Crystal Palace Away Days: Arsenal 1994
On the 1st October 1994, Alan Smith's struggling side, who had yet to win a game, travelled across London to take on George Graham’s Arsenal. For younger Palace fans reading this, it may seem hard to imagine, but if you'd asked any Palace fan who you'd most like to beat then, Arsenal would have been the answer. The transfer of Ian Wright and his badge kissing goal celebration against us had brought a one sided hatred that just isn't there today. Wright had gone from hero to villain; he was simply hated by almost every Palace fan.
"20p in the juke box, One Step Beyond by Madness blasted."
To ease the pain of what was ahead of us, we met in the Cock Tavern by Highbury & Islington Tube for opening at 11 am. By 1 pm, one bar was bouncing to Alan Smith's red & blue army, the other full of Arsenal was quietly drinking away. 20p in the jukebox, One Step Beyond by Madness blasted out and now the red & blue half had a new tune to bounce to. With bar staff asking Palace fans to calm down, It Must Be Love came on followed by A Town Called Malice, we belted out both whilst drinking & throwing our beer around. Soon it was time to make that painful walk to the ground. The reason it was painful, it was just far enough from the pub that we were all busting for the loo by the time we made it to the turnstiles.
"We looked more Copa banana than Copacabana."
We were in the ground in time to see Palace run out in their Nutmeg Brazil kit. It's funny how the smallest detail changes the overall perception. Yellow shirts with green collars, light blue shorts but instead of white socks we were wearing bright yellow socks. We looked more Copa banana than Copacabana. Palace lined up with Richard Shaw playing alongside Chris Coleman at centre back, at the other end, John Salako partnered Chris Armstrong. The inexperience in the Palace midfield demonstrated the biggest difference between the two sides. Ricky Newman & Gareth Southgate played in the centre, Bobby Bowry & George Ndah offered width. Arsenal with 9 current internationals in the starting 11 and with 2 more on the bench had experience to go with their quality. Nobody said it was going to be easy!
"Much to the delight of the away end all Wright managed to do was slice the ball 5 yards wide in front of us."
The match started brightly, with Palace forcing an early corner. The first chance of the game though fell to Arsenal and inevitably it was Ian Wright who flicked the ball over his head and turned Darren Patterson to fire in a shot from 20 yards, thankfully straight at Martyn. Ian Wright, Wright, Wright chanted the North Bank, the response from the Clock End was unrepeatable. Soon afterwards Wright had another chance, Alan Smith fed Wright in the area with just Martyn to beat, instead of shooting straight away he tried to round the big Cornishman and hook the ball in within one movement. Much to the delight of the away end all he managed to do was slice the ball 5 yards wide in front of us.
Palace’s first real chance of the game came on the counter attack, a long ball up field from Shaw fell nicely to Armstrong who ran away from Adams & Linighan before squaring the ball to Salako who blazed over. Arsenal failed to learn from the warning. Minutes later Armstrong got onto the end of a Southgate pass, with Linighan again treading water, Armstrong slotted the ball past Seaman only to see it come back off the post and straight to the grateful Salako who made no mistake. Carnage in the away end and a few scuffles on the North Bank as Palace fans blew their cover.
"2-0 up at Highbury."
Palace were now on top, Shaw was getting the better of Wright, with every interception Palace broke with pace. Dean Gordon created a chance for himself, only last-ditch defending twice from Adams prevented Palace going further in front. Wright was becoming frustrated, he kicked out at Shaw and was lucky to not receive a card. Wright had given the Palace fans stick and now he was getting it back in bucket loads. On 41 minutes Palace got their deserved second, and it was the same combination as earlier. Southgate sprayed a lovely ball out to Armstrong who had drifted wide right. The after burners were turned on, Winterburn was left standing, and with Adams failing to intercept the perfect cross it was left for Salako to slot home his second. 2-0 up at Highbury. Eagles, Eagles, Eagles we chanted.
Arsenal came out for the second half fired up. A string of early corners saw Martyn make saves from both Adams and Kevin Campbell who had come on as sub. Wright was still a pest but with very little coming off for him. One audacious chance from 35 yards ended up in row Z and closer to the corner flag than the goal. Not long after Wright showed us what we’d seen so many times before, receiving the ball outside the penalty area with his back to goal there seemed very little on, an instant turn and a wicked shot seemed destined for the top corner, however, Wright was denied by an exceptional save. The inevitable came on 73 mins, Campbell put in a deep cross, Wright rose above the excellent Shaw to head home, his 100th goal for Arsenal in 145 games! Not too shabby!
Despite incessant Arsenal pressure, it was Palace who came the closest to scoring again, first when a Salako run from his own half left him one on one with Seaman, the shot went wide. 5 minutes later with the Gunners pushing forward, Salad Boy narrowly volleyed over with the keeper beaten.
"Ian Wright got a goal but it wasn't to be his day."
Ian Wright got a goal but it wasn't to be his day. After a foul on Ndah, Wright petulantly kicked the ball at our young player whilst he was laying on the floor. Yellow card. Minutes later Wright ran into Big Nige, there was only ever going to be one person requiring treatment after that collision, and we cheered our heads off. The final chance of the game fell to Wright but his header was comfortably saved. On the final whistle, our heroes sprinted towards the Clock End to celebrate a famous victory with the jubilant red & blue army. What a day! It was now time to celebrate in style, first stop was back to the Cock Tavern and its’ jukebox.
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