Goalkeepers

No contest: John Jackson was without doubt the finest goalkeeper to play for Palace, and one of the best in the country.

John Jackson
He was not only capable of making miraculous saves, but produced them week after week until one came to take them for granted. He saved so many certain goals that, without him, Palace would never have stayed in the First Division for as long as they did, and his loyalty to Palace probably denied him the chance of playing for England, although he did turn out once for a representative Football League side. It was often said that if he had been born anywhere but England he would certainly have played for his country, but I would argue that only Gordon Banks was his superior, and that Jacko should have been his understudy in the England team. The worst decision that Malcolm Allison ever made was to sell Jackson to Orient in 1973, and I maintain that Palace would not have been relegated that season had he stayed in goal, instead of the younger and vastly inferior Paul Hammond. In his attitude to the game and his dedication he was the model professional, and the sort of player that any youngster should look up to and admire, and more than ever football needs more like him. There have been other goalkeepers, of course, and it is worth having a look at their claims, but as Jackson was my complete hero his is the one place in this make-believe team that is sacred.

Paul Hammond had to bear the burden of Malcolm Allison's patronage in preference to Jackson, and after keeping goal after a fashion as Palace slid down through the Second Division spent the next three seasons alternating between the sticks with Tony Burns. Hammond was a competent technician when it came to positioning and handling of crosses, but rarely made saves out of the ordinary, while the more experienced Burns was at least a better shouter. After the blandness of these two, the contrast when John Burridge took over was enormous, and quite apart from his clowning he was also a very good player. Burridge was ever-present in the Second Division championship season of 1978-79, and his irrepressible enthusiasm had a positive influence on the young defenders in front of him. However much he enjoyed entertaining the crowd, he was fanatical about perfecting his own game, and any goal that went past him made him furious, unable to accept that some goals just can't be helped. The circumstances of Burridge's departure were symptomatic of the chronic malaise running through the club after 1979, and although he didn't actually leave until following Venables to QPR, he had fallen out over his contract long before that, and was replaced in the team by Paul Barron, from Arsenal. Barron was by no means as bad as his reputation nowadays would have one believe, but he had the bad luck to play for Palace during one of their worst ever periods, and he could have been Dino Zoff for all the difference it would have made.

After Alan Mullery had sold Barron to West Bromwich Albion, David Fry played out the rest of the 1982-83 season, but Mullery then went out and bought another Arsenal reserve, the bird-watching Scotsman George Wood, who only missed three games in the next five years before his ignominious end in 1988. Wood was never the quickest of players, but he was better than his immediate predecessors, and played consistently well until quite near the end. In his final season he was increasingly being blamed for a number of goals, particularly away from home, but the final straw for Steve Coppell was the disastrous 4-4 result at Leicester, Wood shouldering the blame for throwing away three points. After Wood had conceded 13 goals in five games, Coppell took decisive action and bought the England Under-21 keeper Perry Suckling from Manchester City, with Wood going to Cardiff. Suckling was quicker, sharper, more agile, and above all younger than Wood, and being a local boy the fans took to him at once. He had trouble with his kicking leg which meant him missing most of the first half of the 1988-89 season, and although Brian Parkin did a good job in his place, Suckling's return coincided with a run of good form that ultimately lifted Palace towards the play-offs. Suckling played a heroic part in winning promotion, and it was hard luck on such a likeable character that he should become the butt of so many cruel jokes after Liverpool's 9-0 win the following season. It is to his credit that after Palace had spent 1 million on Nigel Martyn to replace him, Suckling didn't indulge in any petulant outbursts, but instead got on with trying to play his way back into form, and did a particularly good job by all accounts when on loan to West Ham. Let's hope that he gets the chance before too long to re-establish himself with a decent club.

Nigel Martyn came to Palace having already been spoken of as a future England goalkeeper, and I find it hard to understand why anyone should complain at the amount spent on him, since to my mind a really good goalkeeper is one of the most valuable assets a team can have. Martyn's first season for Palace was inconclusive, and there were several goals conceded for which he was certainly at fault, but even in that short time one could see that he had a special quality about him that might one day make him a great player, and the way he handled himself during the F.A.Cup semi-final and final was truly impressive. Whether he makes the progress needed to establish himself in the England team will depend a lot on how Palace's defence shape up in front of him, but my guess - rather my hope - is that we will soon hail Nigel Martyn as "the new John Jackson", and I can think of no higher compliment.

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