Affectionately sung by the home supporters at Selhurst Park, ‘he’s one of our own’ isn’t a football song that can be associated with many professional players these days, but Jason Puncheon could well be the epitome of a football fan come good.
Signed for Palace at the age of eight, Puncheon was not only a ball boy at the club, but his nan lived on nearby Clifton Road, and his mother even closer – working at the stadium when the midfielder was growing up. He was too young to remember the 1990 cup final, but is proud of his (almost) lifelong love affair with the club that started as a seven year-old watching the likes of Ray Houghton and Ian Wright take to the field.
“This is home for me, it couldn’t be a better fit. My nan living on Clifton Road, my mum working at the club, I used to walk with my mum every Saturday or Sunday to Sainsbury’s (next to the ground) and we used to go outside my nan’s to put the cones out on matchday so no one would park outside her house - I know Crystal Palace as well as anybody does.”
It is this passion and love for the south London club that has threatened to boil over at times, the emotion in Puncheon’s tearful celebration after scoring the winning goal against Norwich showed how much it meant to the player, but he says it’s not just him who gets affected by the pressure of wanting to perform well for the fans.
“I feel proud to wear the colours of Crystal Palace and you carry that in your heart and in your head and the team feels the pressure too. We all feel it in different ways but this is my area, this is where I come from and I know everybody around here.
"To walk to my local shop every week and see somebody you know there’s always that ‘when are you going to win’ so you feel that pressure and you only want the club to do well - when you believe in a club so much it does hurt at times.”
Growing up in Croydon and attending the local comprehensive school, Puncheon admits schoolwork played second fiddle to his footballing ambitions, but with an FA Cup final place within his grasp, the playmaker can surely be forgiven for concentrating his energies into matters on the training pitch, as opposed to classroom endeavour.
“I wasn’t the most switched on academic, or brightest student, but that was my own choice, I was always determined to play football and obviously every parent and teacher wants their child to do well. I did see one of my teachers crossing the road and he said well done, and it was the same teacher that said to me if you’re not careful you’re not going to end up playing football, but I did it.”
A win on Sunday will be the penultimate hurdle for the Eagles who are looking to make history by lifting the cup in May, and with his thirtieth birthday fast approaching, Puncheon knows it will be a great way to celebrate that next year approaching.
“It really is a once in a lifetime chance, you can go through your career and not play in a final and you’ve got to grasp it with both hands. You try and cherish these moments as best you can because they don’t come around very often. I’m 30 in the summer, and there’s some people that are younger that will get that chance again but there’s not many players, unless you’re at a top team, that can sit and say they’ve been to semi-finals and cup finals.”
The trip to Wembley will be a first for Puncheon, and regardless of whether it’s his last, he has made sure all his family will be attendance to cheer on their boy that came good.
“They’ll all be there, all 35 of them. I’ve got a big family on my mum’s side, I’ve got a lot of cousins, little cousins, so there’ll be a lot of them there. My mum is happy to see me play at Wembley, she’s always dreamt of it, it’s a big game for the football club and everyone that’s involved on Sunday.”