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      Marcel Gaillard: Crystal Palace's first overseas star


      Watch any Premier League fixture, and it becomes clear that football really is the global game. There are players of all nationalities and backgrounds, and fans who have made the trip from halfway around the world – or just from the local pub. But it wasn’t always that way.

      Head back 76 years, and the landscape was very different. But at Crystal Palace, history was about to be made by a pioneer determined to make his way in the English game.

      After an early career at Belgian side OC Charleroi, Marcel Gaillard arrived in London with big ambitions – and even bigger self-confidence.

      A Belgian national and aged just 20-years-old, it is fair to say the odds were stacked against him. After all, this period immediately after the Second World War meant social tensions were still high, economic turmoil still substantial and the national game still emerging from its unhappy and compulsory hiatus.

      After a spell with Tonbridge in non-league football, however, Gaillard joined Crystal Palace and made Selhurst Park history exactly 75 years ago today, becoming the first overseas player to represent the club. He wasn’t satisfied to merely etch his name in the record books, and he underlined his significance by netting in a 5-0 demolition of Watford and becoming the first overseas scorer too.

      English football fans took Gaillard to their hearts, and the Glaziers finished midtable in his first campaign in south London.

      He played 21 times for Palace as he strived to keep them in the Third Division. It was a thankless task, however, and one of the club’s most perilous periods saw them finish bottom of the table in 1948/49 and be forced to apply for re-election to the Football League.

      After leaving Palace, Gaillard had a two-year spell at Portsmouth, before moving to Dorchester Town where injury forced him to retire at the age of 34. Feeling he had unfinished business in his adopted homeland, he took charge of the Dorchester side and led them for four years until 1964.

      When the elegant left-winger arrived in London scarcely older than a teenager, it was a town devastated by the blitz. Buildings lay damaged and dormant, and the country was plunged into economic distress; there was little hint of the cultural and societal progression to come.

      When he hung up his boots a few years later, he was could look around at the country he now called home and see an entirely different landscape: the Beatles, the World Cup winners of Bobby Charlton and Bobby Moore, and a sport beginning to look outwards to the world.

      Palace proudly represent one of the most diverse and multicultural communities in the country. It is clear that, 75 years on from first donning the famous white shirt, his legacy lives on.