Crystal Palace have been breaking records for all the wrong reasons this season. When they lost at home to Southampton in September, they became the first Premier League side ever to lose their first five matches of the season without scoring a goal.
Palace continued to break that record until October 14th when they beat reigning champions Chelsea 2-1. Something seemed to have changed, and not just the fact that talisman Wilfried Zaha had returned from injury. Something intangible. The spirit was back. Optimism was in the air at Selhurst Park. Alas, it was a false dawn, and the following weekend the Eagles’ wings were clipped as they suffered another defeat to nil away at Newcastle.
Palace are already on their second manager of the season after Frank de Boer’s attempt to revolutionise the team’s playing style failed and the board turned to former England boss Roy Hodgson to save their season, cutting de Boer’s spell short after just 85 days in charge.
The team are yet to show a significant improvement despite the win against Chelsea. Tuesday night’s 4-1 defeat to Bristol City at Ashton Gate only made matters worse. The 2,000 travelling fans voiced their dissatisfaction with a repertoire of self-deprecating chants. Palace defender Pape Souaré made a gesture of solidarity of the fans by throwing his shirt into the crowd, but so disgusted was one fan that it was thrown straight back. The frustration is understandable but of all the players to be held responsible for recent form, the Senegalese is surely the least culpable, having just returned from a long-term injury after a car crash in September 2016.
It is a cliché to say that supporting a football team is an emotional rollercoaster but there are few teams where it is more applicable than Crystal Palace. It is a recurring theme that Palace start badly and rescue themselves from relegation just in time. Even in the promotion season of 2012/13, they started poorly but climbed 20 places to 3rd by early November, despite fan favourite manager Dougie Freedman leaving for Bolton in October. The man to take the reins was Ian Holloway. He lead the team to promotion via the play-offs but then left by mutual consent exactly a year to the day since Freedman left.
Since promotion in 2013, the South London club have had seven different permanent managers with Keith Millen being appointed interim manager on three separate occasions. Watford are the only Premier League team to have had more permanent managers in the same time frame, although more thorough long-term planning at board level has allowed the Hornets to continuously progress despite their high turnover of managers.
The 13/14 season saw Tony Pulis take Palace from rock bottom to 11th with a squad cobbled together in the summer of 2013, when the Palace board approached the transfer window with a scattergun approach, picking up anyone they could who had a smidgeon of Premier League experience. Due to disagreements with Chairman Steve Parish, Pulis departed the club on the eve of the 14/15 season, leaving Palace with no option but to rehire Neil Warnock for his second spell in charge at the club. Warnock was handed the cruelest of Christmas presents as he was sacked on Boxing Day, with Palace struggling in 18th. that season’s saviour was to be Alan Pardew, former Crystal Palace player and local lad. Palace bought Pardew out of his 6 year Newcastle contract but it seemed like it would pay dividends as he lead them to a record 10th place Premier League finish.
That form continued into the 15/16 season, following a summer which saw Yohan Cabaye join the South Londoners from Paris Saint-Germain. Palace were 5th on the turn of the year, it seemed that Pardew could do no wrong. Although of course, he could, and the second half of the season saw Palace’s form nosedive with Pardew’s post saved by an FA Cup run ending in defeat at Wembley to Manchester United. Palace and Pardew both survived but there were increasingly loud murmurs around the club that Pardew had ridden his luck for too long and it was time for another change. I’m sure by now you can guess what happened next.
Palace’s form in the 16/17 season was well below par, forcing Parish to take action and sack Alan Pardew and bring in Sam Allardyce, the Premier League’s most notorious firefighter. After a slow start, Palace fought their way to survival with the help of an outlandish shopping spree in January, most notably bringing in Mamadou Sakho on loan from Liverpool, who helped Palace pick up vital victories against Arsenal and Chelsea.
Everyone at the club was praying for a period of stability, maybe for a manager to last an entire year, and a comfortably boring season without the annual panic. How naïve. Allardyce retired after keeping Palace up with his reputation intact after the England debacle and Palace were once again managerless. So why can’t Palace ever seem to get it right, what is it that means every year is a dogfight? I spoke to London-based football journalist Mark Ritson to find out.
Words: Reuben Pinder | Subbing: Étienne Fermie