In 2001, he was promised a ‘job for life’ as an iconic former player and fire-fighting manager, and he remains at the heart of Palace fans far and wide for his achievements in both roles.
As he revealed in this interview from 2021, it was quite the journey for Kember from player to memorable manager – these is his stories, in his own words...
Crystal Palace was my first love. After graduating from the Academy as a Croydon boy and having two spells in the first-team, I only spent eight years away from south London in my entire career, which spanned 16 years as a professional player and almost 40 in other roles.
When Palace invited me to coach in the youth team after a season in Canada, I knew my playing days were over and I’d opened another chapter at my boyhood club. That chapter began in 1981. Some time in November, results weren’t going too well and Palace were in the bottom three, facing consecutive relegations. I got a call from Ron Noades, who said he wanted me to take over on a caretaker basis. I didn’t know it then, but that would be the first of four times a Palace Chairman would ask me that.
We did quite well: getting ourselves out of the relegation battle, finishing halfway up the league and enjoying a good run in the FA Cup. QPR’s poxy plastic pitch undid us in the quarter-finals, but I fancied us for the semis if we’d made it through.
Ron gave me a full manager’s contract near the end of the season, but I made the mistake of not signing it immediately. I was ‘Trustworthy Steve’ in those days and there were a couple of things I wanted to address first. I went to Greece on holiday with Alan Birchenall, and spent the time convincing him to come and be my assistant manager, assuming my contract would be waiting when I came back.
By the end of the holiday, Birch said he’d join as my assistant: two former players leading the club from the dugout. On the last night in Greece, my phone went off at one in the morning and it was my ex- brother-in-law, Jimmy. The news was in the Evening Standard: I’d been sacked.
The next morning, I turned to Birch and said: ‘You know that job you had? Well, you haven’t got one - I’ve been sacked!’