With the recent treatment of Mile Jedinak and his inevitable transfer to Aston Villa, the situation reminded me of how another legendary Palace captain had his career at Selhurst Park ended in a cold hearted brutal fashion leaving him humiliated.
Steve Coppell is regarded as a saint by most fans at Selhurst Park but there is a dark episode in his past, one which has largely been forgotten because of what he went on to achieve with us and that he came to our rescue in our time of need.
The incident I speak of is how Coppell got rid of then Palace centre back, captain and club legend, Jim Cannon in the summer of 1988.
Back then, in the time before the Bosman rule, a player who was out of contract could not simply sign for another club. The club retained the player’s registration and unless a fee was paid for the player with an expired contract, he was in limbo.
This quite often led to contract talks taking place in the last weeks of a season or once the season had ended. The club knew the player couldn’t sign for anyone else and the player knew to retain his registration the club had to still pay him his old contract.
In the summer of 1988, Jim Cannon was 34 and was expecting to be offered a new one year deal, as had happened the previous season. There seemed nothing untoward when the club failed to make an offer before the end of the season, it was more the case that the club would inform you before the last game that you would not be offered a new deal so and as Cannon had been at the club so long he went played his final game for Palace not at all expecting it to be his last.
However, a couple of weeks later Cannon was called into a meeting to be informed that he would not be offered a new contract and was released by the club.
As you can imagine this came as a big shock if for no other reason then he did not have the opportunity to say goodbye to the fans on the pitch. Something that not only Cannon had been denied but also the fans who felt he was the club having stuck with us through good times, bad times, good times again and diabolical times.
Jim Cannon was the captain, record appearance holder and was loyal to the end yet had his departure announced with a few lines in the national newspapers at the end of May just as the nation was preparing to focus on Euro 88. You can imagine how much space was devoted to it.
It was hardly the send off a legend deserved and the man who orchestrated it was Steve Coppell. Quietly spoken Steve Coppell, few think could do any wrong.
Looking back, Coppell had his reasons. When he took over the manager’s job in 1984 the club had not only Jim Cannon but also goalkeeper George Wood who Coppell’s predecessor, Alan Mullery, had signed from Arsenal the year before and centre back Gavin Nebbeling who had been with the club since 1980.
Coppell himself signed Micky Droy from Chelsea and between the four of them formed a vastly experienced defensive unit.
But this experience was the problem for Coppell because Cannon, Wood and Droy were all older than Coppell and he found it difficult to manage the senior pros at the club because they didn’t take kindly to being coached by someone who was younger than they were and whom they looked upon as their junior.
It was rumoured that the players ‘ran the dressing room’ and Coppell found it increasingly difficult to get his ideas across on the training ground.
At the time Palace had been building a young and exciting squad of black players featuring likes of Ian Wright, Mark Bright, Andy Gray and Tony Finnighan.
There was constant friction between the two groups such as Ian Wright’s liking for constantly nutmeging one of the senior players in particular leading to ‘fisticuffs’.
On another occasion while at a hotel the night before an away game one of the senior players burst into the room where three of the black players were playing music loudly wearing just his underpants, telling them to “turn that fucking ni*ger music down!”
Coppell was having his authority undermined and with the increasing friction between the two groups there was a choice to be made.
This choice was forced home when in 1987 Andy Gray forced a move to Graham Taylor’s Aston Villa. At the time many thought it was about money but I heard at the time it was because he was unhappy with the atmosphere inside the club between the two groups of players and he didn’t see a way forward.
There was one game at Selhurst where we lost, it was a shocking performance and during the game I noticed that the defence seemed to be quite angry with the lack of effort from the front two in helping out in defence.
During those years I knew a couple of the Palace squad well enough to have private chats with them. One such occasion was after this game where I was waiting for a train at Selhurst Station when Ken O’Doherty appeared.
The game had ended just 20 minutes earlier and he’d been playing right back so I went to say hello and asked how he managed to escape from the dressing room so soon. He basically said it was kicking off in there so he left without showering.
At this time Micky Droy had already left to join Brentford in the autumn of 1986 and he was not seen as the main problem in the group but it would take until January 1988 for George Wood to leave after a couple of goalkeeping howlers.
In particular was a howler at Leicester where he came charging out of his area on the right wing and passed the ball directly to a Leicester player who scored from 40 yards out. Ken O’Doherty was playing that day and the two blamed each other for the goal. Wood never played for Palace again.
In light of this what happened 5 months later should not have come as a shock to Cannon. What certainly did come as a shock to him and all of us was the callous manner in which it happened.
To tell a club legend and loyal servant of the club after more than 15 years service that he will not get a new contract after the season had ended is unforgivable. Think of the fuss that surrounded John Terry at the end of last season. As much as I dislike Terry I thought how Chelsea handled that situation was appalling.
So Cannon was moved out, quietly, in the close season to give fans time to calm down and to avoid any potential problems.
So, what does this have to do with Jedinak’s departure and complaints about how senior players have been treated?
Well, in the summer of 1987 Crystal Palace signed a player called Alan Pardew from Yeovil Town. Pardew was witness first hand to what Coppell did and the reasons why he felt he had to do it during that year that saw George Wood and Jim Cannon depart the club.
I have to say at this point that the fans were glad to see the back of Wood who, had been a liability in the Palace goal for some time. He’d quite often blame other people for his mistakes and it was probably his friendship with fellow Scot Cannon that helped deflect some of the flack.
Pardew has said many times that Coppell is his managerial mentor so it does not surprise me at all that Pardew has treated our senior players, club legends if you like, in this callous way. I guess he feels he has to sweep out players with old attitudes from the Championship. Players who we, the fans, feel are mainstays of the team and inflict his will.
But much like Coppell, he could have done it in a way more befitting their status with us but I guess, like Coppell, Pardew wants to show the players who’s boss.
All in all in 1988 and in 2016 the situations stink and I am ashamed they are associated to my club.
For younger readers:
- Jim Cannon was an excellent centre back who could bring the ball out of defence, turn a forward before passing the ball 50 yards to the-correct-player.
- Quite often he’d come out of defence and do a 1-2 with someone before charging up the field to have a shot or get on the end of a cross. He was like John Stones, only better!
- In his final season, Cannon played 43 times. Not really the stat of a player unworthy of a new contract. He scored in every season that he played including the ‘scissor kick’ goal from the edge of the area against Ipswich in 1979 that put us top of the league.
- I can say, as someone who saw his final 6 seasons first hand that he never let the team down or was being carried by other players, requiring to be put out of his misery. He deserved a new contract or leave in a fitting way.
- In his final 3 seasons we finished 5th, 6th and 6th. He wanted one final season which, had he got, would have led to him retiring having led us back to the top division. A fitting farewell but instead he was treated like dirt. For all Coppell has done to add to his Crystal Palace legacy, this episode has taken as much away from it.
- In a 1982 edition of Shoot magazine Cannon was once asked “Who would you most like to meet?” and he replied “Jock Stein in a dark alley!”
- Who remembers singing “When Jim goes up to lift the FA Cup we’ll be dead, we’ll be dead!”
Jim Cannon’s complete league statistics.