Despite its cyclicity, the coincidental nature of football never fails to surprise – never showcased better than John Salako’s return to action 30 years ago today (2nd October, 1993), hailed as ‘pure theatre’.
It was on this date exactly two years prior that then 22-year-old Salako – a goal-scoring winger at the peak of his powers, who had played a key role in Palace’s 1989 promotion to the First Division, the run to the 1990 FA Cup final and the ’91 Full Members Cup triumph – experienced a sad prognosis.
The Eagles had faced previously-unbeaten Leeds United at Selhurst Park the evening prior, Mark Bright scoring the only goal in 1-0 win in the First Division – but the result was marred within 24 hours.
Salako had fallen heavily during the game and, undergoing an exploratory operation the next day, discovered that both crucial ligaments behind his left knee had been severed.
The injury was so severe that it required not only a trip to California to find a relevant specialist, but an operation whereby a donor’s Achilles tendon was used to replace it.
As Salako himself put it: “At 4am, I was coming home from the hospital after being told I might not play again. Yeah, that was a long day.”
For a player who had made his England debut only months prior, and whose creative skills were the perfect foil to the ‘Wright & Bright’ partnership of that era (although Wright had moved to Arsenal at the time of the injury), it was a devastating blow.
Salako would not see first-team action for the remainder of the season, only returning competitively 10 months later when Palace faced Blackburn Rovers on the opening day of the 1992/93 season.
He picked up where he left off, with six assists in his first 13 appearances of the season, and even earned a recall to the Three Lions’ squad for the 1994 World Cup qualifier against Norway. “Of course I'm delighted to be in the England squad again,” the winger said.
“I'm delighted to be playing. I'm delighted just to be out there.”