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Southgate Reflects On Eagles Career

8 October 2016

Tonight sees former Palace academy product Gareth Southgate take charge of England for the first time as he steps up to manage the national team against Malta at Wembley.

The centre-back progressed through the Eagles' academy to make 191 appearances for the club over five years and captain them to the 1994 Division One title to write his name into Palace folklore.

After a successful playing career that later saw him feature for Aston Villa, Middlesbrough and the Three Lions - who he won 57 caps for - he moved from his role as England's under-21 manager to the first-team for the next four games.

However, he has never forgotten the club that gave him his start in the game, and last season he spoke to the Palace matchday programme about his time at Selhurst Park.

You made just over 150 appearances for Palace, how was your time here?  

It was a great time in my life. The club that you start with is always special and Palace had enjoyed great success just before I got into the first-team. I learnt a lot during that period even though I hadn’t even made the step up.

I owe a lot to those people at the club who gave me the opportunity, and of course Alan Smith was a great mentor and always has been in my career. Looking back I will always remember it as a very special period in my life.

After we had suffered relegation in 1993 Alan Smith was appointed as manager. How much of an impact did he have?

It was quite brave of the manager to go with such a young squad at that time. I was made captain at the age of 23 despite the likes of Eric Young and John Humphrey being in their thirties, so that was a big decision but to have the chance to lead the side to promotion was a special feeling.

It was a fantastic season. I can remember back then the boss wanted to introduce pasta on the way back from games on the coach, and make sure the players didn’t drink after matches as well. Early on at Bristol City we lost 2-0 and it makes me laugh to think coming back the coach stopped at the first off-licence to get some beers and we never looked back from that moment on!

We went on and did really well as a group, finishing on 90 points to win the league by a nice margin. So many of the group that played in that season are still involved in the game - I saw John Salako when the Palace squad were up training at St George’s Park, Richard Shaw has attended coaching events with me, I see Chris Coleman at games and still keep in touch with Andy Woodman.

When you are involved in teams like that there is a bond that stays with you, and for me when I look back at my playing days, it is the friendships you make and experiences you go through that brings back such happy memories and that era is certainly one in that category. 

At the end of the 1994/95 season the club unfortunately were relegated and you moved onto Aston Villa, how did that move came about?

It was a difficult decision to leave but I felt I needed a new challenge and Villa came in for me. It was also at a time where the club needed some income after suffering relegation so the fee was agreed. It was a sad way for me to end eight years at the club but my time at Villa was another memorable chapter.

In that first season there was a week where we won the League Cup, I made my full England debut and then lost an FA Cup semi-final to Liverpool. We ended up fourth and in the following few seasons we were never out the top six. 

You mention that full England debut and you would win over 50 caps in total, what did it mean to you? 

For me it was the pinnacle to represent your country. I went to four major tournaments and played in three of them. That is as good as it gets and I don't think that will ever change. 

You are one of 11 people representing 50 million on the biggest stage of them all, and the desire of all our current age groups is still the same now. They want to reach the highest level and I hope they enjoy it as much as I did. 

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