England’s lucrative top division is bursting at the seams like a fresh Euromillions winner’s mattress, with little or no capacity to prevent the overspill.
The surplus of reserves is supporting a bubble that the short-sighted amongst the profiteers see no signs of slowing down. But as well as contributing to a rise in the profile of the league’s lesser lights on a continental level, it is contributing to a significant identity crisis within the English game.
“He’s one of our own” is a chant to be heard more regularly in the stands in recent years which presents the game in England with a conundrum – has the game been flooded with such capital that the miniscule number of home-grown talents on display weekly needs to be vocally celebrated as a success story rather than the norm?
Sentiment on the direction of football can be picked up from supporters quite quickly, and while the majority of the league pumps resources into a wealth of foreign stars and playing staff, Crystal Palace and their vocal fanbase at Selhurst Park are keen to recognise the work being done in SE25 to maintain the strong sense of parochial pride that has flowed through the club since it’s foundation.
Crystal Palace’s progression from Championship also-rans on the brink of liquidation to a Premier League force has been built on a foundation of home-grown talent. The unity that provided the platform for Palace’s rise was from a squad of players who honed their talents in the lower leagues or in the surrounding London area itself.
The frantic globalisation of recruitment can be seen weekly, while it is rare to see more than a handful of homegrown players lining out for top Premier League sides. Opportunities lower down the rung may be more frequeent, but the growing gap is evidenced by the signings made by the likes of Aston Villa, Sunderland, Watford and Stoke where greater value is attributed to imports rather than development of talent.
With Palace, the root of optimism lies in the core. Against Bournemouth in February, seven of the Eagles’ starting eleven were developed in the UK and Ireland. Wilfried Zaha, a high profile product of the Palace Academy, was joined by Croydon native Jason Puncheon. Elsewhere Welsh stopper Wayne Hennessy, Scott Dann of Liverpool, Portsmouth graduate Joel Ward, Frazier Campbell, James McArthur, Damien Delaney and Jordan Mutch all featured.
Having a relatable link to supporters is increasingly vital. While clubs doing well with an array of expensively assembled foreign starts won’t be met with too much discontent from the stands, the understanding of a player’s character and surroundings can do wonders when a team is on a poor run of form. Palace at the moment are on a woeful run of form that has seen them go from being level on points with Spurs before Christmas to now looking over the shoulders at Chelsea.
With Palace there is a real sense of being “South London and Proud” that permeates across many levels of the club. After all, the man marshalling Palace from the dugout this season is Alan Pardew, whose time there as a player in the 80’s and 90’s is remembered best for his iconic headed winner against Liverpool in the 1990 FA Cup Semi-Final at Villa Park.
The bond between manager and supporter from the off was emboldened by the lift it gave Selhurst Park following Neil Warnock’s departure. Pardew himself was revived on arrival following a tumultuous relationship with Newcastle supporters while optimism his arrival brought was translated into a winning formula.
Importantly for Palace the rich association with the club’s traditions is not confined to Pardew and local talent. Pardew’s first and possibly most important decision on arrival was to retain the services of local Keith Millen as his assistant. While Millen’s playing career never incorporated a stint with Palace, his local roots and ability to steady the ship during various periods of managerial uncertainty endeared him to the Palace faithful infinitely.
Alongside Pardew and Millen sit two more familiar faces – former Palace stopper Andy Woodman and talented legend John Salako – a teammate of Pardew’s in the glory days and a player with a deep rooted entwinement with the club.
The supporters at Selhurst are regularly praised for their enthusiasm, vocal support and boisterous presence during games, and both very much feed off each other. Supporters can recognise the passion that is prevalent in the dugout and on the pitch at Selhurst. For the most part, it is clear that the feeling is reciprocated with regularity.
Equally as crucial are the supervising eyes from the boardroom. While Palace have recently been subject to US investment, the four man consortium led by Steve Parish that pulled the club from the brink in 2010 were themselves lifelong Palace supporters.
While foolish to suggest that Palace are the only club in the Premier League with community at its core, the Eagles seem to be a rare breed of bird digging their claws in to their surroundings. With Pardew himself committed to continuing a more organic approach to squad building it also look set to continue.
Burnley fielded an all British side in December 2014. Blackpool did similar a number of years before. Both suffered the same fate. While the stats suggest building a team around British talent won’t equate to success, building a spirit and community within a football club just might. With Premier League clubs about to drown under the weight of their own greed, perhaps the widespread work at Palace can provide the working model?
Featured image: All rights reserved by Paul-M-Wright