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Palace in the FA Cup: Anniversaries, finalists and Millwall clashes 100 years on

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Fierce rivals, poignant anniversaries and endless possibilities. Whatever happens this will be an FA Cup third round weekend to remember for Crystal Palace as they travel to the Den to take on Millwall - and here's why.

150th anniversary

Palace are a central team in FA Cup history, their early years being indelibly linked with the founding of football’s oldest cup competition.

In 1863, represented by Crystal Palace cricketer Frank Day, the club was one of 12 to attend a meeting at the Freemasons’ Tavern (pictured below), agreeing to form the Football Association – English football’s historic governing body.

Further meetings followed as the FA looked to codify football. Crystal Palace sent more delegates than any other club to these and helped to fight influence from rugby-favouring teams in order to push through association football and shape the game we know today.

The Freemasons' Tavern
The Freemasons' Tavern

The FA was very fragile in its early years however and its new secretary, Charles Alcock, was always looking for new ideas to expand association football. In 1871 he came up with the idea of a Challenge Cup open to all FA members across the country, to be called the Football Association Challenge Cup.

Palace’s Douglas Allport supported the move by suggesting a sub-committee to draft the competition’s rules and would later select and purchase the first FA Cup trophy alongside two other members.

And so the FA Cup was borne, and Palace took part in its very first games. The result was a goalless draw against Hitchin Town, and under the then-rules both sides progressed to the second round.

Palace eventually went on to lose a semi-final replay against Royal Engineers, but their long association with the FA Cup had already been cemented.

Millwall meetings a century ago

Almost exactly 100 years ago, 28th January 1922, there was a similarly anticipated meeting between the two sides in their first FA Cup tie together. “Some fine old memories were revived at Selhurst yesterday,” wrote the newspaper report of Palace’s clash with Millwall. “In the heyday of the old Southern League, these two clubs met in some grand battles for precious league points.”

Palace had beaten Everton 6-0 in the previous round and came into this match as heavy favourites. A packed crowd poured into the Nest, row upon row squeezed onto the banks of earth that surrounded the pitch.

Any latecomers found their own solution, perching on Platform One of the adjacent Selhurst station, where the players could be seen in all their glory – and for a far cheaper price.

As expected, the match was a full-blooded affair – but there was respect between the sides. “It restored one’s faith in professional play,” wrote the match report, “to see a player, after a heavy tumble, helped to his feet by the man responsible for the bump.

“It was done hurriedly of course – a smile, a cheerful dig in the ribs and off again hot-footed after the ball.”

Regardless, there was no shortage of controversy, and with the game goalless heading into the final period Millwall received jeers and boos from the crowd for their time-wasting techniques.

“All the good work of the Millwall defenders was spoiled by their futile tactics in the last quarter of an hour, when they kicked into touch without reason,” wrote the newspaper. “Even [the goalkeeper Joe] Lansdale carefully placed the ball out of play from his many goal kicks.”

Palace failed to find a breakthrough, and the visitors came away with a 0-0 draw that would see them triumph in the replay. Nonetheless, the rivalry was brought into ever sharper focus across south London, where 100 years later the two sides still relish facing one another today.

The road to the final

The Millwall meeting also coincides with the beginning of Palace’s more recent FA Cup successes. On 6th January, 1990, the Eagles dispatched Portsmouth to begin their remarkable run to the final. Victories against Huddersfield Town, Rochdale, Cambridge United and – most famously – Liverpool would follow, earning a place in the final at Wembley against Manchester United.

Six years ago almost to the day, Palace started another cup adventure by beating Southampton. Two current Eagles scored that day, with Wilfried Zaha securing a place in the fourth round after Joel Ward opened the scoring against a strong Saints side including Sadio Mané and Virgil van Dijk.

Stoke City, Tottenham Hotspur, Reading and Watford were next to be pushed aside, and once again Palace found themselves in the Wembley showpiece against Man Utd – managed by 1990 finalist Alan Pardew.

The FA Cup third round is a landmark occasion regardless of its outcomes, and this clash between Palace and Millwall is already one for the history books.