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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Book Review: Crystal Palace FC 1990 – 2011: More Biased Commentary by Chris Winter

Chris Winter is a Crystal Palace fan who has watched his beloved team since 1969 and which have given rise to two books. The first Crystal Palace FC 1969 – 1990: A Biased Commentary and the second, Crystal Palace FC 1990 – 2011: More Biased Commentary (which is reviewed here). After a foreword by ‘celebrity’ Palace fan Jo Brand, Winter explains in the introduction that he has spent some of his years at Selhurst Park providing match day commentaries “…to patients in Mayday Hospital, and to blind and partially-sighted fans at the ground and there is no shame in admitting that my description of the action has always been utterly biased, hence the title and tone of the book…”

For me as a reader there is nothing wrong with that, as you then know exactly what you are getting, or as a well known slogan states, “…it does what it says on the tin…” In terms of the basic outline of the book, Winter provides a season by season summary of The Eagles from 1990/91, when Palace were in the ‘old’ First Division, through to 2010/11 in the Championship. This isn’t a game by game account of each season, and instead the focus is on key games or incidents, with the focal point being the players, whether they made a single appearance or were Palace regulars. There are no glossy colour pictures in the book, but the hand drawn sketches of the players by the author himself is a nice touch.

Not being a Palace fan didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book. Indeed I have to admit to learning a few things along the way about the club from South East London. For instance, did you know that Ashley Cole had a loan spell at Selhurst Park from Arsenal during the 1999/2000 season? What also came across is that The Eagles have had more than fair share of bad luck. A couple of instances stood out for me. The first relates to the 1990/91 season when Palace finished third in the ‘old’ First Division. Arsenal had won the title and Liverpool were second. The team from Anfield were still banned from European competition and so Palace were due to take the spot in the UEFA Cup. However, after ‘negotiations’ between the FA and UEFA, Liverpool had their ban revised and so took the European place. The second incident is from the 1994/95 Premier League season. This would see the league restructured from 22 to 20 clubs through the relegation of four rather than three sides and the promotion of just two from the division below. And the team that suffered the drop finishing fourth from bottom? Of course, The Eagles.

The last season detailed is 2010/11, which was a significant one as the new owners CPFC2010 took control of the club and towards the end saw Dougie Freedman become manager. This could be seen as the starting point of a renaissance, which although saw Freedman move to Bolton this season, has as I write, lead to Palace sitting in second place under Ian Holloway and the dream of a return to the Premier League very much alive.

In closing the book, Winter then reviews position by position, his best eleven from the 1990 – 2011 period and finishes with a postscript which the reveals his all-time fantasy team (covering both books from 1969 – 2011). My one slight criticism is that Winter discloses his best eleven from the 1990 – 2011 period in the introduction to the book, so when reading the positional review at the close of this edition, the suspense of who is in the line-up is already lost. However, this is a very minor point.

Overall, this is a good addition to the bookshelves for any Palace fan, in providing a very readable summary of the seasons since 1990/91 and will spark memories for those old enough to remember and provide a background to years gone-by for younger fans. Football is about opinions; this book will certainly stimulate that discussion and debate amongst its readers.

Kicking and Screaming

25th January 1995. Football fans will remember the date due to a certain Frenchman, the once-upon-a-time Leeds favourite Eric Cantona, demonstrating his appreciation of Jackie Chan movies to the front row fans at Selhurst Park. In snowbound Leeds, there was kicking and screaming of a different kind as my son Liam joined the biggest team of all, Human Race FC.

I must be honest and say that my son’s football allegiance didn’t immediately spring to mind as I tearfully held him for the first time. However, the fact is that wherever Liam finds himself in later life, he’ll always be a Leeds lad and therefore a Leeds United fan. It’s his birthright.

My philosophy is that you support your local team. My dad is an Arsenal fan, but he never tried to make them my team, even on the occasional trips to Highbury with him. I was born in Parsons Green in Fulham and therefore the men in white from Craven Cottage are my team. Liam, Leeds born, now has his own team in white to follow. Like my early days watching Fulham, Liam has seen the early years of his support dogged by relegation and to his credit has remained loyal which is not always easy when he is bombarded by the hyper-inflated Sky ideal that no football exists outside the world of the Premier League.

What of loyalty? In Leeds last Premier League season, whilst Liam desperately asked each week, “…are we going down dad?…”, an icon of Leeds at the time, the badge kissing Alan Smith, stole across the Pennines, like Cantona before him. Despite his young years, Liam knew this to be an act of disloyalty and so down came the Smith posters, as did his previously prized possession of a timesheet signed “…To Liam, Best Wishes, Alan Smith…”. Liam echoed the words of so many others with memorabilia from the departed No:17, when he asked, “…What shall I do with this now?…”

Through his time as a Leeds supporter this will no doubt happen again. He shouldn’t be surprised, because he’ll remember he was born the day another player lacking loyalty kicked up a fuss.