When I started to embark on regular away trips in the 1980s, there was more than a little frisson of excitement attached to every element. From getting my supporters club members card, going to the travel club in the North Stand to get my coach ticket, cycling down to Maine Road with the voucher from my season ticket book to pick up my match ticket and especially popping into my auntie’s for a brew on my way back. The excitement even extended to getting up extra early on a Saturday morning to get to the pick-up point for the ‘B’ coach opposite Mersey Square in Stockport.
With hope in my heart irrespective of how the team was performing, it felt like an adventure. This could be the day that the team put it all together and we would see a game which would be talked about for many a year! I became familiar with glamorous stop-off points such as Hilton Park and Corley services, I got to know the motorway system and A-roads of Britain well, I read fanzines, ate many a Ginsters sausage roll and saw way too many Jean Claude Van Damme videos for my tastes as we rolled around the land.
Though I had many great away days which gladdened the heart, my hopes sadly were often dashed during the 90 minutes of action and those trips back after a defeat were crushing. Players were ripped apart in post-match discussions, the roads always seemed jammed and we seemed to be getting nowhere fast both on the field and on the coach. Midweek away games were a real endurance test; competing with the rush hour traffic so even getting to the game on time was often in the balance, the frustration as the clock ticked nearer to kick-off with the ground nowhere in sight and then long slow return journeys arriving in the wee small hours and wending your way back home knowing you had to get up again in a few hours.
Which brings me to Selhurst Park. Of all the grounds I visited on a regular basis on the ‘B’ coach, it was this ground in South East London which seemed to end up in the most arduous of trips; either via the M40 or M6 it’s a five hour trip from Manchester if you’re lucky. There seems no quick way to get to South Norwood and the trip back is tiresome sometimes even if you’ve won and purgatory if you’ve lost. In season 1994-95 we got to visit the ground at SE25 three times, twice on a mid-week, following a side which, to be honest, did not travel at all well.
To those watching Brian Horton’s side at Maine Road, this team was full of goals and entertaining in equal measure. On their day with everyone fit, a front line which included Paul Walsh, Uwe Rosler and Niall Quinn as strikers and with width in the form of Nicky Summerbee and Peter Beagrie could be irresistible – the 5-2 win against Spurs at Maine Road in October 1994 stands out in particular. However, there was another side to this team away from home when the opposition closed down the supply to the forward line, the admirably open attacking style seemed to leave them vulnerable. Choked of the ball, the games often turned into a rear-guard action.
In the first half of the season City were in the top half based mainly on the points garnered at home and had progressed in the Coca Cola (League) Cup, surprisingly winning two thrilling, open away ties 4-3 at QPR and 2-0 at Newcastle after a replay.
We knew travelling back that November night from St James Park that we had Crystal Palace away in the quarter-final and this next tie came at the wrong time. By January City were in a league run which would see them fail to win in ten games. On the night, Palace who were fighting relegation, were right up for it. Even with only three sides of the ground in use due to the Holmesdale Terrace being redeveloped the place was bouncing. City were under pressure for most of the first half but were hanging in there with in particular Keith Curle, Alan Kernaghan and Terry Phelan putting in a solid displays at the back, but it was in midfield and up front where we were struggling against a hard-working team. As Brian Horton put it post-match, “For such a big game, Palace seemed to want it more”.
The first goal was crucial and it always felt Palace were more likely to get it. With half an hour remaining, a cross from the left from John Salako was palmed out by keeper Andy Dibble. City seemed to have enough bodies back but Gareth Southgate held the ball up for Darren Pitcher who crashed it into the net.
City had to come out and attack to try and earn a replay and shortly after, a cross from Beagrie found Steve Lomas who forced a great save from Nigel Martyn in the Palace goal. In the incident, Lomas got a kick in the head and swallowed his tongue and thankfully, he was sorted out by medical staff who were quick on the scene to stretcher him off.
The frustration from the City fans was tangible as another dream of Wembley slid away and it was killed stone dead with the second goal. From a poor City corner the ball was hacked away and with everyone pushed up it was suddenly two on two. Salako, this time on the right, picked up the ball and with Phelan backing off, he got to the edge of the area, got it onto his left foot and smashed it past Dibble. Two more goals followed, from Armstrong and Preece in the last six minutes as everything Palace did came off. It was too much to bear for some who vented their anger at the late capitulation. Some fans were arrested for going on the pitch to have a go at the players, who had frankly caved in and the headline the next day said ‘It’s suicide City!’.
It was one of those long and desperate trips back from South London, where we arrived back at around 3:30am in a deserted Stockport town centre, both tired and morose. Performances like that led you to question why you expend your time, money and emotion to watch the team but luckily for the club, we shake the disappointment off. We’re not customers but loyal fans – certainly, no mere customer would put themselves through another two more trips to Selhurst Park as City fans did that season.
The next trip was another mid-week game, this time against Wimbledon on the 21st March 1995. The Dons had been tenants at Palace since 91/92 and the City following that night swelled the crowd to a meagre 5,268. What they witnessed was a 2-0 defeat to two scruffy goals and City were now being sucked into the relegation battle which was becoming a fierce one, with four teams going down as the Premier League was being reduced from 22 to 20 teams that season.
On a sunny April 1st we were back to play Palace in a relegation six-pointer. Again the visit ended in defeat; Chris Armstrong burst down the right, running away from Kernaghan, and beat Tony Coton at the near post to put Palace ahead in the 1st half. City this time fought back in the 2nd half – a City corner was cleared but a breakaway for Palace was stopped by an interception from right-back John Foster who swung a ball into the box and a flying header from Rosler put City level. But it was three visits and three defeats when a Palace corner was headed in by Darren Patterson at the near post condemning City to a 2-1 loss.
Thankfully, City turned it round that season and got enough points to fend off relegation, whilst Palace eventually went down. Safety was as good as assured thanks to picking up two consecutive wins in mid-April; City briefly returned to their earlier swashbuckling best when first beating Liverpool 2-1 at home where Maurizio Gaudino’s headed winner nearly brought the house down on the 14th April, then three days later on the 17th April beating title chasing Blackburn 3-2, a much shorter and far more enjoyable away trip which has lived a lot longer in the memory. Eventually I learnt to drive and started going to matches by car. My ‘B’ coach days were over but I would still visit Selhurst on many more occasions, though with a little less frisson as the years went by.
As for this weekend, I wish all the Blues heading down to the game on Saturday a safe and successful trip. Hopefully the journey will be a more fruitful one than those three sobering trips in 1994/95.
Written by Richard Donlan
Typical City is funded by the readers via our Patreon page. Please consider funding us with $1 a month so we can continue to operate as we are now. Thank you in advance.