It seems like only yesterday – but actuality it was in 1977 – that a teenage Hilaire watched the Crystal Palace first-team prepare for the weekend with envy. He knew his time would come, but as the senior players boarded the coach for Lincoln City, he was, once again, watching from afar. Then, Terry Venables approached him, and his life changed.
“I was just 17-years-old, and was told by Terry Venables that one of the lads had fallen ill,” Hilaire remembered years later. “Not for one minute did I think I would get in the 12 selected, but as we were a bit short of attacking options, I was put on the bench.
“We were losing the game and assistant manager Alan Harris kept prompting Terry, saying: ‘Get him on, what have we got to lose?’ I wasn’t quite sure how to take that!
“I prefer to think that he thought I might turn the game for us, as opposed to being the only option. It was a special moment.”
Hilaire was introduced with 15 minutes remaining, but couldn’t prevent Palace from slipping to a 3-2 defeat. Nonetheless, it was the starting point for one of south London’s great cult heroes.
Back in the 1970s, the separation between players and fans was virtually imperceptible. Goalscorers would leave the stadium and head to the local bar to discuss the 90 minutes.