We approach Saturday’s fixture at Crystal Palace hopeful of a repeat of the result in our last visit there on Boxing Day. A 3-0 victory was the perfect way to return from the mid season break for the Qatar World Cup and heralded a run of victories that catapulted us up the table. London derbies haven’t exactly been kind to us in our recent Premier League history but Selhurst Park has generally been a kinder venue than most to us over the years…
One of our best results there and unarguably one of the most curious wins in our history took place there 45 years ago in a Second Division fixture in October 1978. After a bright start to the season we travelled to South East London in third place with 14 points from 11 games (2 points for a win in those days). However, optimism was tempered by the fact that Palace with Terry Venables in charge and fast acquiring a growing reputation as a coach were top with 17 points from their 11 matches. The home line-up was primarily made up of young home-grown stars while ours was a more eclectic mix of youth and well-travelled talent.
In goal for us that day was the reliable Gerry Peyton with the experienced Ray Evans and Les Strong flanking Kevin Lock and Richard Money in the back four. Three of our midfield quartet were homegrown with ex QPR and Coventry playmaker John Beck augmenting Terry Bullivant, Tony Gale and on the wing in a more advanced position Brian Greenaway. Our front two was the classic big man, little man combination of Chris Guthrie and the one and only Gordon Davies. Veteran midfielder John Evanson was on the bench in the days when only one substitute could be named rather than the crowd scene we see today.
London Weekend TV’s Big Match cameras were in attendance for arguably one of the biggest matches of the day in the Capital and a huge attendance of 28,773 included 16 year old me on a short train ride from my home in Sutton.
Prior to kick off I’d have been very happy to take a point but as the game developed Fulham looked the more composed and accomplished outfit. We had much the better of a goalless first half and the same pattern continued after the break. It therefore came as no surprise that we took the lead in the 68th minute when Greenaway latched on to a Money pass down the right before cutting in and drilling a low shot past a despairing John Burridge in Palace’s goal. This unsurprisingly prompted Palace to try and fashion a response but we still played a composed game. When referee Eddie Hughes blew his full time whistle at around a quarter to five it brought the curtain down on a fully deserved Fulham victory, or so virtually everyone in attendance thought.
I made a rapid exit in the direction of Thornton Heath station to get an early train home before too many disgruntled locals took umbrage at our victory. In those days with no internet or mobile phones the only way to get up to the minute football news was to be in the vicinity of someone with a transistor radio. It was as I was waiting on the platform that I heard a hubbub surrounding some fellow with a radio that the word was the referee had called time too early and was taking the teams back out on the Selhurst Park pitch to play out the remaining minutes. There was obviously no chance of getting back to the ground in time to see it and from all accounts there were less than a thousand left in the ground to see the teams re-emerge to finish the match.
Apparently about 5 and a half minutes were played in the second instalment that day and although Palace came closer to a goal than they did anytime in part one, Fulham saw time out to clinch victory all over again. As for me, it wasn’t until I got home that I got confirmation from my Dad who’d been listening to the radio that we had indeed won. The embarrassed referee explained afterwards that his watch had stopped in the second half and in his confusion he had not restarted it correctly. It was only when he got back to the dressing room that a linesman pointed out his error and so he had to sheepishly go to both teams to explain they needed to go back out to finish the match. Many players had already discarded their kit and were heading for the showers with the rumour that Palace midfielder Nicky Chatterton was already on his way out of the ground. In retrospect it seems astonishing the referee wouldn’t have had two watches as a fail safe or the linesman couldn’t have run on and told him of his mistake before everyone had left the pitch. We moan like mad about referees and VAR today but even they don’t seem capable of this level of ineptitude. It would be interesting to put Marco Silva in a time capsule and see what he would have had to say about it; especially if Palace had equalised in the encore that afternoon.
As for the result, it did Palace no harm as they went on to claim the title that season, then briefly became known as the Team of the 80’s before it all too swiftly fell apart. As for us, we never built on the promise shown that afternoon, finishing the season in mid-table before relegation the year after.
If there is a moral from the story however, it is that you should never leave the ground too quickly after a victory! Hopefully we’ll have good reason to hang around at Selhurst Park this Saturday.