Most fans seem to fear relegation from the Premier League but would it be such a bad thing? It certainly wouldn’t be the end of the world.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want a trip back down to the Championship but a year back there might be good for us on many different levels.
As the saying goes, one person sees a disaster while another sees an opportunity.
Crystal Palace has never survived more than four seasons in a row at the top of English football and this season could once again see us drop down a division in our fourth year.
But is relegation the disaster it is made out to be? Is our perception of relegation outdated? Is it better to struggle for years on end or have a promotion, three years of mediocrity, a relegation and repeat?
Sometimes, much like in war, you have to retreat and regroup before coming back stronger to fight the good fight. It worked for us at Dunkirk so maybe a retreat isn’t such a bad thing.
Relegation is only as bad as the club makes it.
Some clubs get relegated and face ‘asset stripping’ whereby the best players are picked off and they are not replaced correctly then disaster happens.
This was usually the case before the Premier League and the ‘parachute payment’ scheme was introduced, designed to help prevent this from happening.
Also, back in the old days, some chairmen sold the best players to squirrel the money off into their own accounts. People complain about multi-national companies making profits from owning clubs today but was it really so different before when it was a friendly local business man fleecing the cub dry?
So, how did it go the previous times we were relegated? Let’s start with our first.
The first time we gained promotion to the top tier was in 1969 when we finished 2nd to Derby County in the old Second Division.
We spent four years in top flight, between 1969-1973. During that time we finish 20th, 18th, 20th and 21st. During our time in the top flight there were 22 teams in the division, the bottom two were relegated.
This period is important for a number of reasons. The 1969-70 season was our first ever season in the top flight, it saw the Arthur Wait Stand open but, more importantly, it was the season I was conceived in and subsequently was born in.
Four years on, our relegation season was notable because we beat Manchester United 5-0 at Selhurst Park. After the game my brother was walking down Park Road on his way home and was ‘thrown’ under a police horse by some United fans. We lived on Huntley Road at the time and he was on his way home from a friend’s house. To this day he doesn’t like football.
After we succumb to the inevitable we did what has become quite popular to do, a double drop after finishing 20th in the Second Division. We hit the Third Division and finished 5th in two successive seasons.
The interesting thing about the period from March 1973 until May 1976 is that we suffered relegation twice and failed to gain promotion twice, all with the same manager. Malcolm Allison.
Some might say that ‘Big Mal’ could do little to stop us being relegated from the First Division. He was appointed on 30th March with 8 games remaining. We won the first, a 2-0 home victory over Chelsea that saw a certain Jim Cannon make his debut by scoring the second goal.
The next 5 games saw us lose four and draw one. The penultimate game of the season was away at Norwich City, the only team we could catch. Norwich were two points ahead of us so a victory for them would see them safe. They won 2-1.
The final game of the season was at home to Manchester City which we won 3-2. As Norwich lost it meant we were relegated by two points (it was 2 points for a win in those days) and we had a better goal difference of 10 goals.
Could you imagine a club sticking with a manager after that run-in to a season followed by another relegation? I doubt in today’s game Big Mal would have seen the following season out that saw us relegated to the Third Division and would have been lucky to have started it at all!
The fact is Big Mal had charisma, attracted publicity and media interest to the club. He re-branded the club, changing the colours to red and blue stripes, gave us a new badge and new nickname.
Big Mal’s idea was that the badge was a phoenix rising from the ruins of the Crystal Palace, just like we’d rise to the top division again. He wanted the nickname to be ‘The Crystals’ replacing The Glaziers. However, like with most things, the public made their own choice and thought the phoenix looked like an eagle and the rest, as they say, is history.
In the summer of 1976 Big Mal left and his assistant, Terry Venables was appointed. Palace finished 3rd in the Third Division followed by a 9th place finish in the Second Division and then winning promotion back to the top tier in 1979.
I was too young to remember this period of the club so the only thing I can say for certain is that had Malcolm Allison not been appointed manager then Jim Cannon wouldn’t be the legend he is today. Maybe another manager would have given him his debut the following season, who knows?
The double dip relegation enabled us to ‘blood’ the crop of youngsters that went on to be the 1979 promotion team. That team provided us with one of the stand out matches in our history, our record crowd, pipping Brighton to the Second Division title and stoked up the rivalry.
Being relegated enabled us to re-brand and re-imagine Crystal Palace, shaking off the ‘homely’ image to make us a modern and more dynamic club.
So on this occasion I think relegation was a good thing, in hindsight. Without it we probably wouldn’t have had the Team of the Eighties or that match verses Burnley!
Next time: 1979-1981