A 15-year-old Indian boy has won the trip of a lifetime to train at the Crystal Palace Academy.
Dhruvmil Pandya, from Mumbai, triumphed despite being the youngest among more than 100 teenagers who competed for the chance to rub shoulders with the next generation of Palace stars.
The Play for Palace event was organised in partnership with Indian Super League club, Mumbai City FC, and more than 350 young hopefuls took part in preliminary trials. Dhruvmil was one of eight boys who made it from last Thursday's trial evening to the final, held at Sunday's Barclays Premier League Live event in Mumbai.
Dhruvmil has dreamed of playing professional football since he was a small boy and his family has supported him in his ambitions. He has recently been selected to represent the Indian National team at under-17 level.
The judging panel made up of Crystal Palace ambassador Mark Bright, Mumbai City FC chief executive Indranl Blah and first-team player Abhishek Yadav, with input from former Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler, felt he had the most promise of the eight finalists.
“There were so many good players, but once it got down to the final eight I knew I was in with a chance,” said the delighted teenager. “This is a dream come true for me to travel to England and train with the Crystal Palace Academy”.
His diet will be monitored over the coming months and he will follow a fitness plan created by experts at Crystal Palace and Mumbai City FC to help with his conditioning before he arrives at the Academy.
Dhrumvil will not only train at the Academy for a week next spring, but will also meet manager Neil Warnock and first-team players, as well as attending a home match as guest of honour.
When he returns to Mumbai, he will become an ambassador for Crystal Palace, developing his own skills and helping other youngsters follow their dreams.
The Crystal Palace Academy has a long tradition of developing young talent – former Academy members include Premier League stars Victor Moses, Wilfred Zaha, Nathaniel Clyne and Wayne Routledge.
Palace’s initiative is part of a long-term plan to build a long-term partnership in Mumbai, improving footballing standards and to raise the club’s profile in Indi where the Barclays Premier League is becoming increasingly popular.
Crystal Palace ambassador Mark Bright said: “This is a unique initiative. Everyone has a favourite local team and favourite overseas team – we want football fans in India to follow us.
Working with the Magic Bus charity, the CPFC Foundation team also held coaching sessions for local youngsters and an evening workshop for coaches and volunteers at local clubs.