Coventry City v Crystal Palace, 1980
Coventry City and Crystal Palace met in the First Division at Highfield Road early in the 1980-81 season. This fixture was won by the home side, but is largely remembered for a Clive Allen ‘goal’ that didn’t count. The Palace striker hit a fierce free-kick which rebounded out from the stanchion in the back of the net, with the referee and linesman believing it had struck the post. “I feel disgusted about that decision today,” said manager Terry Venables, and the misfortune set the tone for his team’s troubled season ahead.
Venables left the following month for Second Division QPR and three more managers (Ernie Whalley, Malcolm Allison, Dario Gradi) were unable to turn the season around. Palace were relegated in April with five games still to play, finishing bottom of the table with only six wins from the league campaign. Clive Allen followed Venables to QPR in the summer of 1981, re-joining former team-mates John Burridge, Terry Fenwick and Mike Flanagan, who all moved in December 1980. It was a far cry from the euphoria of May 1979, when Crystal Palace returned to the top flight after an absence of six years as Second Division champions. Venables, previously a coach under Allison, had guided a young side widely touted as the ‘team of the 80s’ to successive promotions. However after this season’s relegation it would not be until 1989 that Palace made it back into the First Division.
Coventry City, managed by Gordon Milne between 1974 and 1981, were an established First Division outfit by this time, having been promoted in 1967. Fielding promising young players such as Peter Bodak, Paul Dyson, Mark Hateley, Danny Thomas and Garry Thompson, the club just missed out on a first Wembley appearance when they lost to West Ham in the League Cup semi-finals. They finished 16th in the league to extend their stay in the First Division, which was to continue for another two decades. Relegation in 2001 ended an impressive spell of 34 years in the top flight, and their subsequent financial struggles saw them leave Highfield Road and drop into the bottom division of English football. Only in 2020 have they returned to the second tier.
Former Coventry manager and then-chairman Jimmy Hill remained a pivotal figure at the club, having been at the helm during their rise from the Third to the First Division in the 60s. Always an innovator, Hill then made a successful career in television, a career he combined with becoming club chairman in the mid-1970s. In 1981 he oversaw Highfield Road’s conversion into England’s first all-seater stadium, and led a successful campaign to introduce three points for a win into the Football League. Hill died in December 2015.
Clive Allen had been involved in one of English football’s strangest transfer sagas in the summer of 1980, joining Arsenal from QPR in a million-pound deal. He never played a competitive game for the club, spending only two months at Highbury before Arsenal moved him on to Palace in exchange for young England full-back Kenny Sansom. Allen was a prolific striker throughout a career which saw him sign for seven London clubs: QPR, Arsenal, Palace, Tottenham – and after spells at Bordeaux and Manchester City – Chelsea, West Ham, and Millwall.
He won five England caps, making his debut on the summer tour of South America in 1984. Allen’s most spectacular season was for Spurs in 1986-87, when he scored 49 goals in all competitions. That feat earned him PFA and Football Writers’ Player of the Year awards and a recall from Bobby Robson, but he failed to win a regular international place. After retiring from the game, he even managed a brief spell in American football as a place-kicker for the London Monarchs franchise in 1997.
Match details for Coventry City – Crystal Palace; Highfield Road, Football League Division One, Saturday 6 September 1980:
Coventry City: 1 Jim Blyth, 2 Mick Coop, 3 Brian Roberts, 4 Andy Blair, 5 Paul Dyson, 6 Dave Jones, 7 Peter Bodak, 8 Gerry Daly, 9 Garry Thompson (sub Mark Hateley), 10 Tom English, 11 Steve Hunt. Manager: Gordon Milne. Scorers: Daly 2, Blair
Crystal Palace: 1 Paul Barron, 2 Paul Hinshelwood, 3 Terry Fenwick, 4 Jerry Murphy, 5 Jim Cannon, 6 Billy Gilbert, 7 Neil Smillie, 8 Gerry Francis, 9 Clive Allen, 10 Mike Flanagan, 11 Vince Hilaire. Manager: Terry Venables. Scorer: Allen