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1958-69: PALACE SOAR INTO TOP FLIGHT

1 June 2013


With Palace heading towards the 1960s in the basement of English league football, it was the responsibility of manager George Smith to get the club into the higher divisions. When appointed as boss, Smith said that should Palace not get promoted out of the fourth division within two years, he would resign. 

The season started well for Palace with an impressive 6-2 win over Crewe Alexandra at Selhurst Park, as Mike Deakin and Johnny Byrne both bagged hat-tricks. But Palace couldn’t sustain such dominance, finishing the 1958/59 season four points behind Shrewsbury Town, who secured the fourth promotion spot.

The following year, Crystal Palace earned much recognition after goalkeeper Vic Rouse appeared for Wales against Northern Ireland – making him the first player ever to represent their national squad whilst playing in the fourth division. But their league performance again failed to live up to Smith’s expectations and, with promotion now unachievable, he departed SE25 in April 1960. 

Smith's assistant, Arthur Rowe, was installed as the new manager and he instantly set about reshaping the squad. Palace fans were quickly enthralled by Rowe's tactical style of football, which led to five wins from the opening seven matches – form that put them on their way to finishing second in the league, finishing only behind Peterborough en route to promotion. 

But promotion is not the only reason that the 1960/61 campaign stands out in the record books – several club records were also broken during the course of the season. Palace hit an amazing 110 league goals in their 46 matches, while Johnny Byrne found the net 30 times, breaking Roy Summersby's previous high of 25. Glaziers fans also helped break the Fourth Division attendance record during an early season contest against Peterborough, before going on to surpass their own benchmark when 37,774 watched Palace lose 2-0 at home to Millwall.

Palace's progression through the leagues didn’t take another step up until Arthur Rowe's assistant, Dick Graham, took charge of the club in December 1962. When Palace player Ron Brett was killed in a car crash, and with Rowe suffering from ill health, the club decided that a new manager was needed to help the club recover from the shock. 

And recover they did. The Glaziers finished as Division Three runners-up in Graham’s first full season in charge (1963/64), only missing out on the title by virtue of goal difference. In fact, a draw on the final day of the season would have won them the league, but a 3-1 defeat allowed Coventry City to pip them to the prize. Nevertheless, it was enough to secure second tier football for the first time in the club’s history. 

After overseeing back-to-back mid-table finishes in Division Two, Graham was dismissed from the manager’s position in January 1966. His sacking paved the way for Arthur Rowe to return as caretaker manager, before Bert Head was given the role in April 1966. Over the following two seasons, Head's Palace side continued to make a positive progression, but never managed to win enough games during the seasons to mount a realistic promotion chase to Division One.

The 1968/69 season however made history for Crystal Palace. Head bought in winger Colin Taylor and the muscular defender Mel Blyth to bring extra quality to his playing staff. The duo contributed to a dazzling run of form from January until the end of the season, winning an impressive ten games out of a possible 16 to put them on the brink of promotion.

With the campaign drawing to a close, only Charlton Athletic could deny Palace the runners-up position in Division Two. On a crucial final day, 36,126 supporters packed out Selhurst Park for what turned out to be a famous day for the club. The Glaziers fought back from 2-0 down to beat Fulham 3-2 and, when news filtered round the ground that Charlton had lost their final game of the season, supporters could finally celebrate becoming a First Division side. 

It rounded off an outstanding decade in SE25, during which Palace had soared from the depths of Division Four into English football’s top flight for the first time in their history. 


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