Skip navigation
Crystal palace

      OTD: Salako remembers England bow


      By 1991, John Salako was becoming familiar with Wembley – but for all his halcyon days there with Crystal Palace, it was giving him a hunger for bigger things. .

      The national team was beckoning, and on this day (1st June) 33 years ago he finally made his debut – indeed, the only other occasion Palace had four players in the same England squad, after an Eagles quartet were named in Gareth Southgate's provisional squad this summer.

      “It had been an incredibly successful season and obviously finishing up in third was madness,” Salako remembers of his debut day. “It was typical of that squad: we took everything in our stride, took each game as it came.

      “That season we won the Zenith Data Systems Cup, so we were back to Wembley again which was a well-trodden path after our FA Cup exploits, so [England] was on the radar. Now with social media and the coverage of the Premier League, everyone is tipping players to be in – that didn’t really happen back then."

      It may have been a quirk of fate that confirmed his inclusion in Graham Taylor’s squad.

      “The last game of the season we were playing Man United, and I needed two goals to get my bonus,” Salako remembers. “It was hilarious – I was shooting from everywhere, cutting inside... I look back and think I should have done more!

      “I remember Wrighty and [Mark] Brighty were going absolutely nuts, because they were like: ‘No, you provide for us!’ I managed two goals, but Brighty took a lot of calming down.

      “I think it was that game that cemented Graham Taylor’s mind.”

      Salako was mowing the lawn at home when he got the news, getting a phone call from Taylor and racing inside to watch the updates on Teletext as the full list was revealed – including his teammates Ian Wright and Geoff Thomas.

      “My girlfriend said: ‘Graham Taylor is on the phone’ and I was like: ‘Yeah right. Shawsy [Richard Shaw], what are you up to?’

      “He said: ‘No, this is Graham Taylor, John. I want to let you know before it gets released that we’re calling you up for the upcoming Australasia tour’.

      “I was dumbfounded – I didn’t know what to say. I was thinking: ‘Here we go. This is where I want to be’.”

      Quote Icons

      It was amazing for me. I was just a young lad looking to make my way. I couldn’t believe it.

      John Salako

      It took a while for the news to sink in – it made for an abrupt change of summer plans.

      “Nuts, it was crazy,” he laughs. “You think you’re going on holiday and chilling out, getting some rest, and the next thing you know you’re joining up with the England team, flying off halfway around the world and running out at the Olympic Stadium in Australia to make your England debut. You just think: ‘Phew, OK!’

      “Having Wrighty and Geoff there was amazing. It does help. Looking at Teletext, you see the names… it was nice.”

      After coming on as a substitute against Australia in the opening game of the tour, Salako had sufficiently impressed Taylor to earn a starting berth in the double-header against New Zealand. The starting XI was where he planned to stay.

      “You have got guys coming into the squad for the first time and guys that have been in there for a long time,” he says. “I think everyone leaves the club situation at the door. We were there to play for England.

      “It was a very unified group. Everyone wants to play, obviously, so you have that competition in the back of your mind.

      “I certainly came in and thought: ‘I’m not just here to make the numbers up. I want to play’, but it is out of your hands. The manager has got his idea of who he wants to play and you’ve just got to get your head down and train.

      “If you’re in the starting lineup then great, but if you’re on the bench you have to get in the mindset of being ready to come on. It was great. You were there as a unified group, as a collective.”

      Salako got his chance to shine, and never looked back.

      “I came on and literally my first touch I had in Australia was a [Johann] Cruyff-type, Ronaldo-esque first touch in international football,” he remembers, chuckling. “It just stood out and got the headlines, and it was that sort of impact sub performance that gave me the platform to start the next two games.

      “It was nuts really, but I felt very comfortable going into that and playing on that stage. It just felt so comfortable and so special. When you were in training and going out for the walk before the game and looking forward to it, and eating before, it just made you feel more relaxed and more comfortable.

      “It was amazing for me. I was just a young lad looking to make my way. I couldn’t believe it. You’re sort of pinching yourself, thinking: ‘Wow, I’m touring with England with all these massive stars – superstars’.

      “The lads were fantastic.”