The sale of Alan Stephenson to West Ham in March 1968 allowed manager Bert Head to invest the proceeds into the team so that for the opening game of the 1968-69 season at Cardiff on 10th August there were two new faces in defender Mel Blyth and left winger Colin Taylor.
Bert also changed the playing style by moving left-winger Cliff Jackson to centre-forward – Cliff was certainly not of normal ‘No. 9’ physique. Mel, playing at inside-forward, scored after just six minutes as Palace romped to a 4-0 victory and the two home games in the following seven days also brought maximum points.
Then came two away defeats and the team was ‘tweaked’ as Blyth moved back to start his defensive partnership with John McCormick allowing Bobby Woodruff to return into the forward line.
Progress started in the League Cup but League results were still erratic and at the end of September Terry Long made the last of his 480 first-team appearances at Portsmouth. In the following week Bert Head dipped into the transfer market again and for the home game against Sheffield United on October 5th Roger Hoy and John Loughlan made their debuts. The Third Round of the League Cup gave Palace a home tie with First Division Leeds United on the evening of Wednesday 16th October and in front of a 26,000 crowd the team showed their credentials with a fine 2-1 victory, the goals coming from Cliff Jackson and a typical thundering shot from Colin Taylor.
League Cup interest ended at Burnley but the start of November heralded the arrival of Tony Taylor, like Loughlan from Scottish club Morton, and the team went on a four match winning run that ended when would-be champions Derby County, managed by Brian Clough, left Selhurst Park with both points.
Wins over Cardiff City and Derby in the New Year, after an enforced three week winter break, sparked the optimism once again as, with games in hand, it dawned that promotion was possible, especially as a five match winning run finished with an emphatic 4-2 victory over Millwall when another ‘cannonball’ from Colin Taylor almost burst the Whitehorse Lane goal.
A bruising encounter with Oxford United at Selhurst Park on March 26th ended in a 1-1 draw but more seriously Bobby Woodruff broke his collar bone during the game thus ending his season, tempered by the return of Cliff Jackson and David Payne. The eight games that month which had produced fourteen points meant that we were now well in contention.
April 4th saw second place Palace face third place Middlesbrough at Selhurst Park and attracted a record attendance then for a League fixture of 43,381. With such a prize at stake at the end of the season it was inevitably a close fought game would end in a goalless draw.
Twenty-four hours later Portsmouth were the visitors to SE25 but after a nervy first half Cliff Jackson opened the scoring and Steve Kember soon added a second only for Pompey to reduce the arrears. Victory was secured minutes from time when skipper John Sewell converted a penalty kick.
Two goalless draws at Preston and Huddersfield, with results elsewhere going our way, meant that just a point was required from the final home game against Fulham on Saturday April 19th. Over 36,000 fans made their way to the game in which Johnny Byrne returned as part of the Fulham team and he was instrumental in the already relegated club taking a shock two goal lead during the first half. With Bert Head away in Scotland it was left to George Petchey to deliver the half-time team talk and it must have worked.
In the next eighteen minutes from the restart Palace powered in three goals, the first within two minutes from Steve Kember and then on the hour Mark Lazarus equalised with an explosive shot. Two minutes later a move involving Tony Taylor and Roger Hoy found Cliff Jackson and fittingly the leading scorer netted the goal that put Palace in the top division for the first time ever.
At the final whistle thousands invaded the pitch with the team responding by going to the directors’ box and throwing various items of their kit to the cheering crowd who also called for Bobby Woodruff to make an appearance. As a postscript there was one more game to play, and almost unnoticed Palace won 2-1 at Blackburn Rovers nine days later.