When Mark Bright looks back on his career, one big regret stands out. His mind instantly whisks back to the 113th minute of the 1990 FA Cup Final between Crystal Palace and Manchester United.
A brace from Bright’s Palace strike partner Ian Wright looked to have put the south London club on the verge of a first major trophy. Only seven minutes remained and they’d be dancing around Wembley thrusting the famous cup in the air.
But then disaster struck.
As Danny Wallace wriggled clear in the centre of the pitch, his threaded pass set Mark Hughes clear on goal and the Welshman slid a low effort beyond Nigel Martyn to equalise. The match would end 3-3 and five days later, United won the replay 1-0.
Palace and Bright’s hopes were dashed and Sir Alex Ferguson would get his hands on his first trophy as United boss. Not that the historical difference makes any difference to Bright.
“Manchester United weren’t the Manchester United of today,” laments Bright to the What Happened To You podcast. “Sir Alex Ferguson was just in there and been there three or four years and looking to secure his first trophy – and we were winning.
“We had seven minutes to hang on, then Mark Hughes scored, then extra time, then a replay. We’d beaten Liverpool who were the best team in the league [in the semi-final] and there’s one of those things of ‘your name is on the cup’ and it’s one of those folklore things you do start to believe it. That was quite hard to get over, it really was.”
Bright appeared in three cup finals in his career – appearing in both FA and League Cup finals with Sheffield Wednesday in 1993 – but admits it’s his first appearance under Wembley’s twin towers that rankles most.
The feeling that Crystal Palace were on the cusp of something special had been growing among the camp. And as Bright referenced, the semi-final win against Liverpool had been a source of great excitement among a promising Eagles team that had been promoted to the top flight a season earlier.
The win against Anfield’s finest was even more notable because it was the first time the BBC had shown the semi-finals live back-to-back, with Crystal Palace’s tie followed by Manchester United’s clash with Oldham. And it was widely assumed Liverpool’s all-conquering title winners would steam roller their way through, just as they had when they thrashed the Eagles 9-0 earlier that season.
“They [Liverpool] were so good then with the players they had, it was just a unique experience,” Bright recalls.
“We celebrated like we’d won the cup, although we knew we’d got one game to go. But it’s very difficult not to over celebrate considering the task we’d got in front of us, beating the best team in the league.
“We had Wrighty sitting on the side, so we played 4-5-1 and went man to man at the back with one spare and I played up front on my own. We managed to pull off one of the greatest games we’ve been involved in, a bit like Palace beating Liverpool now in a semi-final.”
Despite the final disappointment, that FA Cup run wouldn’t be the zenith for that Crystal Palace side. The following year, that side – which boasted the likes of future England manager Gareth Southgate, Alan Pardew and a young Stan Collymore – came third in the league, only missing out on European qualification due to English clubs being banned following the Heysel Stadium disaster.
Spearheading their charge up the league were the famous Bright and Wright partnership, which saw both striker net in excess of 90 goals each across a five-season spell working in tandem. But as Bright recalls, it didn’t happen by accident.
“I went there [Palace] in November  and from then until the end of the season I scored seven and Wrighty scored eight – and we said: ‘That’s not good enough. If we think we’re elite players and we think we can play in the First Division, we have to work hard and try to get our partnership together working’,” Bright explains.
“Everybody added a little bit to what we had and you have to perfect it. When we got on the pitch, there was just certain things he knew I was going to do and I knew he was going to do. He would sit it up to the far post and I would slide it into the six-yard box for him to slide on and tap in.
“A lot of hard work went on behind the scenes, but on the big stage and on the pitch on the Saturday, that’s where it all came out. Everybody was like ‘wow, that’s telepathic’ but there’s just a lot of hard work went into it.
“You have to remember he scored over 100 goals and I scored over 100 goals in five seasons and I was six. There were only a few goals between us and we averaged 19 goals a season each for five seasons, which is incredible.”
Wright’s departure to Arsenal in 1991 closed that chapter as Palace’s great side slowly dissipated. However, the partnership is still revered by the Selhurst Park faithful today.
By today’s standards, the numbers the duo chalked up would mark them out as a duo to keep together, but as Bright explains, the idea of a fruitful strike partnership back in that era wasn’t uncommon – meaning he followed his own path by moving to Sheffield Wednesday in ’92.
“If you said we’re both going to sign two strikers and they’re both going to score 20 goals a season for the next five season, everybody would say ‘unbelievable, delighted’,” he adds.
“But at that stage, there were so many great partnerships around: Dalglish and Rush, Sharp and Gray, Sheringham and Cascarino, Cottee and McIvanney. You could go to any club and both of the players scored goals, that’s what you had to do or you were out.”
Thankfully for Bright, he could cut it. Even if that FA Cup Final in the summer of 1990 didn’t go his way.
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