On the day that former Palace striker, David Swindlehurst, celebrates his 60th birthday we talk to him about his time at the club including that promotion era of the late seventies.
During the first few weeks of the 1979/80 season we topped Division One and soon after that your goal clinched victory against Arsenal. It must have been a dream start for a young team?
We were a side who were good at going out and playing the right tactics to get the better of the opposition and picking up narrow victories, and the match against Arsenal in November 1979 was no different.
We were not that prolific as far as goalscoring was concerned but we defended very well which you had to do against the quality teams. On that day against a good Arsenal side a shot came in from Peter Nicholas from outside the box and I managed to get a side-foot to it to deflect the ball into the goal. It was always going to be tight game and so it proved, but we managed to nick it 1-0 and any time having Arsenal as a scalp is a big thing.
That result gave us confidence to try and push on but it is no different to the Premier League nowadays, every week you think you’ve done well but there is always another challenge around the corner.
The size of the squads in those days were small and if you suffered injuries you were soon struggling for numbers, we made some signings after promotion but even so we were a hard working squad who always gave our best and looking back on those times now makes me feel very proud to have been part of an exciting time at the club.
You made just under 300 appearances for the club during the Seventies, how would you describe that period in the club’s history?
The club was certainly getting a lot of attention in the media and this was mainly down to Malcolm Allison, a high profile personality when he came into the club and someone who got a lot of column inches for the club in newspapers and that was good for the club off the pitch.
On the playing side what people tend to forget is at that time the club was made up of two youth teams, you had one group of the likes of myself, Jim Cannon, the Hinshlewoods etc who all came out of the youth system at that time and later in the 70s we had Terry Venables bringing through the group that did so well in Vince Hillaire, Billy Gilbert, Peter Nicholas and Kenny Sansom.
Both groups were very much home-grown. Malcolm was never afraid to give youngsters their chance and Terry carried that on as the latter group came through. Both sets of lads gave the club success and for me it will always be a part of my career that I look back on fondly as I was lucky enough to be playing with some very talented players who worked well together as a group on and off the pitch.
That era left many Palace fans with some great memories including the 1976 FA Cup run, when as a Division Three side we beat Leeds United, Chelsea , Sunderland to reach the semi-final for the first time.
The thing that is important to remember is that these cup ties were all away from home. Those three wins at Elland Road, Stamford Bridge and Roker Park were all giant killing acts but the semi-final against Southampton was just a bridge too far when our young side came up against a very experienced Saints line up who went onto win the competition.
The disappointment that season in amongst the cup run was that we lost our way in the league and didn’t get promotion after suffering that semi-final defeat. Nevertheless that cup run will always stay with me as it was such a great achievement for the club but it was so disappointing because no-one wants to lose a semi-final and miss out on the chance to play on the hallowed turf of Wembley.
The season after we won promotion to the second but we had to wait nervously for a result from elsewhere before our fate was sealed. What are your memories of that?
I can remember us playing Wrexham at the end of the season twice and winning on both occasions but then had to wait for a game involving them against Mansfield to see if we were going to clinch the final promotion place.
It was always going to be a nerve-wracking afternoon so to help us through the 90 minutes a few of us played in a reserve match at Selhurst Park. There was quite a good crowd there who also wanted something to take their minds off events in another game.
Mansfield got a result for us and that sealed our promotion after a good season that saw us only lose 10 games and thoroughly deserve our achievement. I can remember some great celebrations at the end of that reserve match but it was nothing to do with what had happened at Selhurst!
The special night in front of 51,000 against Burnley in 1979 will always be mentioned when talking about Palace promotions, but from a player’s perspective how did you deal with the level of expectancy going into that game?
To be honest with you during the lead up to the evening on the Friday I didn’t feel too nervous as we went into the game on the back of an away win at Leyton Orient and had the carrot of knowing a win would see us crowned champions.
As a player coming out into the stadium and seeing the crowd waiting for the game to start from late afternoon you didn’t need much motivation. As you say the crowd was over 50,000 and supporters were sitting on the touchline - say that quietly these days with health and safety around - but it was unreal.
It was just a fantastic night and we played ever so well first half but it took a great goal from Ian Walsh to set us on our way and then I got the second one late on. The occasion was just special and anyone that was there would never forget it.