Former Palace star Mark Bright recalls cup triumph as zenith for soaring Eagles

George Sessions, PA
·5-min read

Crystal Palace travel to Everton on Monday, two days before the 30th anniversary of their Zenith Data Systems Cup triumph, and the fixture brings back fond memories for their former forward Mark Bright.

The Eagles clinched silverware at Wembley on April 7 in 1991 with a 4-1 victory over the Toffees after extra-time and it remains the club’s only major trophy.

After losing to Manchester United in the FA Cup final the year before, Steve Coppell’s men were able to go a small way to avenging that disappointment thanks to goals from captain Geoff Thomas, John Salako and a brace by Ian Wright in front of 52,460 spectators.

Crystal Palace celebrate their 4-1 victory over Everton in the Zenith Data Cup Final at Wembley
Crystal Palace celebrate their 4-1 victory over Everton in the Zenith Data Systems Cup final at Wembley (PA Archive)

The Full Members’ Cup, known for sponsorship reasons as the Zenith Data Systems Cup, was introduced in 1985 after English clubs were banned from competing in Europe and while it disbanded seven years later, it is fondly remembered by those at Selhurst Park.

“We all know what people say, ‘it is only the Zenith Data’ but that was the competition we were in and under Steve his line was, ‘if we are in it, we want to win it’,” Bright told the PA news agency.

“In 1990 we managed to get through to the FA Cup final and played Man United and it was the glamour of it. It was everything you ever wished for to play in an FA Cup final at Wembley and against one of the biggest teams, so it was a dream come true without getting our hands on the trophy.

“Where as the next year you can’t build yourself up for it to be like the FA Cup, but what it did was it gave us a determination just to try and win. The focus was we have tasted one side of the result, let’s taste the other.”

Victory over Everton coupled with a third-place finish in the First Division at the end of the 1990-91 campaign proved the culmination of a golden period in Palace’s history.

After earning promotion via the play-offs in 1989, Coppell’s side came within seven minutes of winning the FA Cup a year later before they were relegated from the Premier League in 1993.

Steve Coppell, left
Steve Coppell was a big hit at Selhurst Park (Fiona Hanson/PA)

“Those three years are very tough to beat as a Palace player and fan,” Bright admitted.

“With Steve, he got the best out of the group of players. We were a young, mid-twenties hungry bunch. Some of us had been disappointed by being released, told we were not good enough and he formed a band of brothers.

“He got everyone pulling in the right direction and working hard for each other. It was a great team to play in, we just didn’t know what was around the corner, but I do look back now with great fondness.”

Key to Palace’s success was the strike partnership of Wright and Bright, with the pair a stern examination for any defenders they would face.

Together the duo scored a combined eight goals in that season’s Zenith Data Systems Cup with Wright’s double in the final this time key to victory after his FA Cup brace against United in 1990 could only secure a 3-3 draw.

Bright insisted: “I think it is wrong to pick out two people in a team that achieved so much.

New Shirt Sponsor – Photocall –  Mark Bright and Ian Wright – Lancaster Gate
Ian Wright and Mark Bright were Palace’s star forwards (PA Archive)

“We were very fortunate Ian and I had a great understanding, relationship and partnership but we had some great people around us like Salako, Phil Barner, Andy Gray, Geoff and Eddie McGoldrick putting crosses in.

“The year before Ian had suffered the heartbreak of not starting the FA Cup final because he had two broken legs in the same season. He came on and scored and we thought we were going to win and next thing you know we have a replay.

“I suppose he made up for not starting in the FA Cup by scoring a couple in the Zenith Data Final. It was a great period for the club, the fans and the players.”

Also part of Coppell’s group was a young Gareth Southgate, who made his full debut for Palace in a Zenith Data Systems Cup semi-final tie against Norwich in 1991.

While the centre-back had to wait until the following season to establish himself in the Eagles’ starting XI, one of his old team-mates is hopeful the England boss can lift more silverware at Wembley this summer.

Gareth Southgate
Current England manager Gareth Southgate broke into the Palace team in 1991 (John Giles/PA)

“Gareth is in a great position, has a great bunch of players and we have people comfortable on the ball in all areas and that is what’s needed in order to win,” Bright added.

“You need a bit of luck and belief as you go along the way and you get that as you turn results into wins.

“I have got my fingers crossed for various reasons. I’d love in my lifetime to see England win something and also it’s a former team-mate who is in the helm, so I would be absolutely made up for Gareth.”