Sunday, 17 October 2010

Malcolm Allison

Sad news this weekend, which I've been dwelling on. Malcolm Allison has died at the age of 83.

Not much to do with betting, but regular readers of this blog will know that fate made me a fan of Crystal Palace Football Club. They were my local professional side, and when Bernard Ingham, later Sir Bernard Ingham, took me to my first match at Easter 1967 v Birmingham City along with his son John, from that moment I was hooked. For better, for worse, (ok, mostly worse), Crystal Palace was my team.

Malcolm Allison was appointed manager in March 1973, and while I had nothing against Bert Head who had served the club well taking 'us' up to the First Division for the first time in 'our' history in 1969, Mr Head was not exactly charismatic. Big Mal was, and his period in charge at the club gave me some of my best memories, even though those years were not exactly hugely successful on the field.

Far from it. It started off well, with Palace beating another London team for the first time in Division One (Chelsea 2-0) giving a young Jimmy Cannon his debut (he scored), but we were ultimately relegated a month after his appointment. But not to worry.

The next season saw the introduction of three-up / three-down, and Allison promised that we would not be in Division Two for long. He was true to his word.

With a new nickname (Glaziers was never that cool, But Eagles, taken from Benfica, was more like it) and new colours (although I'm a traditionalist preferring the old claret and blue) and the sash shirts, Palace started the new season with high hopes. A 1-4 loss to Notts County on opening day soon put paid to those.

We were relegated in 1974 too, (in the 'new' third relegation spot) after starting off the season without a win in, I think, 18 games before we won at Bristol City in November - after almost half the season had gone by! But it was exciting stuff as he had us playing entertaining football in front of big crowds, and we almost saved ourselves before a failure to win the last game at Cardiff put us down.

So we were back to the third level, where we will be again if we don't start to win some games this season, and after coming close to promotion in 1975, it was the 1975-76 season that was most memorable. We started off winning the first five league games, and looked to have promotion within reach before we started the FA Cup in November with a game against Walton and Hersham. Then came a trip to Millwall. I remember the event rather vividly, though not much of the game, as I went in the wrong end and watched the game in a rather uncomfortable manner. We won the replay, won at Scarborough in Round Three, and then drew Leeds away in the fourth round. Leeds at this time were of course one of, if not the, strongest sides in the country, but Third Division Palace went to Elland Road, and not only won, but outplayed the opposition.

On the Monday I placed my first ever football bet - £2 on Palace to win the Cup at 66/1 with Corals in Oxted. It nearly paid off. At some point, Malcolm Allison started wearing a lucky fedora, and he was wearing it in Round Five when we went to Chelsea and won 3-2 although again there some scary moments in the crowd, later highlighteed by Jimmy Hill on MOTD with a slow motion replay of a 'kung-fu' kick.

Before the game, Allison walked across the pitch in his fedora and sheepskin coat and raised three fingers to The Shed. And we won 3-2!

Quarter-Final day, and I was on one of four special trains for the trip to Sunderland, who were unbeaten at home all season, and we won 1-0 (amid more crowd trouble) and were into the semi-final.

In those days the draw was at noon on the Monday, and I listened at work hoping to avoid First Division Derby County and Manchester United, and be drawn with Southampton. My wish was granted, and Palace were actually favourites to win, but we played terribly at Stamford Bridge, losing 0-2 to two late goals, on Grand National day (Rag Trade won) and the dream was over, but I was a teenager at the time, and those vivid memories will stay with me forever. Well, until Alzheimer's kicks-in.

Palace were distracted by the Cup run, and missed out on promotion, and Allison left at the end of the season, to be replaced by Terry Venables who had gained some valuable experience as coach. Allison had also put in place a strong youth system, which saw Palace win the FA Youth Cup two consecutive years and the players formed the nucleus of the side that became known as the Team of the Eighties.

Well, that didn't quite pan out, but I have very fond memories of Malcolm Allison, and still have his autograph somewhere. It's probably valuable now! Great days, and a great coach. I think every Palace fan of a certain age can have nothing but fond memories from those days.

He drinks champagne and smokes cigars...

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