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Are Palace just too nice?

April 18 2012

Gareth Southgate

Gareth Southgate

Palacetinian wonders if the nice friendly atmosphere at Crystal Palace has been reflected in the type of player that we seem to attract and retain.

I recently met Jonathan Williams and was bowled over by how nice and well balanced he was for a young ’un.

Back in the nineties our captain for a short while was Gareth Southgate, a man so gentle and well educated that manager Alan Smith said that if he had a daughter he would want her to marry Southgate!

When my son was a season long mascot for Palace Radio during the administration year he would run on the pitch and go straight to Hayden Mullins, his favourite player at the time, and chat away for a couple of minutes before kick-off.

Hayden is a charming young man who subsequently would always stop by and catch up whenever he visited Selhurst with his subsequent clubs. Again the kind of chap you would be happy to welcome into your family!

So how come we haven’t been tarnished with a good old bad boy? Not for us a Joey Barton, stubbing a lit cigar into a teammate’s eye, or a Lee Bowyer, convicted of racially abusing workers at McDonalds in Canary Wharf.

Why can’t we attract a real hard man of football? After all it’s not like South London doesn’t have a bit of a reputation!

The closest we’ve come to a nutter in the ranks is probably Stan Collymore, although he was remarkably self restrained during his time at Palace, but subsequently went on to prove a little bit handy with his fists on Ulrika Jonsson, and an aficionado of the spectator sport known, I believe, as ‘dogging’.

Look at our local neighbours and, sometimes, tenants. They’ve had some real bad boys! Take Vinny Jones, not only a hard man at Wimbledon but now the epitome of hard Londoner, plying his trade in that ghetto known as Beverley Hills.

Going back even further how many recall Derek Hales, a Charlton player so hard that he would even fight with his own team mates, one of whom – Mike Flanagan – went on to play for us. His nickname ‘Killer’ was also due in part to the fact that Hales’ family owned a butchers’ shop and slaughterhouse!

Millwall have had their fair share of tough guys, but you wouldn’t want to upset Gavin Grant, a former striker, who having been cleared of one gangland killing was later sentenced to life for shooting someone dead!

Yes we’ve had some tough men, Jim Cannon springs to mind, but none that you wouldn’t want to meet on a Friday night in SE25! Dodgy characters we’ve had in troves! Raymond Bloye (dodgy business dealings), Terry Venables (dodgy business dealings), Barry Silkman (dodgy business dealings), Rachid Harkouk (dodgy business dealings).

In fact I’m convinced that Palace during the 1970s were John Sullivan’s inspiration for ‘Only Fools and Horses’. After all, how many football clubs invite the country’s leading soft porn star to join the players in the communal bath after a match??

Recently Don Rogers joined Holmesdale Radio for a reminisce about his time at Palace. Urged to spill the beans about some of the characters he played with at Selhurst the best anecdote he could come up with was that Peter Taylor did a mean impression of Norman Wisdom!!

Aah, Taylor! One of my favourite Palace players of all time. He was a really nice chap! Kenny Sansom once told me about how when he broke through to the first team Taylor would wind him up.

On his first ever away game the team traveled by train. Taylor sat opposite Sansom, who was only 16 at the time, and every few minutes, while no one else was looking, would wink at him and mouth “I love you’ at him!!

Like many fans who welcome our former heroes back to manage the club I was gutted that it never worked out for the likeable Taylor.

But the fact that so many former players do come back to manage shows that there is an affinity borne of an affection that many clubs do not seem to generate.

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