Kevin Day, writer, broadcaster, comedian and Palace for Life Trustee talks to Richard Foster about going to watch Palace away at Southampton in September 1989.
Kevin Day harbours a simmering resentment of how Southampton ruined his dreams as a 15-year-old. “During the glorious FA Cup run of 1976,” Day says. “I had been to both the Leeds game, which was the most terrified I have ever been in a football ground as well as the Chelsea match, which was also quite hairy. I was convinced that it was written in the stars that we would become the first Third Division club to win the FA Cup once we had disposed of Second Division Southampton in the semi-final at Stamford Bridge.”
Unfortunately, it was not to be as Palace lost rather limply 2-0 to the Saints. “Southampton were comfortable winners, to be fair,” Day says. “When we were walking away from the ground, I remember some of their fans consoling us and being far too nice. But my abiding memory is of walking over Wandsworth Bridge and seeing thousands of Fedoras floating in the Thames, being swept away with our dreams. The loss only really struck me when I watched ITV’s The Big Match the next day and saw a couple of players crying in the team bath – in the days when cameras were allowed into the vicinity of the team bath.”
Day also has an intense dislike for their club anthem – “When the Saints Go Marching In has to be the dreariest of all football chants. There is no enthusiasm it just bumbles along. It’s awful. The other thing that irks me is when they move to the new ground. The Dell was a great ground, really characterful, with that weird wedge-shaped terracing whereas St. Mary’s is one of those soulless bowls that could be anywhere.”
Day does hold some positive feeling towards Southampton. “Matthew Le Tissier is one of my favourite players, who seemed to just score sensational goals and one of the rare few that even though he scored quite a few against Palace you just had to applaud the sheer skill. I also liked the fact that he was a scruffy sod, with no muscle and looked more like a Sunday League footballer playing on a hangover.”
“He was accused of a lack of ambition but actually he was showing loyalty and in many ways is similar to Wilfried Zaha. Both were also criminally overlooked by England, Le Tissier only collected eight caps while Carlton Palmer, who was essentially a tree trying to play football, got 18. One other thing that actually I read in your book Premier League Nuggets Le Tissier is the only players to score two hat-tricks in a losing cause.”
Fast forward to Saturday 16th September 1989 and Palace had to travel to The Dell in the shadow of a game that is forever etched deep into the souls of all Eagles fans of a certain age. Liverpool 9 (nine) Crystal Palace 0. Just four days after that Anfield shellacking, and Day was struck by the incredible numbers who went to Southampton“Most clubs would have taken two or three hundred after such a result, but we actually took around 5-6,000 fans who were determined to show their support. Our attitude was that 6-0 was a humiliating defeat, but 9-0 was actually funny and we started chanting about it during the game.”
Steve Coppell selected pretty much the same team as had turned out at Anfield as he did not want to lay blame on any individual. There were no scapegoats. Coppell told me in an exclusive interview last year that there was an understandable level of apprehension about having to play a game so quickly afterwards. “We were still shellshocked as it was only a few days after the Liverpool game.” Coppell says. “After travelling back from Liverpool on the Wednesday we gave the players a day off on Thursday so we trained just the once on the Friday then we went straight down to Southampton on the Friday night. I remember watching the game and being on edge all the way through, thinking we can’t take another pasting. In the end we got a draw which restored some of our confidence.”
Day does not remember too much about the match itself. “I think we played in our all blue kit and in the first 15 minutes we tore into them as the players had something to prove but I don’t remember too much else partly because it was a long time ago, partly as I was going to so many games at that time but mostly because we had been drinking since the morning.”
“What I do remember is this amazing unity between the players and the fans that day which we have retained, especially when something goes wrong. Very few clubs have that. Having secured a 1-1 draw, the players celebrated as if they had won the league and were still on the pitch 20 minutes after the final whistle.”
For the record, Jeff Hopkins scored Palace’s goal in the 1-1 draw, one of only two he got for the club in 70 appearances but his place in the team was soon taken by Andy Thorn, who was brought in from Newcastle along with the first £1 million goalkeeper, Nigel Martyn. Palace did of course exact their revenge on Liverpool in April 1990 when, unlike 1976, they did win an FA Cup semi-final. Hopkins is currently head coach of Melbourne Victory Women. Le Tissier started the game for Southampton but was replaced in the second half by a teenage striker, a certain Alan Shearer.
Finally, there is a parallel between that 9-0 defeat prior to the Southampton game as The Saints themselves were beaten 9-0 in October last year by Leicester at Kevin’s bête noir, St. Marys. Only twice in the intervening 30 years have teams conceded nine goals in the top flight of English football – Ipswich Town who lost 9-0 at Old Trafford in 1995 and Wigan Athletic who went down 9-1 at White Hart Lane in 2009.
Kevin Day’s first book Who Are Ya?, published by Bloomsbury, is due out on 1st October.