Skip navigation
Crystal palace

      How 'pretty shy' Paul Hart masterminded Palace's 2010 survival bid


      You would suspect the most monumental of jobs demands the loudest of characters – but self-described ‘pretty shy’ Paul Hart, who celebrates his 71st birthday today, might just prove you wrong.

      It was in early March 2010 that the former Chesterfield, Barnsley and Rushden & Diamonds manager – among others – stepped into Palace’s managerial void just a day after the departure of Neil Warnock, with the club facing the looming prospect of relegation from the Championship.

      Such a result would likely have had devastating consequences for a club six weeks into administration but Hart – perhaps bolstered by similar experiences at Portsmouth the prior season – calmly set about his task.

      Supported by now-Sporting Director Dougie Freedman – who retired from playing at Southend United to take up the opportunity – and former Palace defender John Pemberton, Hart’s belief grew that a ten-point deduction could be overcome, and the club would survive.

      “We were in a tricky situation as I saw it,” Hart would later recall. “The players had been totally demoralised really with the demotion caused by the point deduction. I thought ‘crikey, how should we approach this?’

      “Once I’d been given the job, I met the players and meeting the players was the biggest convincer you could have – they were fantastic. From Minute One: proper men. They’d obviously been cruelly treated by this points deduction, but I was convinced very early on that we were in for a fight, and the people here were up for it.

      “The season before I’d helped keep Portsmouth up from a similar situation. We managed to get there with the same players, so I had a bit of experience of that sort of pressure of having to stay up – I wasn’t entirely new to it.”

      While Hart laughs that at first, he felt he hadn’t convinced former Palace Chief Executive Phil Alexander – “I’m not very good at interview situations, and I’m a pretty shy person… I think he came round eventually!” – the caretaker manager’s softly-spoken character helped rally the side in their cause.

      “We brought Dougie in and John Pemberton, two ex-players who were very important. John and Dougie knew the club inside out – Dougie especially, because he’d been quite close to it a short while before we were appointed.

      “I wouldn’t say this was a strength of mine, but when I came in, I listened. I listened to Dougie and I listened to the players, and I trusted everybody that was around me. They did a great job.”

      That season also saw Hart become the Palace manager with the honour of awarding Wilfried Zaha the first of his 458 appearances for the club, the winger debuting against Cardiff City a month into the caretaker manager's tenure.

      The manager smiled: “Yeah, that was based on Dougie. Dougie knew the players, and we didn’t have a massive selection of players to pick from, but he said we ought to give him [Zaha] a nibble.

      “I’ve never been shy – my record’s there in terms of putting young players in – and I listened to Dougie and said ‘yeah, we’ll give him a go’.

      "I hadn’t seen him play, I just trusted what he said – and I thought he was superb. For such a young boy, in a situation like that, his personality shone.”

      Quote Icons

      Whichever team I put out, I knew it wouldn’t be a problem. They were big men who delivered and great credit to them.

      Paul Hart

      Another, perhaps unlikelier, motivator for Hart and his players became The Proclaimers, more specifically their unique pre-match routine of belting 1988 hit I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) from the dressing room.

      Hart smiled: “I used to come in especially to hear it! I’d make sure I was in the dressing room to hear it, because it was just fantastic.

      “Every time, when they’d finish – and it was the senior players doing it, stomping away – I knew, whoever they were playing, I had no worries then. I looked in their eyes and they were absolutely phenomenal.

      “In the last game, when we played Sheffield Wednesday away, I said: ‘Keep the door open, and let ‘em hear this.’ It was fantastic – I loved it. I really loved it. I think I had a go once!”

      Much has since been written about Palace’s famous ‘Survival Sunday’ which arrived just over 14 years ago to this day - 2nd May, 2010 – the final game of the season in which the Eagles drew 2-2 at Sheffield Wednesday to retain their Championship status and, in doing so, condemn their opponents to relegation.

      Yet Hart, typically, was measured in his approach to the day: “By this time, I’d been there two-and-a-half months and I totally trusted the players. I absolutely had unbelievable trust in them.

      “Whichever team I put out, I knew it wouldn’t be a problem. They were big men who delivered and great credit to them – they were fantastic.

      “I think we should have won! We were by far the better team. For such a high-pressure game, I really enjoyed it. Everyone came up to the mark and delivered.”

      One of the greatest achievements of Hart’s career – and one of the biggest moments in Palace’s treasured history – and how did the caretaker manager celebrate?

      “I just said a few words after the game,” he smiled. “I think my son was there, and I think we just nipped off and had a drink – that was it.

      “I said goodbye to the lads – a big goodbye to the lads – because I thought the world of them. Unbelievably, for a manager-player relation, we became friends. I see them all over the place.

      “This club, if I just took away those friendships… but I know there’s a lot more to it. And everywhere I go, when people ask me about clubs I’ve loved being at, Crystal Palace is at the top of the list.

      “People don’t realise what sort of a club it is, about the people that work within it and about the supporters.

      “And at the time, the players that were around, it was just an absolute… considering we were under the cosh a bit, it was just a real pleasure to be there.”

      Sometimes the most monumental of jobs demands that ‘pretty shy’ character, after all.

      You can watch Palace TV mini-documentary 'The Story of Survival Sunday' below.