This Sunday Crystal Palace fan Matt Holland will become part of history when he represents Great Britain at the Olympics.
Team GB's last qualifying water polo team was in 1956 and ahead of that record being broken the 23 year-old was invited down to the Beckenham training ground to meet some of his heroes.
“My friend Simon got in contact with the club about coming down to meet some of the players before I go off to the Olympic Village. I have supported the club all of my life and to be able to come down here, watch them train, meet the players and the gaffer was incredible.”
Holland who studied at Sutton Grammar school admitted that playing in the Olympics was something he been working towards as soon as he knew that Britain had secured the games.
“Being part of the Olympics is something that I dreamed of six or seven years ago and what made it even more special was that it was my birthday when the squad was announced (22nd June) just over a month ago. It was probably the best birthday present I will ever get.”
The 6ft4 inch athlete plays in goal for the aquatics event and was seen checking out Julian Speroni's workout regime in the gym and noticed some similarities.
“As goalkeepers you need to be springy and have good strength in your legs and thighs. Julian does a lot of work on his arms like myself as we both throw the ball. It was a real pleasure to meet him today and he asked me how much I was looking forward to the games. For him, along with the other players to take the time to come and talk to me was something very special. Something I will remember for a long, long time.”
After talking to the first team members and posing for a few photos, Holland soon found himself in the managers office talking to the man who he refers to as 'The man who saved Crystal Palace'.
“As a Crystal Palace fan I have three favourite moments. The first has got to be David Hopkin's goal at Wembley. I remember it vividly as my brother was close to tears at the time as he didn't want the game to go to extra time as he was tired and needed to go to bed.
“The second has to to be Stockport in 2001 when Dougie Freedman scored that goal that kept us up. I spoke to him about that goal in his office and he said that at the time it was a blur, he didn't know what was going on until a few seconds after the ball hit the back of the net. Just to be in the same room as him and talk freely was great. You can see why he is liked by the players.
“Last and by no means least it has got to be Neil Shipperley's goal against West Ham to get us to the Premiership. That was unbelievable and again, was another important goal in the club's history.”
As a youngster Holland started water polo at the Sutton and Cheam club and can often be seen plying his trade abroad, having played in Holland for PSV Eindhoven and more recently in France this season for Marseilles.
“I enjoyed this year in France more, the scenery was better and it has a really good professional league, but it is still not as good as the leagues in eastern Europe. The aim of the games for our team is to try and raise the profile and get more people interested in taking part in the sport. It is our duty to try and leave a legacy for the future and we want to make our country proud.”
“I remember being in the south of France in the winter watching the Carling Cup game against Manchester United in a bar. It was packed full of United supporters and me cheering on Palace. It was one of those nights that made you realise how special this club is and all of the fans, watching them going mental in the stands was something else. It was great to walk out of that bar the victor.
“You could say that our GB water polo team are in a similar situation as we are not expected to get out of the group. Hungary, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro are all very strong teams and will be the ones to beat in London. Realistically, we will be the lowest ranked team competing, but with the home crowd behind us, you never know what could happen and we could produce a shock of our own.”
To watch Matt Holland down at the training ground with the players and the manager log on to Palace Player now.
Date Time Fixture
29 Jul 18:20 ROU vs GBR
31 Jul 18:20 SRB vs GBR
02 Aug 18:20 GBR vs USA
04 Aug 18:20 HUN vs GBR
06 Aug 18:20 GBR vs MNE