In the two-and-a-half years that have passed since Crystal Palace’s dramatic play-off final win over Watford, a huge amount has changed in SE25.
The manager that day has been replaced, as have the two permanent appointments that followed him, countless players have left the club for pastures new and perhaps most strikingly of all, Crystal Palace FC have managed to establish themselves as a force to be reckoned within the money-crazed atmosphere of the Premier League.
It’s a far cry from the feelings we all experienced that day, when a squad built on a solid backbone and defensive stoicism strolled out onto the Wembley turf with a single collective aim in their minds. Players like Stuart O’Keefe and Aaron Wilbraham were never likely to become stars of the top flight, but the role they played over the course of the campaign that got us there should never be undersold.
Spearheaded by the insatiable work-rate of Wilfried Zaha, Ian Holloway’s players grafted their way through 120 minutes of football in the beaming sunshine, never looking second best to the Hornets whilst struggling to ever assert a sense of true dominance over them either.
It was the aforementioned Zaha who would finally tease the breakthrough out for Palace after being unceremoniously hacked down in the penalty area in the middle of extra-time. He celebrated the award of the penalty kick as if we’d already scored; no doubt a consequence of Kevin Phillips’ reputation within the squad at that time.
The former Watford man hammered the spot-kick home with incredible force, relieving the sense of pressure that had been building on his teammates and the club’s supporters in an instant. For the remainder of the game, our mission was simply to survive.
As we all know now, the minutes that followed saw Palace hold on for a truly momentous victory, bringing about scenes that won’t be forgotten for many a year. Whether you look back to Damien Delaney’s tears of joy on the Wembley steps, Zaha’s lung-bursting sprint of unadulterated happiness towards our supporters when the final whistle sounded or Glenn Murray sitting on the pitch, suited and booted with the trophy in his arms, that day in May of 2013 will always remain incredibly special to all of us.
Luckily, the time that has passed since has brought us almost continuous success, but we would do well not to forget our roots once in a while. We may be flying high in the Premier League now, but it was a completely different group who brought us here.
Enjoy the little trip down memory lane that is attached above, I know I did.