What do eagles and Crystal Palace have in common? Seemingly nothing.
Why then are Crystal Palace called the Eagles?
It is an interesting nickname and an interesting story behind it that is open to a certain amount of debate.
So let’s find out more…
Why Are Crystal Palace Called The Eagles?
The reason Crystal Palace are called the Eagles comes down to one man, former manager Malcolm Allison. Upon taking over the team in 1973 he saw that the whole club needed an overhaul. He changed the club nickname to the Eagles, had the badge redesigned to include an eagle and changed the kit colour from claret and light blue to red and blue.
Changes Are Afoot
On 31 March 1973, a watershed moment in the history of Crystal Palace Football Club took place.
Malcolm Allison was appointed manager.
Within a matter of months the club had a new nickname, new shirt colours, a new badge, oh and had been relegated.
Prior to Allison’s arrival Palace had been known as the Glaziers.
They took this nickname from the famous glass palace built for the Great Exhibition and which the club was named after.
Although Crystal Palace formally became a professional team in 1905, an amateur team was established way back in 1861, just ten years after the Great Exhibition was held.
At that time, many of the men who played for the newly formed Crystal Palace were full-time glaziers by trade who worked at the world-famous Crystal Palace.
This has led to an argument that Crystal Palace holds a right to be recognised as the oldest professional football club in the world, a title that goes to Notts County who were formed in 1862.
But that is a story for another day.
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A Clean Sweep
Upon his appointment, Malcolm Allison immediately recognised that the club’s entire image, both on and off the pitch, needed to be freshened up.
There is actually some debate over the reasons behind many of the changes Allison instigated, so we will look at both sides of the argument now.
The commonly held view is that Allison introduced the nickname the Eagles as a homage to the Portuguese giants Benfica (whose nickname is Aguias, which translates to Eagles) and changed the kit to red and blue as a tribute to Barcelona.
These explanations seem very plausible.
In the 1960s, just as Allison was finishing his playing career and moving into management, Benfica were one of the best teams in the world.
With an attack spearheaded by the great Eusebio, they won the European Cup twice and were runners-up a further three times.
Barcelona too was establishing international repute.
What better way to refresh the image of the club, than by adopting the nickname and the kit of two of the greatest clubs around?
The Real Reason?
However, it is possible the reason for the change might not have anything to do with these giants of international football.
Over at the CPFC BBS forum, user CP Satellite recounts meeting Malcolm Allison at a supporter’s evening at the time and asking him the story behind the nickname and the kit change.
The word from the horse’s mouth was that Allison thought the club’s nickname at the time of the Glaziers was too old-fashioned.
He hired a PR man to make the club’s image more dynamic. The suggestion was incorporating an eagle into the club badge.
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Allison liked this suggestion and went with it, in 1973 a newly designed club badge showed an eagle holding a football, with the bird also becoming the club’s new nickname.
The same goes for the change of colours from claret and light blue to red and blue.
At the aforementioned supporter’s evening Big Mal said the colour change was not influenced by Barcelona, but rather for a fresher, more energetic look.
In fact, the new Palace kit was suspiciously similar to the away kit worn by Manchester City a few years earlier when Allison had been manager there.
Whatever the reason, during Allison’s brief spell as Palace manager, he was there from 1973 to 1976 (and returned for a two-month spell in 1980/81), he had a big impact on the future of the club.
All football fans now know Palace as the Eagles, with their recognisable red and blue kit.
On the Pitch
For everything that happened off the pitch, Allison’s time as Palace manager on the pitch was less than successful.
The club were already in freefall when he took over at the end of the 1972/73 season and got relegated from the top flight.
The following season, they were relegated again.
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By the 1974/75 season, they were in Division Three, where they finished 5th.
Malcolm Allison’s last season in charge of Crystal Palace was the 1975/76 season, and was his most successful.
A string of victories over higher league opposition saw Palace reach the semi-final of the FA Cup where they lost to eventual winners Southampton.
In the league they built up a big lead early on, but then faltered and again finished 5th again.
Allison resigned in May 1976, at the end of a season that had promised so much but delivered nothing.
Whether Malcolm Allison changed the Crystal Palace nickname and kit to be more like Barcelona and Benfica, or whether he simply did it to reinvigorate the club’s image, I think we can say one thing.
Red and blue has remained the club colours ever since, and the club crest still features an eagle, the name by which all football supporters know Crystal Palace.
In fact from 2010 until 2020 an American bald eagle called Kayla would fly around Selhurst Park before games.
So the reason Crystal Palace are called the Eagles comes down to one man (or two if you include the PR man who came up with it I guess).
For good or for bad he definitely left an indelible mark on the club.