The New Palace Guard
Back around 1974, when I was ten years old, Crystal Palace Football Club launched something called the Palace Guard, a proper youth club that went beyond the obligatory page in the home programme and featured playing teams for all ages, regular evenings out, invites to special events, even the opportunity to become a ballboy. Members started out as Corporal and were promoted to Sergeant and Lieutenant or something stupid like you wouldn’t get away with today, and I jumped in to the whole thing with typically manic enthusiasm. I was crap on the youth teams and quickly realized I would not be spotted by Malcolm Allison or Terry Venables and promoted to the big time, but I did enter every competition, especially those that involved some actual writing, and got my name in the match programme with precocious regularity. And whenever I did so, I would get an autographed picture of my favorite player, whose name I had obviously noted on my membership form.
That player was Peter Taylor, who played a starring role in our push to the Semi Finals of the FA Cup in 1976, when we were but a Third Division team, who was the first Palace player to play for England in many years and the first ever to score for England (a feat made all the greater by the fact that we were still then only in the Second Division), and who ended his time at Palace with the highly respectable tally of 39 goals in 142 games. Taylor always signed the Palace Guard photographs with a personal touch, and even if he didn’t write “To Anthony” at the top of those pictures as memory assures me, there’s long been an unspoken agreement among Palace fans that Peter Taylor was not just a great player, but a good and decent person.
All of which helps explain why I’m thrilled to see Peter Taylor return to Crystal Palace. On Tuesday, he announced his acceptance of the managerial job, a veritable thrust into the lion’s den given the club’s typically yo-yo performances of late and the fact that he is the seventh manager in just six years at Selhurst Park. Unlike his predecessors, though (and discounting Steve Coppell), Taylor admits to the personal connection that you always hope a footballer would have for the club that made him famous.
“I enjoyed my time as a player at the club immensely. So much so that I wish I hadn’t left, because it all went wrong when I did,” he said in the days leading up to his appointment, making perfectly clear his intentions. “Even though I was only with the club three years, the place still holds a lot of memories for me. Palace will always have a special place in my heart.”
To take the Palace job, Peter Taylor had to jump ship from Hull City, a formerly bottom-drawer club with whom he gained promotion two years in a row, bringing them into the same Division as Palace last year, something that might once have seemed as unlikely as Wigan Athletic challenging for a place in Europe. Hull happens to be the nearest club to my home town of Beverley, an area I’ve been seeing more of in recent years than I have of South London, and between that fact, attending a near sold-out match at their spanking new KC stadium a couple of years back (which, typically, was an awful match and about the only game they lost at home all season), and what with my former childhood hero’s role, I’ve developed a real soft spot for the Tigers. They have every right to consider themselves a rising club on the verge of possible greatness.
But like Taylor, Palace is my first love, and while I know that Hull fans (including one at the iJamming! Pub) are disappointed to see him move on quite so eagerly, I don’t believe he’s showing disloyalty at accepting the job with the Eagles. (Not, for example, compared to his predecessor Iain Dowie quitting Palace to move “back north” to his family, and promptly taking a job just several miles along the South Circular Road at Charlton.) Only time will tell if Taylor’s commitment to Palace is strong enough to withstand chairman Simon Jordan’s inevitable interference, and equally, only time will tell if Taylor has what it takes to be a Premiership manager. But me, I’m an old-fashioned football fan at heart. I like to believe that players and managers alike maintain a devotion to at least one club in their career, and the child in me doesn’t want not to believe that Taylor puts Palace above all his other employers. So allow me my optimism, at least until the new season actually gets under way. And excuse me if I hum a little song through the summer: “he’s coming home, he’s coming home, Taylor’s coming home.”