Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Villa Park 1990, our defining moment

Kenny Dalglish’s face was a picture of disbelief as Mark Bright reached for the sky in a bursting leap of unbridled joy. As Palace fans danced ecstatically in the stand behind the dugout, John Motson summed it up: ‘What a dramatic start to the second half… and Liverpool are stunned!’

As the Palace v Liverpool 1990 FA Cup semi-final rematch approaches, Palace fans have been reminiscing about that fantastic day once again in the BBS memory lane section.

I doubt whether anyone who witnessed that match will ever tire of reliving the atmosphere and emotion of it. The tv and video re-runs with that quote-filled commentary have been recalled so many times it’s like an old friend we love to meet up with from time to time. We never weary of hearing the stories and the quotations, recalling the fantastic highs and the terrible lows. It’s a tale that twists and turns and still leaves you wondering what else might have happened, even though as with all the best fairy tales we watch with the certain knowledge that there will be a happy ending.

I think I kicked every ball that day, made every run, anticipated every move, dived for every save. And I did it all while singing every song at maximum volume. Even for those born long after the event it becomes a part of what being a Palace fan is about, it has become central to who we are, our history. There have been many great days since, but nothing yet to improve on it.

Seventeen years later, I can still recall it all in an instant, I can recite large chunks of the tv commentary thanks to the video recording that I must have watched a hundred times or more. I don't think any other match could have taken us through so many emotions in such a short space of time… fear, hope, pride, passion, love, hate, joy, despair, agony, ecstasy and at the end just sheer exhaustion. Every time you watch it is like watching it for the first time and you just wonder how John Pemberton managed that incredible run and cross and what would have happened if he’d just knocked it safely sideways.

It still seems scarcely believable how close we came to defeat, as the ball popped up invitingly for Andy Gray to head home we had just three more minutes to save ourselves. Then, and this one often gets overlooked, we could have won it with Andy Thorn’s header that crashed against the bar. Sometimes I think that would have made for a better ending, the dramatic, final blow rather than the weary plod through extra time and Alan Pardew’s header out of nowhere. But no, leave it as it is, it’s perfect.

There are so many moments to recall that it's difficult to pick out just one, everyone has there own, although my signature on the BBS for years now has been a tribute to the total disbelief in John Motson's voice after Gary O'Reilly put us ahead for the first time: 'And Palace… are they in front? Yes, they are!'

To get you in the mood for the re-match, here’s the tale told in verse by John J O’Connor.

Selhurst Park, March 20, 2007. Geoff Thomas needs you.


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