Football Features

Few teams have had a more transformative decade than Crystal Palace

By Ollie Thomas

Published: 18:50, 6 December 2019

May 2, 2010. Hillsborough. Crystal Palace have 90 minutes to save their club.

Palace had started the season strongly on the pitch but, off it, it was a disaster. Two transfer embargos, a delay in players’ wages and months of financial turmoil meant that, in January, the Eagles were plunged into administration and deducted 10 points.

Those points weren’t the only thing that left them. Star winger Victor Moses joined Wigan Athletic for just £2.5 million, whilst manager Neil Warnock swapped Selhurst Park for Loftus Road as he joined rivals Queen’s Park Rangers. Paul Hart was brought in temporarily and had given the club a fighting chance.

Palace faced Sheffield Wednesday on the final day of the season knowing that a point would be enough to keep them in the Championship. A defeat, however, would see the Owls stay up at Palace’s expense. It was do or die for both sides.

Darren Ambrose’s 63rd-minute goal proved vital as the Eagles clung on for a 2-2 draw and, in the process, the XI who started that game were etched into Palace folklore. Job done on the day, but the future remained uncertain.

On June 1, 2010, with approximately two hours until the club would go into extinction, the Eagles were saved. An army of Palace fans outside the Bank of Scotland in central London relentlessly supported an army of Palace fans inside the boardroom – led by Steve Parish – as the consortium ‘CPFC2010’ secured the future of Crystal Palace and Selhurst Park.

Darren Ambrose scored the goal that kept Crystal Palace up in May 2010

In many ways, the nature of their survival epitomised the club as a whole: Palace never like to do things the easy way. The 2018/19 campaign was regarded as a fairly ‘boring’ one by Palace’s standards, despite victories at the Emirates and the Etihad. The simple explanation for this is that it was the first one in a decade during which they hadn’t been in a complete and utter mess at any point throughout the nine months.

Despite beating Manchester Utd at Old Trafford in a memorable League Cup quarter-final the season before, Palace were bottom of the Championship and bookies’ favourites to get relegated at the beginning of September 2012. Fast forward to May, the Eagles had beaten Watford in the play-off final – in between, the Eagles had been top of the league, lost their manager and gone nine games without a win before scraping fifth place on the final day of the season and setting up a play-off tie with arch-rivals Brighton.

Following a 0-0 draw at Selhurst Park, no one thought Palace would progress to Wembley. The only team to have beaten Brighton at the Amex in 2013 was Arsenal, and Palace had won once away from home since November. So, naturally, a Wilfried Zaha brace secured a memorable 2-0 victory.

Wilfried Zaha and Joel Ward celebrate Crystal Palace beating Brighton in the 2013 play-off semi-finals

Even their time in the Premier League has been far from simple. Their starts are invariably disastrous: one win in their first 11 games in 2013/14, Tony Pulis quitting 24 hours before the 2014/15 season was due to kick-off, six wins in an entire calendar year and seven games with no points and no goals in 2017/18, to name a few.

Remarkably, the only time they’ve started a season well actually ended in their lowest position since promotion – Alan Pardew’s Palace were level on points with fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur at Christmas, but a run of two wins in 21 games saw them slip to 15th. Some would say that’s “typical Palace”.

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Palace fans will be hoping that this season doesn’t turn into a repeat of that one – an impressive home win against Bournemouth with 10 men means the Eagles are sitting pretty in seventh, with a favourable run of fixtures ahead of them.

Their performance against the Cherries was reminiscent of that early summer’s day in at Hillsborough. What they lacked in quality – or players, in this instance – they made up for in pure grit, passion and determination to win. It’s a spirit on which Palace pride themselves; since staying up in 2010 defying the odds has been in their DNA. In 2016/17, they won at Anfield and Stamford Bridge and dispatched Arsenal 3-0 under the Selhurst lights in the space of a month to save themselves from certain relegation.

And Palace haven’t got to where they are thanks to heavy investment. They don’t spend big every summer, nor will they for the foreseeable future as their stadium is redeveloped. It’s not big money signings that have got them to where they are, it’s their mentality, instilled in them since Clint Hill nearly single-handedly took on the whole Sheffield Wednesday fanbase on the pitch that afternoon in May 2010.

It’s been passed down through Palace generations. Paddy McCarthy, Mile Jedinak, Damien Delaney, Wilfried Zaha and Joel Ward all working in unison to ensure that the memory of 2010 never leaves like its participants inevitably did. You can talk about Wolves, about Bournemouth, about Sheffield United – but far too few talk about Crystal Palace.