Through Gritted Teeth #18: Crystal Palace, 1990

June 9, 2011 § 2 Comments

Action shot: Crystal Palace vs. Liverpool, 1990

by Dave Hartrick

Fellow Brighton fans please forgive me; it was a moment of weakness in mitigating circumstances. Allow me to explain …

1990 was a difficult year for a young me. Faced with a permanent move from Brighton to Huddersfield at the end of the school year, everything seemed to be changing. Not only was I being ripped from my comfortable Hove-centric world but my eldest brother was going away to university, my dad was away all week at his new job in Yorkshire and I had a hair where I’d never had a hair before. All in all, I was pretty damn miserable about things.

Apart from the hair — that I liked. I called him Lord Nicholas Tanglebuzz. I was a very lonely child at times. With a big imagination.

My escape was and always had been football, my life in Brighton now felt temporary but the game was my constant. I quite literally and to the consternation of my mum consumed all I could — my life revolved around new issues of Shoot, Match, Roy of the Rovers and Hotshot. My walls were covered with posters of various footballers (including Carlton Palmer — what was I thinking?) and the obligatory League Ladders were kept fastidiously up to date, no small task over four English leagues and two Scottish.

In short, if the game had been crack, I was mid-1990’s Charlie Sheen (but with fewer hookers #winning).

Elton Welsby. Looking good.This was how you fed your addiction. Live football was not mainlined into your veins like it is today. In 1990 my televised football fixes came from snatched highlights on videoed episodes of Grandstand (on way past my bedtime on a Wednesday night), the odd live game on ‘The Big Match’ presented by Elton Welsby — one of the only men I’ve ever seen who could carry off a pinstripe jacket — and FA Cup Match of the Day. And so we come to FA Cup semi-final weekend and in particular, Crystal Palace vs Liverpool.

At school I was a loner, a Brighton fan in a field of reds. I was in a sea of Liverpool fans wherever I looked, when we played in the yard it was always a scramble over who got to be Peter Beardsley, John Barnes or Ian Rush.

No one was fighting me for the chance to be John Crumplin.

At the time, this gave me a passionate hatred of Liverpool, mainly because they were just so good. I’d spent my school years watching them lift title after title, win FA Cups and sign players that I loved and was now forced to dislike. They frustrated, annoyed and depressed me far more than say … a team like Crystal Palace ever could.

Now I was aware of what I’ll sportingly call a rivalry with Palace from Brighton fans but not ‘aware’ of the rivalry with Palace. The football world didn’t contain hatred for me at this stage other than my personal feelings. Believe me, now I fully understand but at the time, I just disliked them less than I disliked Liverpool. Live at the weekend would be both semis, Oldham would play Man United and using the same power of reasoning, I wanted United to win by virtue of the fact it would wind up the Liverpool fans more.

It was going to be an orgy of televised football — two whole live games — and I was going to have a front row seat for both. Sunday 8th April 1990 would go down in history as one of the greatest weekends in FA Cup history, 13 goals across two breathless matches. The biggest shock was Crystal Palace beating Liverpool 4-3, a team that had beaten them 9-0 earlier in the season, and I went to bed on the Sunday night with an unusual feeling — I couldn’t wait to get to school the following morning.

I spent a joyous week lording it over my Liverpool supporting mates. I was threatened, insulted and had several tennis balls thrown in my direction but I just didn’t care — good had triumphed over evil. I walked with a confidence that allowed me to kiss the gorgeous Tamsin Calder-Brown. I played for the school team and buzzed through the game and scored a hat-trick. Two days after the semi-final it was my birthday and I got what I wanted: ‘101 Great Goals’ on video and a blue and white birthday cake. I made my whole class laugh twice with a joke about an octopus I now can’t remember.

For once, I was ‘the man’. In short, the Crystal Palace 1990 semi-final winning team gave me the best week of my life at Hangleton Junior School.

On top of that I should add the caveat that the game was outstanding. Palace were simply brilliant on the day, Liverpool just couldn’t shake them off as red and blue shirts snapped into every tackle and harried them like a bunch of pissed off wasps. It was a triumph of hard work carrying you through more skilled opposition.

So in retrospect, how do I feel about the whole thing now? Well I’d like to thank Palace for that 90 minutes.

But it makes me feel dirty and used. That a Brighton fan spent a week glorying in Palace’s victory makes me feel a bit sick, that I did it makes me feel more so. The worst part of the whole process is that whatever I do, I will always have to be grateful to them for that game — it led to a magnificent week of gloating and Tamsin Calder-Brown-related kissing that I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.

More’s the pity. I feel soiled.

So yeah, you want a “Through Gritted Teeth”? There you have it. A Brighton fan thanks a Palace side for a brilliant game. Now go away, I need to go and buy some bleach and have a long, painful shower.

Dave, when he’s not angrily scrubbing away the shame, is one third of the mighty triumvirate guiding the good ship In Bed With Maradona. He also blogs at I Know Who Cyrille Makanaky Was and can be found on Twitter here –> @Hartch.

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