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.
Next up in the 1978/79 nostalgia trip is none other than the 1979 fans’ Player of the Year, Vince Hilaire!
You made your debut against Lincoln City in 1976, what was that like?
I was just 17 and was told by Terry Venables that one of the lads had fallen ill, so I got a late call, and it was in the days where we used to travel up on the day. Not for one minute did I think I would get in the 12 selected, but as we were a bit short of attacking options I was put on the bench.
We were losing the game and assistant manager Allan Harris kept prompting Terry, saying: “get him on, what have we got to lose?” and I wasn’t quite sure how to take that! I prefer to think that he thought I might turn the game for us as opposed to being the only option. It was a special moment.
How did the team used to play in those days?
It’s funny because the way a lot of teams set up now are tactics that Terry was implementing back in the day with a strong back four, one central striker with two others playing slightly wider. He allowed me to play as though I was in the playground and didn’t really involve me in too much of the tactical talk.
The forwards’ job was to be the first line of defence. You look at modern football and the forwards press very high as teams try and win the ball back early, and to be fair back then Terry was already looking to instil that in our gameplan. Anyone who saw me play will be surprised to hear me talk about defending!
You played with some great players in that era, who stands out 40 years on?
John Burridge was a brilliant guy to have at the back, while Paul Hinshelwood, Kenny Sansom, Billy Gilbert and Jim Cannon were a great back four and it was a great plus that they didn’t have to miss too many games through injury.
In midfield we had Steve Kember and Peter Nicholas protecting them and then up front you had me, Ian Walsh, and David Swindlehurst. Unfortunately, Mike Elwiss got an injury during that season which gave Walshie his chance, and it’s one he took and the rest is history.
You were named the fans’ Player of the Year in 1979, that must have meant a lot?
I don’t want to come across as not appreciative but I always say that even though I played a big part in our success, there were certainly other players who didn’t get enough recognition.
People like Jerry Murphy and Nico were the key players for me that season. Nico was a bit of a midfield enforcer and if it wasn’t for Jerry I don’t think I would have touched the ball many times! Whenever he got the ball he looked for a pass to me, wherever I was on the field.
How did you find the fan interaction in those days?
You had as much chance to meet the fans on an away day on the train as you had of bumping into them at a home match. In those days it was the norm and I don’t think it was a bad thing for the fans to meet up with us all, as it costs a lot of money to go and see the team play.
Back then there were chances for players to be criticised in the heat of the moment, but those fans knew all the lads had given a 100%. Palace fans have the reputation, and quite rightly so, of being up there as the best. They are always great to me and the club has been a big part of my life.
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!