The first meeting between these two clubs took place in the old Southern League First Division on 29th September, 1906, just one year after Crystal Palace F.C had been formed.
The original Crystal Palace was constructed to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. It was erected in Hyde Park, London out of cast-iron and the recent invention of plate glass – which was strong but also cheap and so used extensively. Because of these huge walls and ceilings of glass the building required little interior lighting, hence it became known as a ‘crystal palace.’ After the exhibition the building was rebuilt on Penge Peak, beside Sydenham Hill in an affluent part of south London and those working on the building – which subsequently gave its name to the area as a whole – were believed to have formed a football team to play in its grounds. This original Crystal Palace club became a founder member of the Football Association in 1861 and its origins also accounted for its first nickname – ‘The Glaziers.’
In 1895 the Crystal Palace venue became the permanent location for the FA Cup Final and, ten years later, a new Crystal Palace football club was formed to be its resident team.
That first Southern league match finished 1.1 and was watched by a crowd estimated at 10,000. After WWI, in 1920, the Football League decided to add a third tier in the south of England – the Third Division – which was made up of many of the clubs from the Southern League, of which Crystal Palace was still one. Palace promptly won the league in that inaugural 1920-21 season (before the Third Division was split into North and South sections) and thus found themselves facing West Ham United in the Football League’s Second Division on 4th March, 1922 in what was their first Football League clash.
West Ham United had been originally formed as Thames Ironworks in 1895 – just as the Football Association were deciding on Crystal Palace as their FA Cup final venue – and had joined the Football League in 1919. They were a powerful team in those days and on their way to the first FA Cup Final to be held at its new home at Wembley Stadium in 1923. Although they were to lose that final 2.0 to Bolton Wanderers in front of King George V and Billie (the famous white horse) they had also earned promotion as runners-up to Notts County that season and would play in the First Division for the first time in 1923-24.
Part of West Ham’s success during this period was due to their prolific striker, Victor (Vic) Watson, who scored one of West Ham’s goals that day in 1922 in a 2.1 win in front of 8,000. Watson, from Girton in Cambridgeshire, scored 326 goals for West Ham in 505 appearances between 1920 and 1936 and is still the club’s record goalscorer (Geoff Hurst is a distant second on 252 goals). He scored 13 hat-tricks for the Hammers and four goals in matches on three occasions, including the second time they travelled to Crystal Palace in the league on 31st March, 1923 in a 5.1 win. Vic Watson died in August, 1988, aged 90.
The encounter in 1923, watched by 14,000 people, was played at ‘The Nest’ – formerly home to Croydon Common F.C. – where Palace were now playing their home matches and before they moved to Selhurst Park – a new, purpose-built stadium – a year later, in 1924. In fact Crystal Palace had to wait for almost 50 years before welcoming West Ham again in the league. A series of relegations and league reorganisations saw them playing back in the Third and then Fourth divisions until subsequent promotions saw them promoted to the First Division in the 1968-69 season for the first time.
Crystal Palace finally got to host a league match against West Ham United at Selhurst Park on Tuesday, 24th March, 1970. A 0,0 draw was watched by 34,801 fans. After a 1.1 draw in this fixture the following season, West Ham won the next two league games at Selhurst Park, scoring three goals on each occasion. A 3.0 win on 30th October, 1971 with goals by Billy Bonds, Clyde Best and Ade Coker was followed the following season by a 3.1 win on 24th March, 1973 with goals from Trevor Brooking, Ted MacDougall and Bryan Robson.
Under manager Malcolm Allison, Palace acquired a new nickname – ‘The Eagles’ – and also, during this period, changed their original strip from the claret and blue (also worn by players of West Ham) to red and blue vertical stripes. They were also relegated again and, apart from two seasons towards the end of the ‘Seventies when both teams found themselves in the Second Division they did not play against each other again in the league until 1991 when, on 17th September, West Ham scored three goals again in a 3.2 win – their goals coming from Mike Small, Mitchell Thomas and Trevor Morley, before a crowd of 21,363.
Crystal Palace finally got their first home league victory against West Ham since their Southern League days in the English Premier League – of which they had been founder members – on 6th May, 1995, more than 73 years after their first Football League encounter. They won the match 1.0 in front of 18,224 with Chris Armstrong scoring the only goal.
West Ham United have generally performed well in their league encounters at Crystal Palace throughout history and, although Palace might cite Millwall and Charlton as bigger London derby opponents, due to their south London locations, they did gain perhaps their most rewarding local bragging rights with a win against West Ham on 29th May, 2004 – just under 100 years since the present club was founded. The match was the League Division One Play-Off Final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, attended by 72,523 football fans, largely from London. Crystal Palace won the match 1.0 with a goal by Neil Shipperley and were consequently promoted back to the Premier League.