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Glory Years: Pemberton signed for Palace thanks to his mum!

24 April 2019

All this week, as we look forward to welcoming our heroes from 68/69, 78/79 and 88/89 back to Selhurst Park for the Everton game this Saturday, Crystal Palace will be looking back at the anniversaries of those three glorious promotion campaigns for the Eagles.

No nonsense defender John Pemberton made 54 appearances during the 1988/89 promotion season, and he recalls those moments below!

When you joined Palace in 1988, what were your first impressions?

I had a number of offers from other clubs at the time including the one from Palace. Having played with Geoff Thomas at Crewe Alexandra I got some feedback on what the setup was like, and after a chat with the club the decision was made really.

It was a very athletic team with a lot of pace and two strikers in Mark Bright and Ian Wright who were on fire. It made for a really exciting squad, and a group who you could tell had something to prove. At the training ground, discussions were all about getting promotion which only spreads belief through everyone so puts you in the right frame of mind.

Steve Coppell played a huge part in your decision to join the Eagles didn’t he?

When I was making my decision I spoke to my mum, and she had always loved Steve as she was a big Manchester United fan so after a chat with her it was time for him to become my gaffer! 

Comparing Steve to other managers that I have worked with, I recognise how tactically astute he was at the time and he was also very approachable which is important. Personally speaking I have a great bond with him and we still see each other occasionally now at games and it brings back so many memories of great times I had as a player at Palace.

You didn’t win any of your first six matches, were there any worries at that point?

The season started with a massive derby against Chelsea at our place that ended as a draw and then after a loss we then went on a run of draws but without playing too badly, and we knew that we needed to keep plugging away and results would come and so it proved. We knew once we got on a roll we had what it took to be a threat to other teams, so it was important we kept that focus.

Palace played seven matches in October and won six of them. Did that feel like a turning point?

In October, confidence started to grow after we beat Plymouth and Ipswich, which was just what we needed. With the make-up of the team we could always score goals but whether it was in the 1980s or now, it’s about winning games and that month will be one that we can look back on as an important one in the outcome of our season.

For whatever reason it was a crazy few weeks with the number of games being packed in, and after suffering a 5-4 loss up at Blackburn we knew we had to show that we could bounceback. We went up to Bradford and won two more back at Selhurst to put us in a strong position going into the winter months.

You won promotion via the play-offs, were you a fan of the fledgling concept back then?

I thought it was quite good because right from the start it gave teams like us a real chance to get promotion as we knew we were capable of beating anybody on the day. Once we got in the play-offs we were just relieved to make it and weren’t really concerned with who our opponents were going to be.

The Swindon game was always going to be a tough one but we won it after the second leg and went onto Blackburn. We obviously didn’t expect the result we suffered up there and could have lost by more, although once Eddie McGoldrick got a goal back we knew had a great chance back at our place on the day and the rest, as they say, is history. 

This interview originally featured in the matchday programme. To get your hands on the exclusive Steve Kember interview for Everton, sign up for the digital programme below!

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