Book Review: Crystal Palace FC 1969-1990 – A Biased Commentary by Chris Winter

Take all the years you’ve watched your club and then try and pick the best eleven. A time-honoured debate for any football fan, one which can provide heated discussion whilst on the longest of away trips or during the quietest of post-match pints. Quite simply this is the premise for Crystal Palace FC 1969-1990 – A Biased Commentary.

Author Chris Winter attended his first game at Selhurst Park in September 1968 when Palace played Carlisle United in the ‘old’ Second Division, who they thumped 5-0. However, the story of the book begins with the following season 1969/70, with Crystal Palace playing in the top flight of English football for the first time in their history. The book then covers a twenty one year period to 1990, which sees Palace in the ‘old’ First Division and reaching (and losing after a replay), the FA Cup Final against Manchester United. The intervening seasons are a roller-coaster worthy of any theme park, let alone Selhurst Park, and cover Palace suffering consecutive relegations in 1972/73 and 1973/74 down to the third tier of English football. Whilst there, under the flamboyant Malcolm Allison Palace reached the 1976 FA Cup Semi-Final and as quickly as they had left the top flight, they were back after promotions in 1976/77 and 1978/79. However, it was a brief stop as at the end of 1980/81 relegation back to the second tier occurred for a team unfortunately dubbed “the team of the eighties”.

Through the various ups and downs, Winter doesn’t aim, as he says in the books Introduction, “… to produce a definitive statistical record…but rather to set down my…subjective memories of the last twenty one years and my opinions of the characters involved…” The author is as good as his word as the season by season chapters pick up on key games as well as the players, managers and chairmen; some of whom are immortalised in pencil sketches by the author in each section of the book. Winter is not afraid to give his opinions, whether that is in praise of heroes such as goalkeeper John Jackson or damning criticism of short-lived manager Alan Mullery.

What is also evident besides the fluctuating fortunes of the club on the pitch as they bounce between promotions and relegations, are the changes wrought on the club by Malcolm Allison and Terry Venables. In 1973/74 Winter details how Allison changed the colours of the club, the badge and nickname, so that ‘The Glaziers’ became ‘The Eagles’ and “…another gimmick, thankfully a short-lived one, was the printing of bogus nicknames in the programme alongside each player’s name…titles which also embellished their track-suit tops…” However, on a more serious level, Allison also put in place an excellent Youth set-up which Venables when manager benefited from, as he went on to develop a team playing a patient passing game for the Selhurst Park faithful.

After charting the highs and lows of the period from the 1969 -1990 period, the author gets down to the business of selecting his ‘best eleven’. As a reader you might want to skip the books Introduction as Winter provides the eleven selected upfront. My personal preference would have been to only provide the ‘dream team’ once all the analysis of the various players in each position had been provided by the author. However, this doesn’t take away from a book which will provide Palace fans old and new, with material in abundance to discuss the merits of former heroes and villains. Finally, this book is the first of two volumes which cover Chris Winter’s years watching Palace as he also went on to release Crystal Palace F.C. 1990-2011: More Biased Commentary and in that produces not only a ‘fantasy team’ for 1990 – 2011, but a ‘best-ever eleven’ covering 1969 – 2011. Forty two years, now where do you begin…


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