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PHIL BARBER

1988-89 RECORD: 59/8
MIDFIELDER
APPEARANCES: 288

You were at the club during a golden age for Palace, could you see how things were developing at the time?

The majority of the group were non-league players or from lower league clubs who Steve Coppell signed in those first few years. In the early days we were learning and had some bumps along the way but after some finishes in the lower end of the table we gradually improved.  

Before 1989 we finished just outside the play-off places for two seasons running, and finally in that promotion season we showed our ability with an amazing run from the beginning of April to get into the play-offs and eventually get us over the line.

That team back then played some very direct football at times, why was that?

Fans would say we didn’t play a great deal of football on the ground, and it may not have been pretty to watch but it was effective. Mine and Eddie’s [McGoldrick] job on the wings was to get crosses into the box and let the two boys up top do the rest.

In our day, by the time Christmas came around there was never a blade of grass on the pitch! So we had to play the way we did because the pitches were not conducive to free-flowing football. We adapted to the conditions, had a good gameplan with the right tactics and coupled with our fitness and physicality we had a style of play which made it very difficult for our opponents.

You incredibly played in all 59 league and cup matches that season, what was the secret to that?

We had a settled squad and if the team was winning Steve would never change the side, but the players knew that with the back-up he had to call on they had to keep performing to retain their place in the team. 

In those days we were not given long-term contracts so you always had to be on your game and playing well or otherwise after 18 months you would be looking for another club. The longest contract I had at Palace was for two years so back then you always had to keep performing to get that contract in place for an additional year. 

Do you think the set-up of those play-offs back then are tougher than nowadays?

In the semi-final we played Swindon Town away at the weekend followed by the home leg the following midweek, and then for the final it was a trip to Blackburn Rovers on a Wednesday night with the home leg the following Saturday. There was no day out at Wembley for the final!

In both matches we managed to stay in touch to win the return leg. The Swindon semi-final wasn’t quite as bad as it was only a one-goal deficit, but to try and having been 2-0 and 3-1 down against Blackburn gaining promotion was always going to be tough. However, we managed to do it and put the club at a level which our work and progress over a number of seasons had deserved.

How much enjoyment did you have at the club during that era?

I loved my time at the club. Before Palace I had been playing in non-league and had the opportunity to move into a coaching role at a local school, but I was suddenly given the chance to become a professional footballer. I never thought I would play the amount of games I was fortunate to or get the chance to play at Wembley, and also getting the chance to play in the top-flight was a dream come true for me.