No. 6 in an occasional series.
Crystal Palace is one of only a small handful of clubs to have competed in the FA Cup more than 100 times and never to have been knocked out in the Qualifying Rounds.
The club were formed in 1905 and entered the competition that season, just like Chelsea, one of four clubs they beat in that inaugural FA Cup campaign. Competing in the Second Division of the Southern League Palace opened their FA Cup history with a First Qualifying Round 7-0 home win over Clapham from the Southern Suburban League (and Mid Surrey League). This was followed up by a 3-0 win at 2nd Grenadier Guards playing in the Great Western Suburban League. Then came Chelsea, who had inexplicably been placed in Football League Division Two in their foundation year. Palace showed the folly of that decision by thrashing Chelsea 7-1 (although Chelsea purportedly played a weakened team) before going on to win 1-0 at home to Luton Town playing in Division One of the Southern League.
By beating Luton the Eagles also became one of only a handful of clubs to make it to the ‘Proper’ Rounds of the FA Cup in their first season having started as early as the First Qualifying Round. Football League Division Two Blackpool were their opponents and Dick Harker scored Palace’s first FA Cup ‘Proper’ Round goal in a 1-1 draw. Ted Birnie scored in the replay, another 1-1 draw, with Blackpool finally winning the third game 1-0 at Villa Park.
Palace won Southern League Division Two title and were promoted to Division One, and in the club’s second season in the FA Cup they made it all the way to the Quarter Finals. A Fifth Qualifying Round 4-0 win over Rotherham County played on neutral territory earned them a trip to First Division Newcastle United in the First Round. Newcastle were the team of the FA Cup during the first ten years of the 20th Century and had been beaten finalists in both the previous two seasons, and would be twice again and win the competition too in the next four seasons. Ironically, all these Finals for Newcastle came at a ground called Crystal Palace and the club seemed to be cursed by the name, especially after Horace Astley scored the only goal of the game to give Crystal Palace a 1-0 win.
Palace then defeated Southern League rivals Fulham (1-0 after a goalless draw in the Second Round) and Brentford (1-0 after a 1-1 draw in the Third Round) before being drawn at home to Division One side Everton in the Quarter Finals. Astley scored again in the 1-1 draw, but Everton won 4-0 in the replay. It would be almost 60 years before Palace made it so far again.
The 1964-65 season was the club’s first back in Football League Division Two after 40 years away and so they were exempted until the Third Round in that season’s FA Cup. Cliff Holton scored a hat-trick as Palace beat fellow Division Two side Bury 5-1 at Selhurst Park, before despatching Southampton from the same Division 2-1 in the Fourth Round. A home tie against Nottingham Forest in the Fifth Round was won 3-1 and Holton scored his fifth goal of the campaign in the win. In the Quarter Finals Palace were drawn at Leeds United, flying high in Division One in their first season after promotion and at the start of what would be a golden 10 years for the club. Leeds United were too good for Palace on the day running out 3-0 winners.
Eleven years later Palace made it as far as the last four for the first time in their FA Cup history, becoming one of a handful of clubs playing in the Third tier to do so. An inauspicious 1-0 First Round win at home to Isthmian League outfit Walton & Hersham, with David Kemp scoring the only goal, suggested little about what was to come after it. Fellow Division Three side Millwall were beaten 2-1 after a 1-1 draw in the Second Round, and thanks to goals from Peter Taylor and Ian Evans, the Eagles scraped past Northern Premier League club Scarborough 2-1 in the Third Round. And then came the mighty Leeds United once again, still playing in Division One but now on the wane from their glory years, although still a force to be reckoned with. However, David Swindlehurst’s first half header proved to be the only goal of the game and Palace were through.
Peter Taylor struck twice, including a match-deciding free-kick, as Palace won 3-2 away at Second Division Chelsea in the Fifth Round to make the Quarter Finals for the third time. This time Alan Whittle scored the only goal of the game as Palace won 1-0 at Second Division Sunderland to earn a place in the Semi-Finals and a return to Stamford Bridge where they faced yet another Division Two side Southampton. However, the Saints proved too strong on the day and won the tie 2-0 before going on to shock Manchester United in the Final.
And then came 1990. Palace were back in Division One, but struggled all season, and the FA Cup became a welcome distraction from their League challenges. A goal from Geoff Thomas and an Andy Gray penalty gave Palace a 2-1 Third Round home win over Second Division Portsmouth. This was followed up by a comfortable 4-0 home victory over Third Division Huddersfield Town with Mark Bright scoring twice. Then came two successive ties against Fourth Division clubs both of which Palace scraped through winning 1-0, first Rochdale at Selhurst Park with Phil Barber scoring the only goal of the game, and then Cambridge United with Geoff Thomas on the scoresheet.
This set up a Semi-Final tie at Villa Park against the mighty Liverpool, the current FA Cup holders, winners of nine League Championships in the previous 14 seasons (plus would be Champions again at the end of the season), and 9-0 winners over Crystal Palace in the League earlier that season. Palace didn’t have a chance, did they? As it turned out they did, turning both the form book and expectations upside down with a terrific topsy-turvy 4-3 win after extra time, with Alan Pardew scoring the eventual winner.
Palace faced Manchester United in the final at Wembley with the odds equally stacked against them but with history almost repeating itself. Gary O’Reilly gave the Eagles an early lead before going 2-1 down, and then came Ian Wright off the bench to take the game into extra time. Wright then put Palace ahead in the first period of that extra time, only for the club to be pegged back with seven minutes remaining. Palace had missed their golden opportunity and Manchester United would go on to win the replay 1-0 (and, some say, save Alex Ferguson’s job in the process).
One more run to the Semi Finals five years later, with Manchester United once again defeating the Eagles after a replay, is the closest Palace has got to replicating that FA Cup Final appearance in 1990. However, only 57 different teams have ever appeared in FA Cup finals and the Eagles can feel rightly proud of being members of that exclusive club.