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Glory Years: Salako on that special season

26 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.

The hat-trick of interviews with the 1988/89 promotion team is completed by a teenager at the time, John Salako!

What was it like being a teenager and trying to make it at a club filled with established professionals?

It was proper old school. When you got a chance to come from the youth team and train with the main group it was such a special thing, but they knew if you were being given the chance to step up then you were looking to take their places.

Getting involved on a matchday, being on the bench and then getting the call to go on was just so special; a magical time where all your dreams are coming true.

When you pull on the shirt and go on out there it is scary, but the most exciting thing ever.

You came through alongside players who also enjoyed excellent careers, what was the secret?

The step up is difficult; you play in front of big crowds with added responsibility so you have to deal with the pressure at a young age.

Chris Powell was very level-headed and Richard Shaw was strong and powerful. Gareth Southgate was a year younger and people like Simon Osborn and Simon Rodger were also making those same moves up the ladder.

Thinking back, we were all strong-minded and driven individuals, and desperate to carve out careers for ourselves.

You made your Palace debut in January 1987 but it took you a couple of seasons to nail down a first team spot – how did you find that? 

It was frustrating because I was chomping at the bit since I was about 16 and had to be patient and go out on loan. I was just desperate to play and I can remember Steve Coppell asking:  'do you want to play down the left or as a striker?' but I didn’t really care, I just wanted a shirt and to get on there and play.

I was happy to get the chance to create, track back and do whatever was needed in a game when I was called upon. As a winger, it was special to know I had created the chance for the team to win a game. I wasn’t as selfish as I would be now; I wouldn’t be as easily bullied by those two brilliant players up front!

Promotion was the culmination of five years’ hard work by Steve Coppell, how was he to work under at that time?

What Steve achieved coming in at the age of 28 was just incredible; he bought a fresh outlook and the club just took off. What he was able to get out his signings from a tactical and organisational side of it was amazing, together with all his hard work and planning. He just had the perfect methods on the training ground, and then at the end of the week the lads responded in the right way because everyone loved playing for Steve.

The play-offs were a new concept back then, how did the squad deal with them?

The two-legged tie gave the players a different type of psychology to play with as their minds had to be adjusted to the games ahead of them. It was something which we embraced well and gave us something to aim for as the season went on.

Any player will tell you that winning them is just the best feeling, and credit to our group because we showed belief to come from behind in both games and take the club into the First Division.

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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