On the anniversary of that special promotion night against Burnley in 1979, Palace fan, Jack Watson, catches up with winger, Vince Hilaire, for his memories of the 2-0 victory that sent Palace into the First Division as Champions.
In 1979 Crystal Palace gained promotion in the most extraordinary circumstances with a fate-deciding cup-final-esque match against Burnley on a dramatic Friday night in May.
Teams in the English Division Two ended the season on different dates as a result of fixtures being postponed in winter months leaving some teams struggling to make up for the lost games. On 10th May 1979, Brighton and Hove Albion stood top of the table with 56 points, second was Stoke City also on 56 points, Sunderland were third with 55 and fourth was Crystal Palace on 55 but with a crucial game in hand over the teams that had completed their season.
Terry Venables’ side started the season well and remained busy at the top of the table for the majority of the campaign. But with the league coming to an end several draws halted the Eagles’ assault on promotion and left the scenario very simple for their last game: lose and miss out on promotion, draw and clinch promotion, win and snatch the title away from local rivals Brighton.
The Crystal Palace side was packed with stars including John Burridge, Jim Cannon, Kenny Sansom and star of the season, Vince Hilaire. Hilaire was on his best scoring run of the season and continued impressing with his contribution from midfield. He recalls the game being as big as an FA Cup final.
“The magnitude of the game didn’t sink in until we got onto the coach and started going up towards the ground, then we understood the magnitude of the game and it did seem like a final.”
“The common practise for a midweek game would to report for 4.30/5.00, in that particular game, because of the importance, Terry (Venables) wanted us to report at around mid-day for a spot of lunch to get us away from the pressure,” recalls Hilaire, “We were under no illusions that it was another game. We came out of the hotel and in the coach it took us about 45 minutes for a five-minute journey because of the crowds.”
The game at Selhurst Park attracted 51,482 fans which still stands as Crystal Palace’s largest attendance for a home game.
minute. Hilaire found himself in space on the right wing and lofted a cross towards the penalty spot. Ian Walsh met the ball in flight and powerfully headed the ball beyond Alan Stevenson in the Burnley goal. Many fans in the crowd struggling to contain themselves with excitement but what was to follow was truly remarkable.thPalace started the match with intent but failed to capitalise on any early chances, but the Eagles took the lead in the 75
As it stood Palace were on the brink of winning the title and promotion to the pinnacle of English football. However, anyone who has supported the Eagles will tell you that following this club is a roller-coaster affair so anything could still happen with a one goal lead. Moments later, Jerry Murphy missed a golden chance and failed to add some insurance to the Palace lead.
All nerves made way for pandemonium when Palace’s leading goal scorer for the season, Dave Swindlehurst, sealed the win with a low strike on the edge of the box having wriggled through several Burnley players that failed to dispossess him.
The goal prompted scenes of ecstasy in the stands with many unable to contain their elation and spilling onto the pitch. After order was restored the referee played out the final few minutes then called time on Crystal Palace’s spell in the Second Division: they were going up.
Fans in their thousands raced each other onto the pitch to celebrate with their triumphant heroes upon hearing the referee’s whistle. In his report, ITN’s reporter Chris Jamieson said that ‘for once a crowd invasion might have seemed justified.’
The jubilant celebrations reflected the union between the players and fans which was so strong in this particular squad. This game and season is regarded as the beginning of the emerging fan culture at Crystal Palace which has evolved into Palace boasting some of the loudest supporters in the Premier League today.
On his recollection of the actual game, Hilaire is limited in what he can remember, “Early in the match I took a bang on the head and the game was a little bit of a blur because I was slightly concussed. I got two assists in the game so a few people said: ‘I think you should play concussed more often!’”
Hilaire remembers the close relationship between the players, and recalls an example of the type of prank he liked to play. “I was always a bit of a joker but I always made sure I played jokes on the gullible ones. Peter (Nicholas) was my go-to-man to get a laugh,” explained Hilaire.
“We were sat in the dressing room and Peter said ‘I wanted to sell my car but there’s too many miles on the clock.’ I said to him ‘set your alarm too early in the morning and reverse around the block for a few hours.’ He thought about it for a minute and said: ‘no I won’t be able to get up at that time!’ He thought I was deadly serious!”