Friday 4th January 2019 was a markedly sad day for Palace fans. It was the day that our youth product Jonny Williams left the club permanently, moving across South London to a small club named Charlton, while 'one of our own' in the form of Jason Puncheon left the club to join Huddersfield. Both of these transfers have been coming if we are honest, and were necessary for all parties. However, that does not stop them from saddening our hearts a little, given how much both players were thought of by the club and us fans, and the roles they have played in our journey. What a lot of fans don't realise though, is that while Friday saw two loved players leave the club, it also saw one loved player make a return.

Around midday, Twitter released a little nugget of info, as the Crystal Palace Ladies account made us aware of some big news that would be announced at 3pm. I, and I imagine most others, had no clue what that news could be. With league action set to return the next day, all attention had been firmly on the small matter of a derby match with Millwall, that was also a vital relegation battle. So while the teaser of big news caused some intrigue, I didn't think much of it. Then 3pm came, and with it the revelation that would have had the entire CPLFC Loyal celebrating wherever they had seen the news. Forward Gemma Bryan, a CPLFC favourite, had returned to the club. For those who don't follow the women's game, or are still learning about it, it's the equivalent of when Wilf came back, or if we had signed AJ back from Everton six months after selling him.

I have stated in a previous article that my knowledge and new found passion for CPLFC started in the summer, but that for the last two years small bits of information had started filtering through to me via social media. Well, before I looked into sponsorship, before I knew the team, I still knew about Gemma Bryan. Every time I would see a tweet about a match result, I would most often see the phrases 'Gemma Bryan scored' or 'yet another goal by Gemma Bryan'. There were two things I knew for sure about CPLFC before the summer. One was that the team was increasingly improving, and the other was that Gemma Bryan was a goal machine.

The love affair between Gemma and the club appeared to be over though. In the close season, as the new look Women's Championship was formed, CPLFC were told that their application had been unsuccessful(unjustly). This left everyone with a difficult decision of what to do next. A few of the team's key players would leave, taking the opportunity to join clubs that would be in the Championship, grabbing at the chance to play at a higher level. Gemma Bryan was one of those, as she returned to her former team in the shape of Charlton. Honestly, can anyone blame those who left? A political decision had robbed them of the chance to test themselves on a bigger stage, something any footballer would aspire to. When clubs came calling, so did a well deserved opportunity. No one begrudged them of their decisions, especially not Gemma and all she had done for the team.

Gemma finished last season as the second highest scorer in the league, and had racked up over a hundred goals in total for Palace hitting the hundred mark in her 69th appearance back in April,2018. It was fair to say that she had done more than her share. While Gemma moved on, the club began to prepare for life in the third tier, with preparations made accordingly in regards to recruitment, preseason and such. Then of course, with three weeks until the season started, Doncaster Belles dropped out of the new Championship due to financial reasons, and Palace were promoted into it. To a degree, it was a golden apple with a rotten core. The club at last had the chance that it more than deserved to play at a higher level, the second tier of women's football in this country. It was the opportunity to mix regularly with the big teams, to become one of them. However, the problem was that we had been preparing for a lower division, while everyone else in the league had been preparing for that level. While we had seen key players depart, the newly formed Man Utd team was luring in big players courtesy of their brand, and a £5m budget. For any team, it is tough to replace a top striker. When you take over a hundred goals out of the side, it was going to be harder in the third division, let alone stepping up a division to the Championship.

It has certainly been visible this season so far. The ladies have worked their socks off every single game. They have given absolutely everything, battled for every ball and deserved more than has been achieved so far. Goals though, have been the problem. Before the 7-2 cup thumping of the London Bees that ended 2018, the goals just hadn't been there. Only three goals had come at home, two in defeat and one a match winner, while another three had come on the road. The performances had been there at Lewes, Millwall and Charlton to get wins, but we had been unable to build on the one goal scored. It is a similar problem as to what has been plaguing the men. The defence is solid generally, the performances have often been there, but we just don't score the goals to convert that into points. There has been nothing more the ladies could have done, it is simply a case of having to play catch up on the other teams. In fact, our ladies have done incredibly well, especially given injury troubles that have seen us struggle to even form a bench. The return of Gemma however, could be the change of all that.

It wasn't working out at Charlton, with just the one goal in four appearances. She was hungry for more game time, eager to get out on the pitch and play, but that opportunity was not forth coming. Meanwhile, Palace were crying out for a talisman, a goal scorer, just like the one they had lost in the summer. Both parties were seeking what the other needed, and thankfully that was identified and acted upon, so that we could start the year by welcoming Gemma home. She will get the games here, in surroundings she knows so well. The team also know they have a player they can trust, rely on, and will get them those much needed goals.

For those who say 'never go back', you only need to look at Saturday night's game at home to Millwall to see just how right this move is for everyone. Playing up front with Ashley Hincks, we carried a lot of attacking threat. We had a target, and the play seemed far more focused. When the team works so hard, sometimes it just needs that extra little element to complete the performance. Gemma gave us that, her presence gave everything that little boost. We all hope for the same courtesy of the transfer window in the men's team. We love the players we have, it just needs that extra element to lift it all. If the play wasn't proof enough, Gemma first of all got an assist, then rounded off the performance with a goal that helped seal a 3-1 win. If you want to know how much it meant to everyone, just look at the photo below, taken by Tara Hook Photography(as are all the action photos I use), as Gemma immediately ran over to the stand to celebrate with the CPLFC Loyal who mobbed her.

There will be pressure on Gemma, that is undeniable. Now she is back, the hope will be she can keep up her scoring record and fire in those much needed goals. It is a pressure, that I am sure she will absolutely thrive upon. The fact is, after beating Millwall and moving five points clear of them, for the first time we can start to look upwards, and target Lewes who are only three ahead, rather than just purely look over our shoulder. So welcome back Gemma, there truly is no place like home!!

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