Survival Sunday - Crystal Palace's Hillsborough Heroics Remembered

Written by Robert Sutherland

There are moments in life that you look back on, key events in your timeline, that are so vivid that you can feel your hairs stand on end, you can taste the air you were breathing, remember where you were stood, the emotions you were feeling and the thoughts you were thinking. For many Palace fans, that memory is Survival Sunday. 

Survival Sunday was the final act in Palace's Hillsborough Heroes, a play that had Shakespearean ups and downs, newly portrayed in the excellent documentary produced by Crystal Palace's media team

As any bard will tell you, final acts require an entire script of build-up to that moment. Scenes need to be set. You need heroes and villains. Darren Ambrose -- a hero of this tale -- speaking to Palace for their brilliant Survival Sunday film, reminds us of the moment that changed that entire season, having just landed in Newcastle prior to that evening's match against the Magpies. 
"I got a message from my wife saying we'd just been put in administration," he says. 
"Then it was like a chain reaction, you heard everyone's phone going off at the same time. We landed in something like 21st place."
Every great play needs characters for whom you feel an affinity. Strong-willed individuals who don't let adversity define them. The kind of people who see hardship and fight it. Palace had plenty of those. 
"The spirit of this club seemed to raise after we were put into administration," says Ambrose. 
Shaun Derry, who captained that Palace side, said similar. 
"It was heartbreaking [when the club went into administration] and it changed everyone's intentions for the rest of the season."
Survival Sunday pitched Palace against Sheffield Wednesday in a winner-takes-all battle of wills and determination.
Palace just had to secure a point to stay up; Wednesday needed all three. But while Palace had the advantage of having two potential winning outcomes, Wednesday had the backing of a packed out Hillsborough. However, every adversary has an Achilles heel. Or makes a telling error. For Wednesday it was giving the red and blue army the entire West Stand -- more than 6000 tickets. 
"When we turned up there were thousands of Palace fans all screaming and wanting us to give it our best," says Ambrose,
"The noise throughout the whole game, from the moment we stepped off the bus to the service station at the end, the noise was absolutely unreal." 
Goals from Alan Lee and Darren Ambrose twice gave the Eagles the advantage, but Palace love to make it difficult for themselves (how else would they script such amazing drama as consistently as they do?) and equalisers from Leon Clarke and then Darren Purse twice pulled the game back into the balance. 
Johnny Ertl, also speaking to Crystal Palace, summed the match up. 
"There was so much tension around. 
It was a battle. It wasn't football of the finest, but it was a real battle," he said.
Palace finished the game, the season and the show with a draw that sealed survival and consigned Wednesday to League 1 football. With Clint Hill fighting his way through Wednesday fans to get back to the changing room, arms flaying as punches were aimed at him, the protagonists celebrated as a team. A team that left its mark on their manager. 
Paul Hart, parachuted in to help stabilise the club after the departure of Neil Warnock, recalls what managing Palace meant to him. 
"Everywhere I go, people ask me about the clubs I've loved being at, and Crystal Palace is at the top of the list," he said.
"People don't realise what sort of a club it is. About the people that work within it, the supporters. And at the time the players that were around, it was a real pleasure to be here." 
Palace were saved. And just a few seasons later were promoted to the Premier League. 
"I think the club has established itself as a really good Premier League club, with great management and great ownership. " says Ertl. "I'm really happy to see the progress over the years that has been achieved." 
The players knew what that moment in time meant to the club, says Derry. 
"Everybody looking back on 2010 probably, collectively understands that it was the rebirth of this football club." 
It's a play we all hope we'll never see again, but one we'll tell everyone about for the rest of our lives.