Crystal Palace’s academy side have flown to India this week after being invited to participate in a prestigious under-19s football tournament.
The Eagles youngsters are set to play in the IFA Shield, a competition that has been in existence since 1893, making it the fourth oldest football cup competition in the world, and the longest running competition in the country.
The IFA Shield’s early years mainly involved matches between British army regiment teams before Indians began to take up football and enjoyed success. Following independence in 1947 British teams stopped competing but many foreign sides from around the world were invited to compete including Uruguayan giants Penarol, Shakhtar Donetsk and Bayern Munich.
Last year it was announced that due to the many other tournaments in the Indian football calendar, the IFA Shield would become an under-19 tournament which has led to Ken Gillard’s boys travelling over, with Palace looking to become the first British side to win the competition since 1936.
The squad will be based in West Bengal and have been placed in a group containing Tata Football Academy, Salgaocar FC, current holders United SC and the most successful club in the tournament’s history, East Bengal FC. There is a side representing Liverpool in the other group alongside three more Indian sides and Malaysian outfit Frenz United.
The two top in each group advance to the semi-finals before a winner is crowned on 6th March.
As well as their matches, the Palace players will also be working with local schools and children in the area as they experience a different way of life away from their usual U18 Professional Development League 2 fixture list.
On the trip, Academy Manager Ben Smith said: "We were delighted to be invited over to India to play in such a fantastic tournament and it was something we couldn't turn down.
"We feel as though the boys will benefit massively from the experience of playing football against some good sides from another continent, and hopefully they'll also pass on some encouragement and advice to local youngsters who we'll visit in schools and other training sessions.
"We're all looking forward to getting underway on Sunday and hopefully the lads will put in some good performances during what will be an unforgettable trip."
Palace’s IFA Shield fixtures (times in GMT)
21st February – Tata Football Academy – Kalyani Stadium, 9am
23rd February – Salgaocar – Barasat Stadium, 11am
27th February – United SC – Barasat Stadium, 11am
29th February – East Bengal FC – Barasat Stadium, 11am
2/3 March – Semi-finals
6th March – Final, 11am