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CRYSTAL PALACE BROKE MY HEART! (Published in the Official Liverpool FC Monthly Magazine)

Updated: Mar 27, 2020


This month the Reds welcome the Eagles to Anfield for a fixture with a history of drama and intrigue – for players, fans and even matchday mascots!

Despite the last five encounters resulting in Liverpool victories over Crystal Palace, echoes of the visiting fans’ chorus of “You must be sick of us!” at Anfield from back in 2015 and 2017 are still quite fresh in the memory when the Eagles travel to L4.

Palace are said to have the strongest recent claim to being Liverpool’s ‘bogey team’, but how true is this? I have my own personal perspective which goes like this…

Walking up the steps of the old Main Stand player’s tunnel and running onto the hallowed Anfield pitch for the very first time, was a moment I knew I’d never forget. Sami Hyypiä shouted, “Peter!”

I turned as he played a pass to me. I was through on goal, Kop end with a gaping net. I shot and the ball rolled slowly toward the goal for an eternity before gently running into the side-netting on its way in. The Kop cheered in celebration.

That was it, I’d achieved my dream, I’d scored in front of the Kop in a full stadium at the tender age of eight. The only downside was that, other than a missed penalty during a pre-season training session on the pitch in 2013, this is the closest I will ever come to scoring for Liverpool.

It was February 2003 and I was the matchday mascot as the Reds lost 2-0 to Crystal Palace in a fourth-round FA Cup replay.

My mum had sent a letter to the club requesting that I could be selected. I was the lucky one whose name was drawn out of a hat. The whole day was a magical experience, from meeting then manager Gérard Houllier in his office pre-match, to ‘scoring’ the goal assisted by Hyypiä, to enjoying a passing drill with Bruno Cheyrou and John Arne Riise in the warm-up. Everything except the result.

I still remember the huge juxtaposition of being among my heroes Emile Heskey and Michael Owen, meeting my dad’s idols and club legends Phil Neal and Alan Kennedy in the hospitality lounge and being able to run on that pitch.

Compare that to the dejection at the end. I was still young and perhaps unappreciative of the magnitude of the disappointment that surrounded that result, but you could see it on the players’ faces.

I remember Didi Hamann, cheese butty in hand, forcing a smile as he made his way through the players’ lounge. Danny Murphy and Owen were silent, Hyypiä similarly forced a generous smile as he fulfilled his duty of being the captain on the day.

Unfortunately for all Liverpool supporters, he had assisted the only goal Liverpool fans would celebrate that night.

It was the happiest moment of my life. But for them, it was a day they wanted to forget. Only now, looking back at this experience, can I fully appreciate the responsibility that the players have on their shoulders.

It’s not just, as some may presume, 90 minutes and then a fancy car-ride home. They must represent the club together and fulfil duties, such as entering the players lounge and posing for pictures with an enchanted eight-year-old mascot. This despite being embarrassed less than an hour earlier in front of 35,000 people and the waiting media who were baying for an upset, which they ultimately received.

Liverpool had just been humbled by a side from the division below, who were down to ten men for the final 20 minutes of the game.

This being the replay, following a goalless draw at Selhurst Park, it provided the Reds with a second chance, this time at home, to avoid a cup banana-skin two seasons after winning the trophy in the famous treble campaign of 2001.

However, Houllier’s side were unable to break down the staunch Palace back-line despite a plethora of shots from Liverpool’s off-the-boil attack. Ultimately a Stéphane Henchoz own-goal and Julian Gray volley meant a 2-0 defeat.

That was 17 years ago, and the Eagles have beaten Liverpool on six more occasions since that day, three of them at Anfield. This is a side that in their 114-year existence has never finished a league season above Liverpool, and in the 54 competitive matches between the two, Palace have won a modest 14. But many Reds fans still look for Palace on the fixture-list with a degree of apprehension.

Just over four years ago, Jürgen Klopp was a mere seven games into his reign at Anfield before the arrival of a Palace team with Alan Pardew at the helm. Klopp was still unbeaten and presented with an early opportunity to dispel the bogey team perception.

The Eagles had won both the previous two meetings. The most recent had been in May 2014, which soon became known as ‘Crystanbul’, a fixture no Liverpool fan needs reminding of.

In the next meeting, in November 2014, the Eagles went on to win 3-1 at Selhurst Park, securing Liverpool’s worst league start since 1992. The return fixture that season was Steven Gerrard’s last-ever game at Anfield. Palace again won 3-1 and completed their first league double over the Reds.

Whether Klopp was armed with the fixture’s recent history or not, the Anfield faithful were more than aware of the danger that Crystal Palace possessed. The Eagles won again, a late Scott Dann winner enough to make Klopp comment after the game: “After 82 minutes I saw so many people leave the stadium. I felt pretty alone at that moment.

“We decide when it is over. Between 82 and 94 minutes you can score eight goals if you want but you have to work for it.”

The boss was certainly right as his tenure has been brimming with late goals and comebacks ever since. Nevertheless at the time this was a manager just weeks into his new job and memories of previous meetings may have played on the minds of players and supporters alike.

It’s an angle that the media picked up on. The Liverpool Echo stated: “Having stormed Stamford Bridge [the Reds had won 3-1 at Chelsea] and then ended a three-year wait for a win on their travels in Europe [winning 1-0 at Rubin Kazan], ridding Palace of their bogey-team tag proved beyond Jürgen Klopp.”

The Evening Standard reported: “Palace were no doubt encouraged by the fact they were viewed as Liverpool’s bogey side, at the back of their mind that 3-3 draw from 3-0 late in the season that Brendan Rodgers almost won the title.”

And the BBC added: “Palace are quickly becoming Liverpool’s bogey team, inflicting damaging results on the Reds over the past three seasons.”

Truth be told, before the notorious 3-3 draw, Palace had only won three of the last fifteen encounters with the Reds. The Eagles were simply enjoying a purple patch against a Liverpool side very much in transition from the end of the Rodgers reign into the new Klopp dynasty.

It was a similar context in the early 1990s. Liverpool had famously humbled Palace 9-0 in September 1989, the first time they had ever scored nine in a top-flight game and a club-feat that has not been repeated since.

Seven months later, of course, Pardew’s Palace shocked the football world with a 4-3 FA Cup semi-final victory at Villa Park. If this wasn’t enough to view them as a bogey team, it paved the way for another period of notable success for the South Londoners.

Between the 9-0 and a meeting between the two sides in December 1992, Liverpool and Palace played each other eight times in just over three years with Liverpool winning only three times. Palace’s recovery from the joint-biggest defeat of their history was undoubtedly praiseworthy.

The game in late 1992 resulted in a 2-1 extra-time victory for Palace in a League Cup fourth-round replay, just as it would when I’d be the matchday mascot eleven years later, but this time at Selhurst Park.

Palace defender Andy Thorn was just that in Liverpool’s side as he scored the winner that prompted The Guardian to comment: “Liverpool may well go to their graves with Crystal Palace written on their hearts. Last night a Palace team apparently weakened beyond the point of all reasonable expectation still managed to remove Graeme Souness’ side from the Coca-Cola Cup.”

It was perhaps the most damaging defeat for Liverpool in the history of this fixture to date. The Reds subsequently lost FA Cup replays to Bolton Wanderers then Bristol City and Souness would resign in January 1994.

That was then and this is now, and Liverpool are a very different animal indeed. Even so, who remembers last season’s Premier League fixture at Anfield, on Saturday 19 January 2019?

It ended in a 4-3 victory for the Reds but only after the hosts trailed 1-0 after half-time. Despite dominating possession Liverpool fell behind after Andros Townsend slotted home from Wilfred Zaha’s cut-back from the byline.

Mo Salah equalised within a minute of the restart and Bobby Firmino put the Reds in front with the club’s 1,000th Premier League goal at Anfield. But the nerves jangled again when Palace centre-back James Tomkins headed home from a corner to make it 2-2.

Salah struck again with his 50th Premier League goal – and 48th for the Reds – after Palace keeper Julian Speroni failed to deal with a James Milner cross. Milner was then sent off by his former schoolteacher Jon Moss following a second bookable offence before Sadio Mane became the first Liverpool player to score in four consecutive games against Palace to make it 4-2 in added-time.

Even then, Palace sub Max Meyer stroked home a third goal for the visitors to make for an anxious final minute.

Liverpool v Crystal Palace, as it stands, takes place on Saturday 21 March 2020. A Reds win is what we all dearly hope for, but don’t be too surprised if it isn’t quite as straightforward as normal!

Words: Peter Kenny Jones

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