1968/69 RECORD: 35/4
Born a stone’s throw away from Selhurst, how did your debut for your local club come about?
Ron Heckman, a former Palace player, was the football coach at my school in Catford and he arranged a game at Selhurst Park one evening against a trialist XI. Arthur Rowe was in the stand and he must have been impressed with what he saw from me at 15-years-old. The manager at the time, Dick Graham, then signed me as an apprentice at the beginning of January in 1964 and I was soon given the opportunity to make my debut at 17 in midfield against Leicester City. Gordon Banks was in goal for them on the night and kept a clean sheet as we came away with a 0-0 draw.
That game also saw a debut for Paul Cutler. He was a year older than me but we both went to the same primary school and we both received a telegram of congratulations from our former headmaster. We owe a lot to Dick Graham for handing us our debut so early in our career.
How do you look back on the squad that achieved the club’s promotion to the top flight for the first time? Did several pre-season additions give you added belief?
It was a season we went into with optimism as the year before we had finished mid-table and, with a few signings, we could see that the squad had been strengthened in the right way ready to push in the right direction. Mel Blyth had come in from Scunthorpe, Colin Taylor made the move from Walsall and the manager had been scouting up in Scotland so he signed a couple of lads from Greenock Morton: Tony Taylor and John Loughlan.
Derby County were the champions of the division that season under Brian Clough. Just how much did their abilities impress you?
They were a very good side and deservedly champions in that league. They ended the unbeaten run we were on when they beat us at Selhurst but later in the season we went up there and won 1-0. In quite a strange game we had the ball in the net on four other occasions but all got disallowed for one reason or another.
How much belief did the second half of the season instil in the squad after a tough run in challenging winter weather?
We had some bad weather at the turn of the year which meant we had several games postponed but the work levels continued at the training ground as our coach at the time, George Petchey, put us through our sessions really hard. We were left wondering why he was so tough on us with no games to play but he was ensuring we were well prepared for our run later on so we had the momentum to be one of the league’s stronger teams.
How do you look back on that season now?
I felt I completed a good season against some tough opponents in a competitive league. That run after Christmas was incredible and I firmly believe that the break due to the poor weather gave us some much needed time to get together to ensure we were ready for that crucial closing stage of the season.
The game which made me start to believe we could do it was that victory up at Derby. We went out there and won 1-0 against the best side in the league, which was a fantastic achievement and really put out a statement from us.