter Nicholas (37 apps, 3 goals), Jerry Murphy (40 +1 apps, 5 goals), Nicky Chatterton (13 apps, 3 goals, 2 pens), Vince Hilaire (25 + 6 apps, 6 goals), Steve Kember (29 apps), Neil Smillie (3 + 5 apps, 1 goal), Barry Silkman (1 sub)
Dave Swindlehurst (40 apps, 14 goals, 1 pen), Mike Elwiss (19 + 1 apps, 7 goals), Ian Walsh (30 + 3 apps, 8 goals), Tony Sealy (4 + 1 apps)