THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

icon palaceleavemedThe club have reached the Premier League just a few years after nearly going out of business

Crystal Palace's first meaningful success in nearly a decade feels like the closing of a dark chapter. Despite all the financial hype that surrounds the play-offs, what we most wanted was a celebration that, for once, didn’t involve some form of last-gasp escape. To be promoted just three years after being saved from liquidation is a remarkable achievement, particularly on a limited budget.

Palace were the season's surprise package, thanks to the exuberant attacking of Wilfried Zaha, Yannick Bolasie and 30-goal striker Glenn Murray. Behind them, Mile Jedinak proved an outstanding leader, helping protect a somewhat makeshift defence in which Damien Delaney and Peter Ramage, who nobody else seemed to want, gave their all while contributing almost as much to the outstanding off the field spirit.

After a ropey start, by autumn Palace were playing their best football in years. But the team were barely into their stride before manager Dougie Freedman, so often the hero, departed for Bolton. Even now it's difficult to understand why. As co-chairman Steve Parish said: "We thought we were all on the same page."

Enter Ian Holloway, with his commitment to attack. Initially the transition was seamless; Palace went briefly top before injuries began to expose the squad's lack of depth. With the club also contending with the mesmerising Zaha's England call-up and big-money move to Manchester United, form and confidence sagged and we entered the play-offs in anxious style. At that point, Holloway came into his own, using all his experience to outfox our over-confident arch-rivals Brighton and then dominate a talented Watford team at Wembley.

Unsurprisingly, many Palace fans have reservations about the Premier League. Our last two visits led to catastrophes that almost destroyed the club and, as one weary fan reflected during the post-match wait for trains back from Wembley Park: "You just hand in your soul and collect it again in nine months' time."

We're under no illusion that the proceeds of one season's worth of soul-selling can entirely cover for 40 years of non-investment, but promotion will accelerate plans to rebuild Selhurst Park. With Zaha gone and Murray ruled out until after Christmas, it will have to be balanced against Holloway's need to strengthen but this time there's justifiable faith in the guys in charge to make decisions in the best interests of the club.

In direct contrast to the dictatorial days of Ron Noades and Simon Jordan, Palace's care for their supporters is now second to none. Board and fans openly converse on the internet and many supporters lend their professional expertise to help the club progress commercially. The kits are the work of a top fashion designer, the DVDs made by Eagles-supporting TV producers and the new badge developed by young graphic designers, there's even a Palace real ale brewed by actor Neil Morrissey.

While many cast envious glances at the atmosphere in German grounds, Palace fans with the support of the club are nurturing their own alternative to English football's drab corporatism. As we left Wembley, a steward told us "you were louder than Borussia Dortmund". And that really made our season. Tony Matthews

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