This interview was first published in FYP issue 26 in April 2011.
There were rumours flying around in the summer that Clinton Morrison was going to make his way back to Selhurst for a third spell with the club. With Palace freshly saved from relegation, short on forwards and a new manager at the helm, talks progressed to a stage where the Tooting-born former Eagle was very close to pulling on the familiar red and blue again
“It was on the cards. It was very close," he told FYP. "The chairmen and everyone wanted to do it, but I just think George Burley, not had his doubts, but was waiting and iffing and ahhing. Then Sheffield Wednesday came in, who are a big club, and made me a good flipping offer and I couldn’t really turn it down. It would have been nice to come back to Palace but I’m at Wednesday now and I’ve got to concentrate on doing that.”
Ironically it was the Owls that Palace had sent tumbling down into the third tier of English football on the final day of last season. And Wednesday also had a role to play in Clinton’s start with the Eagles when he scored an injury time winner against them back in 1998 on his debut.
“Yeah it was against Sheffield Wednesday. I think they’d been relegated and I think we were going down. I remember it like it was yesterday.”
And not many 18-year-olds can say they received the pass for the debut goal from Attilio Lombardo, as Morrison did in front of the Holmesdale, but the players were already on the same wave length - a mutual understand that was forged in the front seats of the Italian's car.
“He used to take me into training every day. Not many people can say they got a lift with Attilio Lombardo into training!" he added.
But even the 'Bald Eagle' isn't at the top of Morrison's list of the best players he has featured alongside after 13 years of first-team football. That honour went to a former Republic of Ireland team-mate.
“The best player I’ve played with in my career was when I played with Roy Keane for Ireland," he said. "The man is just a true leader. He sets an example. If you give the ball away he’ll have a bit of a moan – I hardly ever saw him give the ball away when I played with him. He was just a good motivator, brilliant.
“I miss playing for Ireland all the time, definitely. I’ve had a good 36 caps for them anyway, so I’ve enjoyed doing that and not many people can say they’ve played for their country.”
And Sean Scannell - another player to come through the Palace youth system - also plays football at an international level for Ireland and Clinton remembers him from his days at the club, but believes the young forward isn't quite living up to his potential at the moment. No worry, though, because Uncle Clinton is prepared to set that straight.
“Scannell will be a good player and should be a good player and should be progressing better this season. Maybe he’s missing me because I did used to help a lot of the youngsters there at Palace. Hopefully I can get hold of him and talk to him and set him on the straight and narrow.”
Does Clinton see a future for himself as a coach after he hangs up his boots? Since former partner in crime up front for Palace Dougie Freedman has become part of the managerial team at Palace we’ve seen some familiar faces drafted in to bolster the backroom team including Dean Austin, Tony Popovic and head scout Steve Kember. Could we see Clinton brought back to help out behind the scenes? Dougie has in fact already given him a call, but he’s not quite ready to end his playing days just yet.
“We have spoke about that, definitely we have, but I still feel I’ve got three or four years left in me playing at the higher levels at the moment so I just want to concentrate on that," he said. "But I am doing my coaching badges so you never know, one day that could be an option to come back and help out at Palace. With the youngsters or with the senior squad because it’s something I want to do. I want to get into coaching. Hopefully one day I will put on a blue and red shirt again and be back there in some capacity.”
And Clinton was delighted when he heard Dougie was appointed boss at Selhurst Park in January – “It was excellent news” – and while he recognises it’s a steep learning curve for a first time manager taking over a club in such a perilous position, he thinks Parish & co. picked the right man for the job.
“You never know when it’s the right time to take the manager’s job, but if you’re never given the chance you don’t know if you’re going to be good enough or not. If he manages to keep them up he will have done a great job, obviously he’s a legend there as it is at Palace and he’d be an even bigger one. Hopefully they can stay up. I know they’ve got two or three massive games coming up. They’re games they should be winning so hopefully they can do it.
“In managers terms he’s still young. Well he’s young anyway. That’s why he’s got Lennie Lawrence helping him. The way he played the game, I think that’s how he wants his team to play the game – I think he’ll be good for it.”
It’s no surprise though, considering the pair spent many a season leading the Palace line together during which time the Doog earned himself a place in the rundown of Clinton’s top three strike partners.
“Hard one really," he mused. "I’d put Dougie up there; Dougie Freedman, Robbie Keane and Emile Heskey, I’d say those three.”
But despite being a Tottenham fan, Clinton can't ignore the impact Palace and Arsenal legend Ian Wright had on his career, even if that means swallowing his Spurs pride for s econd.
“Palace is my team as well because I was brought up there and they gave me my chance. I’ve always supported Tottenham from when I was younger, my Mum always liked them and obviously you just follow what your parents do.
“Wrighty was a good player when he played for Arsenal but I’m on about the inspiration from when he came and did a few coaching sessions with us at Crystal Palace. He was retired then but his hunger for it and the way he was, everything, he was just brilliant. Where he’s come from – the non-league to break into first team league football – and his finishing, he’s just one of the best I’ve seen in the business.”
And goals were certainly no problem for Clinton, notching up 133 in his time at Selhurst, mostly from inside the six-yard box. But while there were belters and plenty of well-taken strikes, there's one goal that really sticks in his mind and is widely considered to be his funniest moment at the Red and Blue Army - a goal scored against Gillingham at Selhurst.
“I went round the goalie in front of the Holmesdale and just slipped at the open goal but I dropped on the ball and managed to knock it in with my bum when I slipped over. But when it’s going right for you, it’s going right for you and most times it did go right for me at Palace.”
And he is just as prolific on social networking site Twitter and he regards the Tweagles as some of his finest followers.
“I think every Palace fan I’ve spoke to on Twitter has been brilliant. They’ve all said they want me to come back and they’ve spoken positively to me. Every Palace fan I’ve got loads of time and love for because every time I go back they’re good to me and I know when I was there they were always good with me – I’m like one of their own.”
Fast forward to summer 2010 and plenty of Palace fans were we weren’t sure there would even be a future, let alone one where we could conceive bringing back the club’s fifth highest goal scorer in our history. But as the majority of us were biting our nails, racking up numerous sleepless nights and checking in to our local surgeries with all manner of stress related illnesses Clinton was staying calm and employing the powers of positive thinking.
Being no stranger to administration, he was here during Goldberg admin and played for free after we’d run out of money, he knew what to expect.
“I always keep up with Palace, they’ll always have a place in my heart for definite. I kept up with things and I’m happy they got out of trouble.
“I didn’t think they’d go out of business. Palace is a good club and I always thought that someone in the end would come in and save the club - I always knew that deep down. You would worry as a player but I wasn’t that worried looking in from the outside. I knew they’d be safe.”
Just as he was confident that Palace wouldn’t go bust last summer, he’s equally sure that they’ll stay in the Championship come the end of the season.
“I believe they’re good enough to stay up with the players they’ve got. Darren Ambrose, Danns and all the young players coming through. I think if they keep going and working hard they’ll definitely stay up. It’s always been like that with us – Palace – we always make things difficult but in the end we always manage to survive and I think that’ll be same this season.”
And while Palace may have missed out on Clinton last summer, he’s definitely not ruling anything out for the future, especially with his mate Dougie now at the helm.
“You never know, I’ve played with Dougie, he’s a good friend of mine,” he said. “Obviously I’m at Sheffield Wednesday at the moment, I’m happy here and I’m enjoying it. One day I might go back to Palace, I’ve got great memories of the times I’ve played there. You can never predict what’s going to happen in the future, but it would be nice.”
And his final target??Getting more goals thanWrighty!
“I’m definitely proud of it. I’m one or two, I think, behind Ian Wright so you never know – one day I’d obviously like to come back and try and get that, even if it’s just for a season. I’m ahead of Mark Bright so I’m happy anyway.”