“Passion like Puncheon, your team ain’t like us. What player have you got that score and then cry huh?”
Those are lines from the song ‘Glad All Over Again’, released by Doc Brown and Verb T ahead of the 2016 FA Cup Final. For me, I could not think of a better way to start a piece saying farewell to Jason Puncheon, than to use those lyrics.
On Friday 4th January 2019, Jason Puncheon’s career with Crystal Palace came to an end, as he signed with Huddersfield Town on loan until the end of the season. With his contract expiring at the end of the season, it is hard to believe that we will see Jason play for us again. While I, and many others, believe the time had come for the split, this is not an article designed to look at any negatives, but instead focus on all the positives that Jason gave us in his time here.
I must say, Jason did not really appear on my radar until January 1st 2011. On that cold day, as I was on a day trip to Hastings, Jason Puncheon was thumping in a hat trick against our beloved Eagles, for Millwall of all teams! While it was a miserable result, he actually did us a favour that day. Steve Parish wielded the axe for the first time (of many) that day, seeing George Burley leave while we were in the relegation zone and paving the way for Dougie Freedman to step in and save us. From then on, I would keep seeing Jason’s name on scoresheets, and so when he signed for us on loan in 2013, my immediate thoughts were that it was a great signing. It didn’t quite start though, as we all would have hoped. In fact, in the January window, when his deal was made permanent, to free up a loan spot for Tom Ince, it was easy to question whether that was a wise move or not. Thankfully, it would 100% prove to be so.
Under Tony Pulis, Jason began to find his wings, chipping in with assists, goals and creativity that helped the team to get the much needed results. That season he played 34 games, scoring 7 goals. He was a vital cog in the machine, playing a key part in the squad that achieved something never before achieved by a Palace team in the Premier League, survival. He was undoubtedly one of the first names on anyone’s team sheet.
The next season, under first, Neil Warnock and then Alan Pardew, he made 37 league appearances, scoring 6 goals. If I remember rightly, the first half of the season was again a bit of a struggle, but once Pardew walked through the doors, he found his form. While Pardew’s first game in charge was a 4-0 win against Dover in the cup, his first league game came against Tottenham under the lights at Selhurst. We were expected to lose, and when Harry Kane put Spurs 1-0 up early in the second half, it looked to be headed that way. A Dwight Gayle penalty however, looked like it may snatch a draw, when Jason popped up in the 80th minute to put a winner into the bottom corner. It was a goal that stuck in the mind, on the night that the ‘Oh Jason Puncheon, He’s One Of Our Own’ chant was born, to counter Spur’s chant for Harry Kane. Jason would light up Selhurst again, one night in April, when he fired in a stunning free kick to beat Man City 2-1. These two seasons would prove to be the peak of his scoring prowess in red and blue, however, he would still have two famous goals left in him.
2015-16 season would see Alan Pardew in charge for his one and only full season. For the first, and currently only season so far since promotion, we actually started well. So well, that by Christmas we were in the giddy heights of 5th in the table. When it came to the league however, it was a downhill decline from Christmas onwards. Having looked so good in those opening months, we could only watch on in horror as our team suddenly became totally incapable of beating anyone. Week after week points were dropped, and as dreams of Europe quickly faded, fears of relegation became increasingly real. Then came the first of those famous goals. In April, fellow strugglers Norwich came 2/3to town. We were on a horrendous run, we hadn’t won in the league since December 19th away to Stoke, a shocking total of 14 games without a win. On that April day, it was starting to look like it would stretch to 15 games, when up popped Jason Puncheon, beating his man to then fire into the bottom corner right in front of the Holmesdale. As the ground erupted, Jason broke down into tears as he ran off to celebrate what would prove to be the vital winning goal. It was the moment that inspired those lyrics, a moment that we all felt a part of.
We would end up scraping to survival, with Jason managing 2 goals in 31 league appearances. The season did not quite end there though, and nor did Jason. During that god awful second half of the season, where we couldn’t beat anyone in the league, we were somehow beating Premier League teams in the FA Cup. Southampton were dispatched in the third round, followed by Stoke in the 4th. A 5th round trip to White Hart Lane looked like it would end our run, but Martin Kelly had other ideas as he rifled in a beauty for a 1-0 win. The quarter final would see a break from Premier League teams, as we beat Championship side Reading 2-0 away, before switching back to Premier League opposition in the form of Watford, who were beaten 2-1 at Wembley in the Semi Final. This left us Palace fans, having experienced a terrible second half to the league season, with the excitement of an FA Cup Final. A bombshell would come on that day however, as Alan Pardew inexplicably made the decision to leave Jason on the bench, a decision that brought teammate Wilfred Zaha to tears. No one understood why, but it looked like Jason would miss out on our big day. Jason however, had other ideas. Brought on as a second half sub, with the score still 0-0, Jason would then have the moment that will be frozen in our minds forever. Breaching the United backline, he fired past De Gea into the roof of the net, right in front of all of us, to send us into delirium, and unbelievable scenes. Although we would eventually go on to lose 2-1 in extra time, for a short while, Jason Puncheon was winning us the FA Cup, and it is something I will never forget.
After Wembley, Jason would never quite reach such heights again. The next season under first, Pardew, and then Sam Allardyce, would see Jason make 36 league appearances with no goals. His final two seasons under Roy Hodgson saw him make ten and five appearances, mainly as a sub, with no goals. Not only did the goals dry up, but so did the assists. However, Jason being Jason, he still found one more way to help the team when it desperately needed it. When Sam Allardyce took over, he quickly identified some of the massive weaknesses in the squad, and set about making changes. As well as making new signings, he made another crucial decision that I feel had more impact than some would think. He made Jason captain. In that second half of the season, as Sam guided us from relegation to survival, it would be easy to claim that in terms of play, Jason was probably the weak element of the team. However, as a captain, he was an inspirational move. One of our own, a local lad who had shown so much passion for the club, he provided leadership both on and off the pitch, and helped give us someone to get behind once more. I remember hearing a podcast interview with him, where he talked about how, as captain, he took it upon himself to be as involved off the pitch as he possibly could, in order to try and help the players, as well as the community. The captainship was a masterstroke, and Jason wore it with pride.
As you can see, like many who have worn the red and blue, Jason certainly had his ups and downs with the club. He may not have been prolific in front of goal, but the ones he did score, seemed to always carry so much importance with them. I for one, will always remember Jason fondly, and if the 3/3reaction last Friday is anything to go by, everyone else feels the same. So as he now embarks on a new adventure, and we look to make our own progress, let us take this moment to both applaud and thank a man who gave everything for this football club, which clearly mattered so much to him, as he did to us.
Thank you Jason, one of our own.