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February 2 2023 2.32pm

Palace heroes: Steve Coppell

March 18 2009

Steve Coppell

Steve Coppell

In Jamesey's view, our greatest ever manager - and he's cheered and groaned through quite a few

While Crystal Palace were obligingly helping out relegation candidates Barnsley (Mar 17) to three vital points by losing 3-1 (not the first time a relegation struggler has had reason to be grateful for our philanthropy this season), a truly significant milestone was being reached.

A few miles down the road at another Yorkshire stadium, Steve Coppell's Reading team was winning a match against Doncaster Rovers 0-1, and the boss was celebrating his 1000th match as a manager.

It's hard to believe that it is now 25 years since our then chairman Ron Noades made the courageous decision to appoint a 28-year-old rookie with no managerial experience as manager of CPFC.

Steve, of course, had played at the highest level for Man Utd and England but, regrettably, injury cut short a brilliant career as a winger (as they were called in those days).

At first, it wasn't apparent that Ron had made the correct decision as we struggled to find consistency for the first couple of seasons but by 1986-87, things were looking much better.

During Steve's stewardship our Lifeline lottery scheme raised money for transfers and Mark Bright was a notable acquisition brought to Selhurst with those funds.

I make no apology for having said it before, but in my view one of the most significant contributions that Steve and Ron made to this club was their mining of the rich seam of young black talent which abounded in London in the 80s.

Race was a far more sensitive issue then and many clubs were afraid to use too many black players in case there was a white backlash from the predominantly white fan base.

Steve obviously didn't go along with that and our team featured a whole host of black players like Ian Wright, Andy Gray, Tony Finnegan and many more. And if they played winning football nobody really cared what colour they were.

The only unpleasantness I ever heard was at the Den in the early 90s when Millwall fans were calling our largely black team "Nigeria United". But then they would, wouldn't they?

And the row over Ron's remarks labelling him "racist" was just about the most ridiculous assertion I have ever heard. If ever anyone helped the black community by giving their footballers a fair chance, it was Ron and Steve.

During Steve's nine-year first term of office things got better and better and ended with this club's most successful period ever - an FA cup final, four seasons on the top tier, a third position finish in the top tier, several England international players, and much more.

And although Steve came back a few more times later - the most significant being his period during administration when he guided us through a minefield of dangers and ended with his falling-out with new chairman Simon Jordan in 2000 - it is 1984-1993 that most will regard as the cream of the cream.

I still wonder how such a pleasant man as Steve can have lasted for 25 years in the increasingly cut-throat and back-stabbing business of football management.

To my knowledge he never played silly mind games or criticised match officials. He was always sporting, gentlemanly and considerate. And I hope that does not make him seem too much of a prig.

I never met or spoke to Steve personally but when he decided to go, after our Premiership relegation in 1993, I wrote to him urging that he stay at the helm and get us back to the top again.

I received a personal letter from him that I have kept to this day.

Dated May 31, 1993, the letter reads as follows. "Dear J...Thanks for your letter and all your kind comments. I too am sorry to be leaving the club after nine years but I felt it was in the best interests of all parties and I do thank you for all your support and for taking the trouble to write to me. It is very much appreciated. Kind regards, Steve Coppell."

What a man, what a manager.

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