Remembering the game that saved Palace from obliteration

Written by Bert Saltoun

May 2nd 2010 was one of the strangest days of my life. Having not been able to sleep I was up at 4am getting ready to drive to Sheffield with a mixture of fear and excitement in my mind.

I'd seen Palace win divisions, reach cup finals and win promotions over the years. I'd watched as we'd gone from bad owner to worse owner then back to bad owner again. Most of my memories of my childhood are weaved into the fabric of the football club I first went to watch as a 4 year old with my father. And there was a good chance that I'd return from Sheffield without even having a club to support.

After all, nobody is going to want to pay good money for a club in the third tier that doesn't even own its ground, are they? I mean, two local tycoons have blown their entire fortunes trying to make a success of this club and they had the advantage of being in the second tier. So, to my mind, it was a case of "lose this and we're gone".

Eventually the clock showed 7am. I'd planned to go for breakfast before meeting my companions and setting off to Yorkshire, but I was in no fit state to eat.

So I went to the newsagent and picked up a Nurishment shake and a Red Bull and met my pals at Victoria Station to take the drive up the M1. It was an odd atmosphere in my car that day. Normally we'd whizz up the motorway with a scarf hanging out of the window singing Palace songs at the top of our voices but this time the silence was only broken by the car radio and the occasional comment about how we're "bound to lose today".

The three and a half hour trip seemed to take forever but eventually we landed in Sheffield and I booked myself into the Jury's Inn before we hit the pub. Although the Old Monk was full of Palace the atmosphere was as subdued as it was in my car on the way up, and after the customary skinful we headed to Hillsborough in a cab.

Once inside the ground the atmosphere improved a little. A couple of fans stood by the turnstiles handing out red and blue balloons whilst others started unfolding banners in the stand. I had one more beer then made my way to my seat in full knowledge that I wouldn't be using it. As I stood there waiting for kick off, a thousand permutations went through my mind.

"Alan Irvine used to play for us and was a favourite of mine as a child, he's bound to send us down"; "They've got Tom Soares on loan, watch one of the most average players we've ever had send us out of business". Yes, I was convinced that this was it. Shaun Derry led the side out of the tunnel to a massive roar, one of the loudest I'd heard in many years, perhaps ever?

I looked at the crowd behind me. The Leppings Lane end was packed. A total sell out. I took out my primative Android phone, took a photo of the crowd behind me just in case I needed a memento of this day, then put it back in my pocket as the ref blew the whistle to kick off. Not much really happened until the 24th minute.

Then Alan Lee headed home a pinpoint Darren Ambrose corner and the crowd went mental. My emotions were so high I literally had to go to the toilets when things had calmed down to make sure I hadn't pissed myself. Luckily my fears were unfounded and I made my way back to my seat and as half time approached I started to feel a bit more confident. Sadly I should've known that such confidence would be the catalyst for a Wednesday equaliser and Leon Clarke, their main danger up front, duly obliged, taking advantage of a Danny Butterfield mistake to curl it past Julian Speroni on the stroke of half time.

Unbeknown to me at the time, Clarke had broken his foot kicking the advertising hoarding and wouldn't come out for the second half. But I was numb. Where I would normally go for a nerve settling half time beer, I just stood numb, rooted to the spot for five minutes. Eventually I went underneath for a cigarette and pulled my phone out of my pocket to text my Dad. After sending the text I opened my photo app to view the picture that I'd taken as the game kicked off and noticed that Mark Goldberg was standing behind me. "At least I've got somebody to take it out on when we lose" I thought to myself.

The usual nailbiting was occuring as the second half kicked off and after a while I looked behind me to where Goldberg was with the intention of giving him an evil glare. But he was too transfixed on the game to notice. Then after about 15 minutes Darren Ambrose latched onto a perfect ball by Sean Scannell to side foot it into the net.

The celebratory noises were so loud I thought the roof would come off the stand. Everyone was totally ecstatic. I even hugged Goldberg. And it was from that moment onwards that Goldberg was forgiven. I observed him feeling the exact same emotions as every single one of us and that showed to me that it was never about the ego for him, unlike other chairmen, he was just pursuing the same dream that any one of the Palace fans in the away end would've chased had they come into the kind of money that he did.

Then, moments later, Stern John lost Darren Purse at the back post and the horrible Millwall bastard made no mistake burying it in the back of the net.

For the remainder of the second half we basically threw everything we had at them and there were times when I thought I was going to have a heart attack but we braved their counter attacks and we eventually entered the longest 5 minutes of stoppage time I've ever endured. Then, just as we thought the game was over, that man Stern John scuffed a shot when it would've been 20 times easier to lay it off to Ambrose to put in the net.

But it didn't matter. The ref blew his final whistle and several grown men cried their eyes out in the Palace end whilst a group of neanderthals in the home end couldn't handle it and decided to invade the pitch and make a beeline for the Palace players, with Clint Hill being their intended target. Lucky for them, Clint was ushered away by the Wednesday stewards and the services of man mountain Claude Davis, who'd made his way out of the tunnel, were not required.

We finally made our way out of the stadium and headed for the shuttle buses back to the city centre, partaking in a group hug with Mark Goldberg on the way. The journey back was one of the funniest experiences I've had at an away day. As the bus passed the pubs that were frequented by the Wednesday fans, we received the predictable threats of violence from afar and just laughed them off. Then we turned into another road and a chap stopped and stared at the bus.

On seeing that we were Palace fans he dropped to his knees and did a praying gesture at us - clearly a Blades fan overjoyed at the fact that we'd just sent their rivals down. Our group stayed in Sheffield to celebrate. I can't tell you what happened afterwards, as all I remember is waking up on my hotel room floor naked from the waist down but still wearing my shoes and socks.