This is part two of our catch-up with former Palace defender Peter Ramage. Here, the now-assistant coach of Phoenix Rising relives the 2012/13 campaign.
If you haven't read part one with Ramage yet, then click here to find out what he had to say on Sam Allardyce, Neil Warnock and the circumstance that made him angry when his initial loan with Palace ended.
The phonecall arrived and Ramage joined up with his fellow Eagles in Cornwall for pre-season, but now the real work started. Finally a permanent Palace player, things were slightly different from the same time a year before.
“Dougie made it clear to me that the club had brought in Aaron Martin on loan from Southampton, who was a big prospect,” Ramage starts to list the competition he faced. “And then you also had Paddy McCarthy, club captain at the time. I was going to be fighting to go in a spot there.
“Unfortunately for Paddy he had a horrific injury in pre-season that kept him out for a long time and it opened the door for me.”
The 2012/13 campaign is one of the finest in Palace’s history but an often-forgotten fact is that the Eagles started the season poorly: three defeats and nine goals conceded in the process.
“Aaron and I started the season. But the club didn’t begin well: we were bottom of the league and shipping goals left, right and centre.”
Six days after a 2-1 defeat away at Middlesbrough and a day before Palace’s first win of the season against Sheffield Wednesday, free agent Damien Delaney signed.
Over to Ramage: “And then Damo comes in. All of a sudden, we beat Sheffield Wednesday at home just before the international break and it just went on from there.
“Then we went to Charlton, and our backs were against the wall the whole game and I had no idea how we came out with the win. But Kagisho Dikgacoi’s goal got us the three points.
“I remember watching the video recently on the Palace website and I totally forgot that their ‘keeper had a header cleared off the line in the final minute!
“After that game, we realised that if we can go to these sort of places and win then we’ve got a real chance.”
The victory over the Addicks was the second in a nine-game unbeaten run. Then the next hiccup: Crystal Palace Football Club confirm first-team manager Dougie Freedman has joined Bolton Wanderers.
“It was tough when Dougie left for Bolton,” Ramage admits. “He had a real bond with the players. We had almost become robots on the pitch, everyone knew what they had to do and we worked our socks off. We were tough to beat.”
And that remained the case under Ian Holloway, with Palace losing just five league games between the new manager’s appointment in November until the middle of March.
“Ollie came in and tried to make a few changes but I think he understood and appreciated that, despite his philosophy of free-flowing, attacking football that he had success with at Blackpool, this was a team built on graft and hard work,” Ramage explains.
“He worked wonders in blending both ideologies, taking the shackles off a few players but using the steel and grit of others to complement each other and it worked.”
And it worked despite the Eagles winning just one of their final 10 league games that season. In the middle of that spell, a trip to Portman Road would be the last time Ramage would start a match that season after having ‘one of those games.’
“It was hard,” Ramage opens up. “I’d played 40-odd games. But towards the end, by my own standards, I had a shocker at Ipswich away and gave away a goal. We got beat 3-0 and I that was the game where it turned for me.
“The biggest thing for me was that Mile Jedinak was absent from that game,” Ramage dissects the 90 minutes. “Me, him and Damo had this almost unbreakable bond where we always knew where each other was and always covered one another’s backs.
“I made a mistake, cost us a goal and I didn’t play the next game. It was really tough to basically play all the way through and then miss out on the biggest games of the season.”
An impassioned footballer had had the crowning moments of his most enjoyable season taken from him, meaning there was a conversation to be had.
“We crossed words over it, as you do as a player and a manager,” Ramage admits. “I wanted to know why one mistake in a game merited me getting dropped. You try and fight your corner but I still respected Ollie because he was the man who had to pick the team and he made the decision.
“Whilst I was trying to be a good teammate, deep down I was hurting.”
‘Band of brothers’ is a term Ramage uses regularly to describe the squad during that 2012/13 season. Therefore it’s no surprise to hear the following words escape him: “The player who replaced me was one of my best mates in Danny Gabbidon. In some ways, he was probably a better player than me for those occasions: he was an international and had experienced that cauldron of atmosphere.
“He and Damo had an unbelievable three games, didn’t concede a goal and we merited getting promoted with that centre-back pairing.”
But promotion back to the elite of English football was in no way expected, as Ramage recalls: “There was a little bit of doubt because they [Brighton & Hove Albion] were hot favourites and had beaten us 3-0 in the league fairly recently. We kind of felt that they had the advantage being at the Amex for the second leg. The odds were stacked against us.
“But then you drive in to the Amex and you see the Brighton flags pre-emptively saying ‘Wembley 2013’ and that makes you think: these people are taking the p**s out of us here. They think they’ve won the game.
“And that motivated us to shove one straight back up them.”
That and, of course, the changing room incident.
“We didn’t know what was going on. Me and Brian the kit man had gone in to drop the kit off earlier in the afternoon and the stench was evident before you walked in.
“I’ve been in some pubs but this smell was incredible. We walked round and saw what was lying in the toilet area. It was absolutely disgusting.”
Don’t worry, Ramage and we were laughing, too.
“Ollie went absolutely berserk. He went mental. We were there an hour and a half before the game. They’ve got to clean up, but we’ve got to get ready. It disrupted our preparations somewhat but fuelled our animosity even more.
“Ollie didn’t need to say anything. Our team talk was done.”
A Wilfried Zaha brace in the second-half meant there was no need for extra time, something that Palace’s driver back in 2013 could’ve clearly done with.
“It was funny to find out that basically our driver had eaten a bit of bad food. God knows what he had done to try and clean it up, it was carnage but it got us to Wembley!” Ramage amusingly recalls.
“My first time at Wembley…” the excitement subsides from Ramage’s voice. “I knew I was never going to play but you kind of hope that you might get on to hopefully help defend a lead towards the end.
“It was an incredible build-up to the final,” the excitement returns. “We went to the hotel the night before the game and the place was full of Palace fans and Sky cameras. The drive to the ground was just as special as the actual occasion, that build-up of adrenaline was like I had never experienced before.”
The adrenaline stops in an instance. 105+1 minutes on the clock. No one inside Wembley dares exhale. Ref’s whistle. Goal. Chaos.
“The one person who has had probably more experience in these pressure cooker type environments takes the penalty,” Ramage relives Kevin Phillips’ iconic Palace moment. “It pains me as a Geordie saying I wanted a Mackem to score – it’s the one time I ever celebrated a Mackem scoring a goal!”
Let’s be honest, the 120 minutes at Wembley that day are a red and blue blur. Apart from Phillips’ penalty and the moment the cameras caught Delaney and Ramage crying.
“Me and Damo were the first to go up with Paddy,” Ramage recalls. “We didn’t realise everyone was still on the balcony hoicking the trophy up in the air and we had just kind of wandered off in a bit of a daze and Damo just broke down.
“I don’t remember the camera being there. It was probably one of the most iconic moments of my career: me and one of my best mates in football just bawling our eyes out. We were both in no man’s land. Ipswich didn’t want Damo, no one wanted me but Dougie brought us together. We had a bond from our time at QPR.
“I didn’t even realise that it was panned up on the big screen. It wasn’t until afterwards when my mum and dad said that she cried more at that than the game. Just two mates sharing a moment. A band of brothers.
If you are a football person please join the challenge of posting a football photo. Just one picture, no description. Please copy the text in your status, post a picture and look at some great memories/pictures... pic.twitter.com/XLFXcHBCks— Peter Ramage (@peterramage83) March 28, 2020
“It was incredible that this team - that was built up of mainly free agents, no-hopers and players people didn’t want – became one of the best teams I played in.
“I knew I had played my part and I knew I warranted being in the folklore of that team.”
No arguments there, Rambo.
“The club put on this incredible party back at the hotel,” Ramage pre-empts our next question. “The cup had every alcohol possible poured into it. Steve Parish took us out to a club and me, Jonny Williams, Joel Ward and a couple of others ended up at some breakfast place at six in the morning.
“My missus and kids were still at the hotel. I stumbled in. I packed my stuff up and sent the family home and we carried on in our club suits for a Monday fun-day.”
Monday fun-day it may have been, but don’t take Ramage as flippant.
“You aren’t putting words in my mouth,” he responds to our suggestion 2012/13 was the campaign of his career. “Coming through and playing for Newcastle United was the pinnacle because I’m a Geordie. From a professional standpoint that Palace season was my most memorable and enjoyable. That was the highlight of my career.”