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January 26 2021 10.04pm

Crystal Palace Academy: At the heart of football

July 19 2020

Wilfried Zaha

Wilfried Zaha

A team with the history of Crystal Palace garners a strong base of support from fans. However, the true strength of the club is its youth set-up and academy, writes Ben Blake.

When you are looking for a team with a solid history of continued elite success, you should look to Crystal Palace. If you look at what this Premier League side has to offer, you will realise that you will back a team with a heritage.

You might be surprised by the suggestion that Palace deserve your attention. They are not the headline grabbers like Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea.

However, they have recently earned the same Category 1 status for their junior set-up. They are a club that wants to grow success from its roots and will undoubtedly flourish for the investment made.

The Crystal Palace Academy is at the heart of the football played at the club. Here we explore the successes in the youth set-up and what it might mean for the future.

The Category 1 Academy

Being rated at the highest level for elite sport development, Palace have shown their hand. They want to be a world-class set-up that produces some of the best talents in the world.

The Under 18s team now play in the Premier League South Division and the U23s compete in Premier League 2 next season. This gives you an idea of the depth and quality at the club.

You might argue that the Academy is a means of funding the first team. If you can nurture talent through a highly-prized youth system, you can demand a decent price tag when it comes to the transfer market. The money earned from this business can then be used to buy in the big names that could transform the premiership fortunes of Palace.

However, the youth set-up is not so cynical as all that at Crystal Palace. 36 players have come through the academy ranks and played in the first-team over the last 15 years. Together, these players have accumulated 1,000 appearances for the club. Of course, this is a small proportion of the players that have come through the club but does give hope to those playing for the Eagles that they could get to the biggest stage.

The club recently secured the lease for the academy site, which is across the road from the first-team training ground. Can you imagine being a youngster and turning up to the same place as your professional idols?

How it came about

Obviously, Crystal Palace will have invested much in the development of the youth set-up at the club. The facilities are an important statement about the ambitions of the club leadership. However, there were also thousands of supporters who committed to becoming the academy's founder members, helping with donations so that the project can sustain young players for years to come.

Ultimately, the Category 1 status was the culmination of a lot of work by the staff at Palace, who secured the land and planning permission in record time. It is also a symbol of the commitment and ambition of the chairman, who championed the project.

Future Ambitions

The ambitions of the club are marked by their investment in the academy. As the chairman noted, they feel this category one status is testament to their commitment to becoming one of the leading football academies in the country. He sees South London as a focal point of footballing talent and with the right investment could produce a core of attractive and skilful next-generation players.

But this is a project that is at the heart of the community. The area where Crystal Palace serves is one with huge inequalities and instances of social and economic poverty. The academy is there to provide an enhanced presence in the local community, helping to positively impact the lives of young people who would otherwise fall under the radar.

It might feel cliched to say that the club is “giving back” to the fans but it is clear that the academy could also provide amazing educational facilities and opportunities for job training programmes. The site will also be made available for community use through the Palace for Life Foundation. This foundation is a charity that runs through the summer holiday, as well as providing funding and space for disability teams as well as community engagement initiatives.

What it all means

First, Crystal Palace should be congratulated on an awesome achievement, competing successfully with clubs with the big money. The youth set-up at Palace demonstrates a commitment to the future of the club and will hopefully produce the next star that will catapult the team to the other end of the table.

Even if the fortunes of the first team are not improved, the facilities will offer an essential link to the south London community that desperately needs a symbol of hope. It goes to prove this is more than just football, this is a genuine attempt to become the heartbeat of the local area.

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