Memories of West Ham games against Crystal Palace in the last fifty years

A look back at some of the memorable encounters between West Ham and Palace.

The yo-yo is a toy invented by the Ancient Greeks. It became popular with children in this country around a century ago and you still see them in toy shops today. However the sophistication of modern toys means that children are never usually interested in them for very long. “To yo-yo” became a verb in the English language meaning to go up and down, and it is also used as an adjective too in footballing terms to describe clubs that change divisions regularly. Crystal Palace have yo-yoed from the fourth tier to the top, back down to the third, and then frequently from the second to the top and back again several times, and can definitely be considered a yo-yo club. As a result we’ve missed playing against them as often as we’ve met many other clubs.

Although I had been going to watch West Ham for more than ten years it was a new experience for me to see us play against Crystal Palace at Upton Park in November 1969. I was in the fifth form (now called Year 11) at Barking Abbey School at this time, Sugar Sugar by the Archies topped the “pop charts”(wouldn’t be allowed by the health police today!), and a young guy called David Bowie was in the top ten for the first time with Space Oddity. We beat them 2-1 in that game with goals from Geoff Hurst and Clyde Best.

As a small boy I used to avidly study the league tables of all the English leagues and I remember them being a Division Four team in the early 1960’s. We made a fantastic signing when we bought the great Johnny Byrne from them just as they were promoted to Division Three in 1962. They made good progress as a club and reached the dizzy heights of Division One by the end of the decade.

In October 1970 I went to Selhurst Park with school friends for the first time. By this time we were in the sixth form. We listened to Deep Purple (Black Night) and Black Sabbath (Paranoid) on our ipods on the way to the game. Or at least we might have done if ipods had existed then, but we had to wait another 30 years before we were able to buy them. CD’s were still 15 years or so away from being available to us. My memory of this game is sketchy however, although I remember being surprised by the size of the crowd. Palace often had crowds in excess of 40,000 at the time. I know we took the lead early on with a goal from Bobby Howe who didn’t score many. He scored from close range, and apart from a superb goal when he volleyed home a corner against Chelsea in front of the South Bank a couple of months before I can’t recall any other goals that he scored for us. We had a very attacking line-up that day with Dear, Hurst and Greaves all playing up front. We didn’t score again and Palace equalised. The game ended 1-1. Another memory is the noise made by the Palace crowd. The return fixture that season ended goalless. I can remember nothing about that game whatsoever.

The next season we travelled down to South London to see the away fixture at Palace once again. It never seemed to be an easy place to get to on the trains. We were in the Upper Sixth and Rod Stewart topped the charts with Maggie May. In those days of course there was no internet and we had no idea of the team that would be playing until the players emerged onto the pitch. We were surprised when we saw a young 17 year old Ade Coker making his debut for us, and even more surprised when he volleyed home a superb goal in the first few minutes of the game. We were behind the goal where he scored and crushed in the celebrations. There was a similar attendance for this game as in the previous year and we could barely move in the packed terrace. Shortly afterwards Billy Bonds scored a header and we led 2-0 at half time. We were playing great stuff and totally in control of the game. Clyde Best added a tap-in the second period and we ran out 3-0 winners. Once again we had showed great attacking intent with three forwards (different players from the previous year), Coker, Best and Pop Robson which wasn’t unusual in those days. With Redknapp on the wing and Brooking and Bonds controlling the midfield it was one of the best away performances I can remember. But once again we couldn’t beat them in the return fixture drawing 1-1 at home with a Clyde Best goal.

I’m not really sure why Ade Coker never really progressed with us. He looked terrific in his first game but only played a handful of games in three seasons scoring a couple of goals at Upton Park, one was against Tottenham and the other (his last) in a 5-2 rout of Leicester. He was a real prospect who never made it and he moved to America to play in the North American Soccer league. Although he was born in Nigeria he qualified to play international football for the USA and played five games for them, scoring three times.

The following season we beat Palace twice, and in the home game (once again in October) we thrashed them 4-0. I was working in the City by now and there was a very unusual “record” at number one, one of those novelty records that sometimes topped the charts in those days, Mouldy Old Dough by Lieutenant Pigeon. Palace were relegated that season so we didn’t see them again until we were relegated ourselves in 1978 and met them in Division Two, both games ending in 1-1 draws. Grease was the big film at the time, and in between meeting them in August and November, John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John dominated the charts with a string of songs from the film.

We finished fifth that season but they finished as Second Division champions. By the time we got back to the top flight in the early eighties they had been relegated again so we didn’t meet them in the league again until the 1990’s. We kept missing each other and our next meeting was in the famous “Bond relegation season” in 1991-92 when we finished bottom of the table. We beat them at Selhurst Park, one of our only three away wins that season, but lost to them in a Monday night game in front of a small Upton Park crowd late in the season when we were already virtually down.

Palace continued to yo-yo and I only remember them visiting once more in the 1990’s in the days of Berkovich and Hartson when they combined superbly to enable us to win easily 4-0. Of course those two players weren’t always that friendly with each other! The next time I remember them was when we had been relegated again in the Glen Roeder era. We beat them easily on a Wednesday night game in the early part of the season when Neil Mellor scored a couple, but lost the return fixture at Selhurst Park late in the season. Their victory that day, together with Brian Deane’s late goal for us against Wigan in the very last minute on the very last day of the season enabled them to sneak into the play-offs at the expense of Wigan. We all know what happened at Cardiff when we met in the play-off final, one of the most disappointing football days of my life, and a day I’d like to forget, although it is difficult to erase the memory completely. I do remember the long car journey home though.

In recent times there have been contrasting fortunes. Palace did a 1-0 double over us in 2013-14, and then in the following season we won 3-1 away and lost by the same score at home. In 2015-16 we won 3-1 away again, before drawing 2-2 in April in one of the final few games at Upton Park. That game is memorable for an astonishing free-kick by a Frenchman who is no longer with us. He scored a few in his time here, but that one is probably my favourite.

Last season we completed the double with a 1-0 win at Selhurst Park, followed by an emphatic 3-0 home victory which included one of the goals of the season, when Andy Carroll demonstrated perfect timing and technique to exercise that superb scissor kick.

%d bloggers like this: