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      Pre-season in Prague: Palace's first-ever tour abroad


      With Palace set to return to the United States this summer, we take a look back through the archives and find out more about the club's first-ever pre-season tour abroad...

      Click here to find out more about Palace's 2024 pre-season plans in the United States, and to purchase tickets.

      In the early 1900s, British football teams had achieved all they could domestically. England and Scotland’s increasingly fraught internationals were the highlight of the sporting calendar, as the more sophisticated passing game north of the border came into conflict with the brutal tactics favoured in England.

      It was time to take the game around Europe – and Crystal Palace wanted in.

      As ever, legendary amateur side Corinthian were leading the way, embarking on an Austro-Hungarian tour in 1904 where they put teams from Budapest and Vienna to the sword, before swatting aside Slavia Prague.

      But the Czechs had caught the eye, and soon British teams were queuing up to take what they perceived to be the next footballing superpower. Bohemia, as it was then known, was the perfect place for successful teams to experience a new way of playing the game, and Slavia Prague became standard bearers.

      Southampton, Everton and Newcastle United followed, while Slavia were so impressed with the performances of Woolwich Arsenal in a 5-7 defeat that they immediately adopted their red shirts with white sleeves as team colours – colours they still use to this day. Manchester United made the journey, coming out on top in a dramatic double-header.

      The first England v Scotland international
      The first England v Scotland international

      Perhaps most significant was the visit of Celtic in 1904. The Bhoys ran out 4-1 winners, but three-time title winner and former player John ‘Jake’ Madden was taken aback by the quality of the Czech players that he signed up to become Slavia Prague’s first professional manager, initially on a short-term basis.

      He ended up staying for 25-years. A quarter of a century’s service, straddling a World War and taking in four Czechoslovak league titles, earned him legendary status. Slavia’s Eden Arena still has a stand named after the surly Scot, who lived in Prague until his death in 1948. His grave is a regular pilgrimage for the club’s hardcore supporters.

      It was Jake Madden’s Slavia Prague that welcomed Crystal Palace in 1908. The Glaziers were looking for a first overseas tour in their history, and where better than to the side managed by a Scot, taking on the very best England had to offer?

      Two fixtures were arranged, both won by Palace – and what a contest it was. Slavia were blessed with some of the most talented players of their age – or of any age, for that matter.

      Jan Kosek started in attack, a striker whose career statistics are up for debate, but whose goalscoring prowess is not. His tally for Slavia is said to be in the region of 850 goals – including one season where netted 132 times in just 38 games. Erling Haaland, eat your heart out. Unfortunately, given the vast majority of these matches were friendlies, we may never be truly sure.

      Nonetheless, his eye for goal is undeniable. Kosek scored six times in a 13-0 victory over Bayern Munich, and notched seven in an 8-0 victory over the Netherlands; he scored regularly against English teams including Arsenal, Everton, Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Ipswich and a hattrick against Southampton.

      “His legs [are] like telegraph poles,” said rival Wilhelm Cepurski of Kosek. “Taking advantage of the fact that the ball was wet, heavy and slippery, he often hit from a distance, and our poor goalkeeper did not have the strength to stop such shots.”

      "I have travelled the world and seen hundreds of the best players of all nations play, including English professionals. However, I have never seen a shooter who could bear the comparison with Jenda Košek,” wrote contemporary journalist Ferdinand Scheinost. “And it was beneath his dignity to run to the goal. From a large distance, he had shot the ball that could not be caught. He could only be challenged if two players behind him were guarding him."

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      it was beneath his dignity to run to the goal. From a large distance, he had shot the ball that could not be caught.

      Ferdinand Scheinost

      Good luck, Palace. The English side won 5-4 in the first of, and the pick of, the games, restricting Kosek to a single goal. Job done, as far as they were concerned.

      Even more than a century ago, refereeing decisions were causing the same anguish. "The refereeing is the worst part of the game out there," bemoans a report of the tour in the club's 1908/09 handbook.

      "It is extraordinary! It would be amusing if it were not so intensely irritating. I refrain from going deeply into details, but would suggest that if one of the referees we met should be ambitious to 'hold the whistle' in a league match over here he should bring his own Coroner along." Ouch.

      Basking in their success, they made the most of their time on the continent, playing Slavia again a day later. Same opponents, even better result: 4-1 to Palace.

      Over the next week, Palace would face more Czech sides: Hradec Kralove, Smichov and Kladno among them. They would win every game, score-lines including 7-1 and 10-1 in certain instances. Their European education was eye-opening.

      With club sides operating as standard-bearers for English football, soon the national side followed suit. England – who had lost just three times in eight years and were, along with Scotland, the pre-eminent force in world football – headed on tour to Europe in 1908.

      Their only two previous visits to the continent had seen them beat France and the Netherlands 15-0 and 8-1 respectively, and this trip continued a familiar theme. Austria were dismissed 6-1 and then 11-1, before a 7-0 victory in Budapest. The referee in the latter future Hugo Meisl, later to become legendary as manager of Austria’s world-beating ‘Wunderteam’.

      Finally, England moved on to face a Bohemian side entirely made up of Slavia players, and won 4-0. Alright, they had kept a clean sheet against Jan Kosek… but Palace had beaten him first.