In his newly released autobiography, My Story, Mark Bright recalls Crystal Palace’s iconic promotion push in 1989, culminating in a 4-3 two-leg play-off final triumph over Blackburn Rovers.
In this exclusive extract from My Story, which you can purchase here, Bright recounts his time from the semi-finals through to promotion over Rovers in June ‘89.
The first leg of the semi-final was at Swindon on a Sunday afternoon. As you might imagine, the game was a pretty tense affair, and even though we knew we were a better team than them, we never really produced the kind of form we were capable of, and we ended up losing 1–0 after Jeff Hopkins scored an own goal.
Losing was really disappointing and we were more determined than ever to make sure we put things right when we got them back to Selhurst Park, and what happened after the first game gave us even more motivation.
As we walked down the tunnel one of their players shouted at Wrighty. It was nasty and it was racist, everybody heard it and, quite naturally, Ian reacted to it. If it hadn’t been for some of us holding him back, I think he would have ripped the guy’s head off.
Steve Coppell and some of the other players managed to get him back to the dressing room, but Ian was raging and just couldn’t calm down. He still wanted to go across to their changing room and drag the player out, but when he realised that wasn’t going to happen, he picked up a fire extinguisher and threw it at the door. He was steaming and the rest of us were in no mood to calm down either.
What had been said was not only completely out of order, the words had been delivered with real nastiness. It wasn’t something that had been shouted in the heat of the moment, or to wind Wrighty up, it was a nasty racist comment spoken from the heart.
We were all disappointed with the result, but knew we were more than capable of winning the second leg and getting enough goals to go through. We also had the added motivation of what had happened in the tunnel, and without letting the incident get in the way of putting on the performance we needed, all of us knew if the chance came during the match, we would exact a bit of retribution on the player who’d had a go at Ian.
The second leg took place three days after the first game, Selhurst Park was jumping and our fans were amazing. We won 2–0 to go through to the play-off final. I scored one of the goals and happily Ian got the other.
Job done, and the player who made those comments didn’t exactly have a great time. We didn’t go out of our way to target him, but let’s just say that we took any opportunity we got to make his life a misery that night.
Every time he was tackled he really felt it, and any chance we had to physically get to him, we did, whether he had the ball or not. Winning was the most important thing, but making sure he had a nightmare of a game was a bonus for all of us.
Fast-forwarding to the second leg of the ‘89 play-off final, after Palace had lost 1-3 to Blackburn in the first leg at Ewood Park, Bright looks back on one of the most iconic results in the club’s history.
Once again, the atmosphere at Selhurst Park for the return leg was incredible. It was even better than it had been against Swindon, the place was packed and the noise was deafening.
Ian sent the fans wild with a goal in the first half that reduced the deficit and then a couple of minutes into the second half we were awarded a penalty. It was a big moment for us and an even bigger one for Dave Madden as he stepped up to take it. You could feel the tension around the ground, but Dave didn’t let it affect him and calmly slotted it home with his right foot.
With most of the second half still to play we were on level terms, and it started to look as though we would be able to go on and win it, but after 90 minutes we were still level and we went into extra-time. It was nailbiting stuff. Obviously both teams wanted to win it but, at the same time, the longer a game like that goes on the more conscious you are of not wanting to make a silly mistake.
There were just a few minutes left in the second period of extra-time when Eddie McGoldrick somehow managed to cross the ball from the right and Ian got between two of their defenders to head it into the far corner of the goal. The crowd went mad and some of them ran onto the pitch.
The match wasn’t over, there were still a couple of minutes left to play, but both teams knew the goal had won it and there was no coming back for Blackburn. When the final whistle blew the fans streamed onto the pitch once more and we were mobbed by them. They were amazing scenes and it was a fantastic feeling to be part of it all.
After coming so close the season before and then missing out on automatic promotion we had battled our way through the play-offs and come from behind to make it into the First Division. All the players had dreamed of playing against the top teams, of going to places like Old Trafford, Anfield and Highbury.
I’d had a taste of it at Leicester and even though it hadn’t worked out for me, I still knew I could do it at the top level. I was better equipped to play in the First Division than I had been before, and I knew that Ian and could do well as a partnership playing at a higher level.
I also knew that getting promotion was a dream come true for him. In four years, he’d gone from playing Sunday football in a local south London league to being a First Division footballer. It really was amazing.
Read more from Brighty and grab your copy of his eye-opening autobiography here!