May 31 2006
The inevitable as happened, Andy Johnson has left Crystal Palace. Simon Pophale doesn't think there has been a more popular player who has left behind so many grateful fans.
We all knew it was coming, and I am sure that he will go on and be a big hit for Everton.
When Matt Jansen left the club, there was an air on inevitability about it as we were going skint. This time, another season of Championship football for an England International striker was too much to bear.
From the moment that he struck the infamous hat trick against Brighton in 2002 he became a cult hero. He did what every Palace fan wants a player to do and really stick it to your most hated rivals. Not only did AJ do it in style, but also he did it as he offered us a small glimpse of what was to come.
Yet I don’t think that there was anyone who was sure that he was going to be the man to fill Clinton Morrison's boots when he arrived as part of the deal that took Morrison to the Midlands.
AJ, like a few other top strikers, took time to settle at Palace and with Francis playing him in a variety of positions, found it tough to score goals. Brighton soon sorted that problem out as he finished with 11 goals in 2002-03. Yet the man who brought him to Selhurst would soon be out and AJ would blossom the following year.
Anyone who witnessed the rollercoaster nature of the promotion season in 2003-04 would remember that by October – Dougie Freedman would be our leading scorer and AJ was playing catch-up.
An injury to Freedman changed the fortunes of the diminutive one from Bedford as he started to rack up the goals as we started to move up the table.
By the time we reached Cardiff for the play-off final, AJ had made it to 32 goals and it was his shot, which Steven Bywater parried into the path of Neil Shipperley, who scored the goal to take us up.
The Premiership may have had a bitter twist at the end, but for AJ he was the shining light as we so nearly stayed up. His 21 goals made him our top scorer in the Premiership for league goals and he did it in one season. It took Chris Armstrong two to achieve a tally that was close, but not better.
For me, there was no finer sight than an AJ in full sprint, bearing down on the opposition defences with defenders not knowing what to do. His goals against Liverpool at home and Birmingham both home and away were joys to watch.
Yet, AJ added more points to his reputation at Palace when he decided to stay to try to get us out of the Championship. Ok, he was getting a lot of money to do so, but let us not forget that he could have mortgaged (and probably has) any ambition he has of playing in the World Cup finals. He stayed with us, he tried his best but an injury kept him out for a third of the season yet he still managed a respectable 17 goals.
AJ never gave up, he worked tirelessly for the team and despite being a marked man and having his reputation tarnished by Steve Bruce, he gave hope to a team which lacked ideas, joy to anyone who saw him play in Palace colours and was also a consummate professional who kept his head down and made headlines, only for the right reasons.
After 159 games and 84 goals, Andrew Johnson was a breath of fresh air at Crystal Palace and I for one; feel privileged to have seen him play.
My best moments were that famous hat trick against Brighton, the burger munching celebrations and his winner against Sunderland in the play-off semi-final at home.
Almost keeping us single-handedly in the Premiership by scoring from the first game to the last, AJ became a cult hero for all of us. There will be many AJ moments that I have not mentioned, because we will all have our favourites.
AJ will go down in Palace history for now, as our record sale at £8.6 million. Yet he was so much more than that. A all round nice bloke, who is honest as the day is long. I doubt that there is a Palace fan out there that cannot say that he does not deserve his transfer, even if there is a lump in the throat while saying it.
We will meet again AJ and there won’t be anything but cheers and praise for the little man with the big heart and electric pace. Farewell, good luck and thanks for all the memories.
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