Throughout the World Cup we’re looking back at memorable moments from the international careers of Palace players past and present. With England rounding off their World Cup campaign today, we take a look at the time when three Palace players represented the Three Lions in the same game.
The summer of 1991 was a good time to be a Palace fan. Steve Coppell’s team, fresh off the 1990 FA Cup final appearance, had ended the following campaign third in the First Division to register their best-ever league finish, and claimed the Zenith Data Cup at Everton’s expense in April.
It is perhaps the highpoint of Palace’s history, and another remarkable footnote of that era would come when England boss Graham Taylor had to name his squad for a summer tour of Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia, and included four Eagles – Geoff Thomas, Ian Wright, John Salako and Nigel Martyn.
The quartet’s chances were admittedly boosted by Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal refusing to release their players for what they saw as meaningless friendly games, but in Taylor’s defence, he had already been looking to Selhurst Park for talent while Palace were tearing things up in the top-flight.
Wright had won his first cap in February 1991 against Cameroon and had three caps to his name, the same number as Thomas who had only debuted in May in what was the first of seven friendlies organised by Taylor in the space of six weeks. Meanwhile, Salako and Martyn were keen to taste some action, having previously represented the England B team.
Salako wouldn’t have to wait long for his first cap, which came in the opening game of the trip against Australia. He appeared as a half-time substitute for David Hirst as England claimed a 1-0 win in Sydney via an own goal, with Thomas starting in midfield.
Two days later, it was a similar story as Thomas clocked up another 90 minutes and Salako appeared a sub as New Zealand - celebrating their 100th anniversary – succumbed to a last-minute Gary Lineker goal, but better would come for Palace later that week all all three outfield Eagles started in Wellington, while Martyn was named on the bench as understudy to Chris Woods.
There could so easily have been three Palace players on the scoresheet that afternoon. Salako nearly marked his first start in style with a rasping drive from the edge of the box that goalkeeper Grant Schofield did well to tip over, before Stuart Pearce opened the scoring.
Wright then nearly assisted David Platt for a second but the Bari midfielder’s scissor kick was ruled out for offside, and after a surging run by Thomas the Eagles striker nearly scored his first international goal but saw his shot cleared off the line.
But on 50 minutes Hirst doubled England’s lead, and then Salako broke free and saw his shot deflect off Schofield and hit the post, but the ball dropped perfectly into Thomas’ path to score his first England goal. However, somehow the Palace skipper would fire the rebound wide from five yards out and the goal gaping.
The trio played all 90 minutes of the 2-0 win, but the following week Lineker was restored to the line-up in Wright’s place and scored four times to dispatch Malaysia 4-2, with Thomas and Salako again winning caps before a long summer came to a close.
Salako would win just one more cap in a 1-0 defeat to Germany later that year, while Thomas’ run of nine consecutive, and indeed unbeaten, appearances ended against France in February 1992 in what would be his international curtain call.
Having waited patiently for his debut, Martyn would finally get some gametime against the CIS in April of that year, but Wright wouldn’t win another cap whilst at SE25. The pair would go on to enjoy lengthy associations with the national team after departing Palace, but for the Eagles it would prove to be a tour that highlighted their then-lofty standing in the English game.