London – Frank de Boer didn’t win a league game in his short tenure at Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park. Back in 1984, Dave Bassett didn’t stick around long enough to see the team play.
Bassett’s stock was on the rise in the summer of 1984. After guiding Wimbledon to the Fourth Division title with 98 points in the 1982-83 season, he had just led them to a second consecutive promotion. His style of play may not have been to the taste of the football purists but, with the club jumping up to the Second Division, the ends definitely justified the means.
Attention from Football League clubs up and down the country was inevitable and in May 1984 a vacancy opened up that tested Bassett’s loyalty to the Dons. Crystal Palace chairman Ron Noades thought his squad was “good enough to have finished in the top eight” but he had just watched manager Alan Mullery produce 15th- and 18th-placed finishes in the Second Division. With average attendances dropping, Noades decided to wield the ax.
Bassett’s contract with Wimbledon expired in October 1984 and he was immediately installed as the favorite to make the short move across south London. After spending a decade at Wimbledon as a player and then a manager, leaving Plough Lane would prove difficult. He was unveiled as the new Palace manager just three days after Mullery’s sacking but he sounded torn over the move. “It was the hardest decision I have ever had to make in football,” said Bassett. “I have spent a great deal of my life at Wimbledon and you cannot turn your back on that sort of thing quickly. This is a new challenge and one that I feel capable facing. Palace can return to the top. This club can get back to where it belongs.”
The appointment was announced on May 17, giving Bassett a full summer and pre-season to assess his resources and transmit his ideas to the players, but he didn’t allow himself enough time to get his feet under the table. On May 21 he addressed the media to inform them of his change of heart. “I preach loyalty and integrity to my players at Wimbledon and I do not believe that this is the time for me to leave,” Bassett explained to shocked and confused journalists. “Having taken Wimbledon in to the Second Division, I have a big challenge here. We have a tremendous bunch of players and they are doing so well at the moment. I really should have thought more deeply about the matter before agreeing to go to Palace.”
“I know people will say I’ve ducked out, but that was never the case. I personally think mine was a braver decision to make. I’ve lost weight, sleep and years off my life not knowing what to do for the best. But my loyalty to Wimbledon proved the decisive factor. I’ve managed them from the Fourth to the Second Division and this is the time I’m needed most.”
Bassett, who had not yet signed his contract with Palace, suggested his close friendship with Noades had played a part in the decision. “Ron Noades was bitterly disappointed but I think in the end he understood my reasons because he said: ‘Go on, off you go. I’ll see you later.’ There was no animosity. I’ve known him for 20 years and I feel our relationship would have suffered if it became boss and worker.”
Noades’ loss was Stanley Reed’s gain and the Wimbledon chairman was delighted. “The door was shut but not bolted as far as Dave was concerned,” said Reed. “Now we can really get down to celebrating our promotion.” The club went from strength to strength under Bassett, gaining promotion to the top flight in the 1985-86 season.
The Palace job subsequently went to Steve Coppell, which made the 28-year-old the youngest manager in the Football League and began a beautiful partnership that would span nine years (in his first spell) and take in promotion, an FA Cup final and a third-placed finish in Division One.
Twelve years after his brief stint at Palace, Bassett returned to the club to work with Noades for over a year. Naturally, when Bassett was appointed the second time around in 1996, a lot of talk surrounded his previous spell at the club. “I was a bit younger then and it seemed a good idea at the time. I soon realized I had made the wrong decision.” Steve Parish knows how he feels.
The Guardian Sport