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      'Zaha, OH YES' - the story of an iconic commentary moment


      ‘Zaha – OH YES!’ There can’t be many more iconic lines of commentary in Palace’s modern day history - and this one took place exactly 11 years ago today (13 May).

      The Eagles, a short time after emerging from administration, had been put on the brink of a place in the Premier League promised land by a precociously talented 21-year-old who grew up a stone’s throw from the Holmesdale Road End.

      Bill Leslie was behind the mic on that occasion, and remembers the tie fondly. To understand the significance of that 2-0 play-offs victory, Leslie takes us back to the first-leg: “Thinking back to the semi-finals, Brighton were the overwhelming favourites going into it, particularly after the goalless draw at Selhurst Park in the first leg. Everyone expected a fairly routine Brighton win.

      “I think it was just a couple months earlier they played in the league and Brighton had won pretty comfortably. I seem to remember the lie of the land was that getting that goalless draw in the first-leg Brighton almost had a free pass.”

      The significance of manager Ian Holloway’s impact cannot be downplayed either, with Leslie saying certain events pre-match “served to fire [him] up and it actually had a big bearing on the game in the end, because Palace had even more of a siege mentality."

      In typical Palace fashion, coming into the game as underdogs simply spurred them on: “I seem to remember Brighton hit the crossbar, they had a few good chances and then when Zaha got the first goal, you thought: ‘Here we go, this is actually going to happen – the underdog is going to have its day.’

      “For all the good football [Brighton] played that season under Gus Poyet, I don’t think they were very good at coming from behind. So once the first goal went in you thought: ‘Oh it really is in Palace’s favour.’ The second goal – that’s sort of the moment with the timing of it, the nature of it, you just think that’s that.”

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      When Zaha got the first goal, you thought: ‘Here we go, this is actually going to happen – the underdog is going to have its day.’

      Bill Leslie

      The first goal paved the way for Zaha to etch his way into the folklore of the club with the second goal – giving us the ‘Zaha, oh yes!’ moment. “When he struck that second one, the feeling I had, which I’m sure every Palace fan had, was that that was the moment he’d taken care of business. So the ‘oh yes!’ just reflected: tick that box - ‘great goal,’ tick that box - ‘through to Wembley,’ tick that box - ‘main man standing up and doing the job.’”

      The Eagles progressed through to the final to face Watford, which Leslie also commentated on: “After the semi-final, I did the final as well and although it wasn’t a great game, Palace did exactly what they had to do because Watford again were the favourites, the flair team.

      “But the way that Palace played: they played the game not the occasion. Watford froze and it was a lovely moment when Kevin Phillips got that penalty and it was another turning point in Palace’s history.”

      Reaching the play-off final was the culmination of Palace’s three-year resurgence. More recently, Leslie has been involved in further Palace matches that live long in the memory, such as the 2-1 smash-and-grab against Brighton in February, 2021.

      “I think that would go right up there with the most extraordinary games that I’ve done recently, certainly involving Crystal Palace, because it was impossible that they didn’t lose that game. It was even more impossible that they actually won it, and it summed up in one night why we all love football, because the most extraordinary story unfolded that no one watching could have foreseen.”

      Both the last-minute and play-off victory took place at the American Express Community Stadium, however Leslie is no stranger to Selhurst Park either: “Selhurst Park, like all the Premier League grounds, is a lot better than it was in terms of scrambling up ladders and getting up onto the gantry.

      “There are stairs rather than ladders, because of the growth of the Premier League as an international brand you have more interest and you need to accommodate more broadcasters. It’s all pretty good, the view’s pretty good. When the fans are in, it’s still one of the most lively and most enjoyable atmospheres”

      With matches happening on an almost daily basis, the intricacies and work that goes into commentary are often overlooked. It could even be considered an art form for commentators to go from one game to another and deliver a consistent performance.

      “There are ways that people do it that are different so to that extent you can say that there’s creativity within it, but ultimately everyone’s after the same thing which is, on radio: find the right words to describe what you’re seeing, and television: to find the right words that make the picture better.

      “Is it an art form? If you have a painting on the wall, some people are going to think it’s amazing, some people are going to hate it, some people are going to say it’s done really badly. Everyone will have a view on it, because of the very nature of art and I guess that it’s an art form in a respect that there is no perfect commentary.”

      You can be sure that, after that night on the south coast, a number of Palace fans may disagree.