It was 16 years ago today that Dougie Freedman returned to the Eagles for his second spell as a player following his move to Nottingham Forest, and last week the club legend spoke to the Palace Programme about his two stints as a player at the Eagles that saw him become a hero during his 368 appearances, during which he netted 108 times.
Firstly, what are your memories of joining the club as a 21-year-old in 1995?
I can remember getting a call late one night to say there was an opportunity of a move, and by lunchtime the next day the deal was done. I had a good feeling about the club from when I walked through the door and spoke to Ron Noades. There were a lot of good players within the squad and it was nice how the fans took to me straight away - it made me feel very comfortable as a young player at a new club.
That period saw a couple of Wembley play-off finals, so it must have been a nice time to be at the club?
That first season we were very strong and only missed out on automatic promotion due to us losing at the Baseball Ground against Derby County; there are a couple of moments in my Palace career that I will never forget and one of them is that day. Then of course came that play-off final defeat thanks to Steve Claridge’s late goal.
Following that we had a good pre-season, everyone seemed more settled and through hard work we got to the final again, but one of my special Palace memories is that play-off semi-final against Wolves. The week before I got sent-off against Port Vale and afterwards I made my way through the lounge and there was a difficult atmosphere. Seven days later my two goals against Wolves took us a big step towards the final and the fans’ reactions in that same bar were somewhat different! We won the final with that David Hopkin goal and the Premier League dream we all had was now a reality.
After you returned in 2000/01 you played a crucial role in keeping us in the league, what can you recall of those final weeks?
I will never forget the Portsmouth game the week before, as we knew we had to win or that final day against Stockport would mean nothing. I think that match saw my best game as a Palace player; Stevie Kember encouraged us to be very attack-minded and we ended up winning 4-2.
I scored a couple of goals before going to Stockport the following Sunday. That’s the game that will always be the one people talk about and it was a great day. It was a really difficult season with many changes, but we got there in the end and we could start rebuilding.
The 2003/04 season saw a huge transformation in our fortunes following Iain Dowie’s appointment; what do you put that down to?
As a manager, when I have gone in at clubs when they were at the wrong end of the table, I have used the Iain Dowie blueprint that worked so well at that time. The key factor, apart from the coaching out on the training ground, was that he gave the squad a structure for the week, on and off the pitch. It helped us have a better understanding of what was ahead, everyone’s roles and responsibilities, and there was accountability for your performances.
Finally, what do you make of what Palace have achieved in recent years?
It is a fantastic achievement for the whole of the club and I am really proud of where they are, and how the magnificent work everyone did to keep the club going in difficult times has proved so worthwhile. I have a real affection for the club and everyone associated with it, and would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for the great support you always showed me, and wish everyone at the club all the best for the future.