Despite previous opposition to the idea of expanding to three or four divisions, the Football League embraced the concept following the war, inviting all Southern League First Division sides to comprise a new Third Division for the 1920/21 season.
Following an indifferent start to the campaign, Palace went on a run of 16 games unbeaten, including eight straight victories before Easter, to help them win promotion to English football’s second tier for the first time. It sparked a summer of enhancements to The Nest, which was ready to welcome 20,000 supporters to the opening Second Division game of the 1921/22 season, against Nottingham Forest. Although the visitors boasted England keeper Sam Hardy in their ranks, the Glaziers ran out 4-1 winners on the opening day against the eventual champions.
After going on to finish in a solid 14th place, Palace would also finish in the bottom half of the table in the following two seasons, coming 16th and then 15th. Off the pitch during those years, the club had been negotiating the purchase of a former brickfield, which was to eventually destined to become Selhurst Park. The stadium was designed by Archibald Leitch and built by Messers Humphreys of Knightsbridge – at a cost of £30,000.
Although an industrial dispute delayed work on the Main Stand, meaning that parts of the stadium remained incomplete, Selhurst Park was formally opened ahead of Palace’s first match of the 1924/25 season, against The Wednesday, on 30th August 1924.
A disappointing 1-0 defeat in their first competitive match at Selhurst Park set the tone for the Glaziers’ campaign. They won just twice between the turn of the year and the end of the season, sparking a rapid slide down the table that resulted in eventual relegation from Division Two.
There was better news for the club off the pitch, as Selhurst Park was selected as the venue for a full international between England and Wales, on 1st March 1926. But Palace continued to struggle to adapt to life back in the Third Division South, finishing 17 points behind the leaders in both the 1926/27 and 1927/28 seasons.
Manager Fred Mavin, who arrived from Exeter at the back end of the previous season, spent an active summer in 1928 revamping the Palace squad for a promotion push. Stan Charlton joined Mavin in making the move to SE25 from Devon, while the likes of Tom Crilly and Lewis Griffiths also joined the club. They agonisingly missed out on promotion though at the expense of local rivals Charlton Athletic, who claimed the Division Three South title on goal difference.
That summer saw the arrival of a man who turned out to become a Palace legend – Peter Simpson. His debut epitomised his career in SE25, as he hit a hat-trick against Norwich. He would go on to top the club’s goalscoring charts in each of his first five seasons, bagging a total of 165 senior goals for Palace.
But despite having the prolific Simpson in their ranks, the Glaziers could not gain promotion in 1929/30, finishing in a disappointing 9th place, before coming second again the following year. And the remaining inter-war years of the 1930s were comparatively lacklustre for the club. Of far greater significance though was the death of goalkeeper Billy Callender, who committed suicide in the summer of 1932, while secretary and former manager Edmund Goodman retired at the end of the 1932/33 season.
New manager Tom Bromilow came to Palace from Burnley, describing the move as his “golden opportunity”. The club finished 6th in his first full season in charge, the 1935/36 campaign, but were unable to build on that solid showing, slipping down the table the following two seasons, before finishing runners-up to Notts County in 1938/39.
Bromilow left the club in the summer of 1939 to manager Leicester City, leaving George Irwin, a former Palace goalkeeper, to steer the Glaziers through the difficult years of World War Two.