Streatham MP and lifelong Crystal Palace FC fan Chuka Umunna has paid a visit to Selhurst Park to speak with Palace TV’s Chris Greirson, about how he grew up with both the colours of red and blue close to his heart.
Umunna’s father, Bennett, was a director at Selhurst Park in the 1980s, the first black director at any top-flight club, and Chuka grew up idolising Steve Coppell’s exciting team, who were pioneers in an era of racial tension.
“I grew up in the era of Wright and Bright, Richard Shaw and John Salako, they were inspirational. Steve Coppell and Ron Noades (the chairman) can take a lot of credit of going out and discovering young talent and turning them into stars. That gave opportunities to people from lots of different backgrounds”.
As a teenager, Chuka worked in the club’s box office – an experience he now says was a great way of developing inter-personal skills. “I refused entry to a fan who abused me. I said, ‘Mate, you’ve come all this way and you ain’t getting into the stadium’. God knows what he thought of this gobby 16-year-old telling him he couldn’t go in, but I thought, ‘if you’re going to abuse me you’re not going in’. I told the stewards as well. Then I tried to make sure I didn’t bump into the guy when I was going home!”
The MP said Crystal Palace had always been a family-oriented club and was special to him because it reminded him of his father.
“I lost my father when I was 13, some of my fondest memories are coming here with my dad and watching matches. I adored this club. He would be over the moon at where Palace are now – though he’d want them to be higher up the table, mid-table would be alright for him!”
The wheel has come full circle for Umunna. Tony Finnigan, who played more than 100 times for Palace and whom he loved watching from the terraces back in the 1980s, is now a constituent.