Wayne Routledge returns to Selhurst Park this Saturday as part of the Swansea squad in this weekend’s Premier League encounter and as he arrives on the visitor’s team coach he will no doubt be recalling his days in SE25 which he recalls with fond memories.
“Looking back at my time at Palace I would say it was a period of my career where I can say that I really enjoyed being at the club, I loved every minute of it. As a youngster it is everybody’s dream to play football and I was very lucky that I had the chance to play at such a young age at Crystal Palace, a club I knew well as it was local to my family and one that I was delighted to get the chance to play for.”
The 32 year old made just over 100 appearances in red and blue and made the dream start of scoring in his full senior debut against Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2002. The following year he was part of the 2003/04 squad that turned the season around and ended up winning promotion through the end of season play-offs.
The first half of the season saw Christmas arrive with the club in the relegation spaces but an arrival in December of Iain Dowie as manager saw a turn-around in fortunes with the campaign ending in Cardiff with a 1-0 victory that saw the club return to the top flight.
“I remember the first half of that season not going too well for us on the pitch and then at Christmas time Iain Dowie was appointed as manager and he also brought into the club John Harbin, who was our fitness coach.. Results started to turn round very quickly and victories meant that the squad started to gain momentum with confidence that the results gave us. We went on a crazy run and took us to where we wanted to be, which was the Premier League.”
The winger has no doubt as to why the change in fortune happened and the prize of the Premier League meant it was all worthwhile.
As a squad we trained extremely hard under that management team , we did double sessions, worked hard in the gym and spent time making sure we were ready for the games, which came along thick and fast in that division. As a player though when you see the benefits of your work on the training ground at the weekend it makes it all worthwhile and it helps push you on. It was a different way of doing things in that second half of the season and again the following year in the Premier League but I wouldn’t have swapped that experience.
“It was a special time for everyone at the club to have won promotion in the way we did and then to be pitting our ability against the best players and teams in the country. It ended in disappointment for us all but we so nearly and should have pulled it off and stayed up but it wasn’t to be for that group at the time.”
Wayne was an ever present in that top flight season and when leaving for Tottenham in 2005 he took with him not only fond memories but also friendships which were to stay with him to the present day.
“I do still keep in touch with a few players from that time but peoples situations in life and football changes so you end up losing touch with people but a lot of the lads I grew up with in the youth team I still have contact with today, Garry Borrowdale, Ben Watson, Julian Gray are three of those that I speak to regularly. It was a special time to be part of the club and it’s nice that I have been able to keep in contact with some of the boys from those years.”
This weekend’s match in SE25 sees both sides meeting for a Premier League encounter having come through the nerves of a relegation battle last year and Routledge is looking forward to having the opportunity to taste that Selhurst Park atmosphere once again.
“It was strange how the end of the season mapped out and probably the 5-4 match at Swansea summed up what the season was like for both clubs. At the end of the season it was great for me personally because both clubs survived and on my twitter account it said that it was a great day when we both knew we were staying up. I still very much keep an eye on Palace’s progress and it was good that we could both get the results as the season ended to mean that we were both staying up.
“From what I remember in my playing days the atmosphere at Selhurst was always special and it seems like it has gone up another notch since now the club is in the Premier League. It’s always nice to play at Selhurst and I am sure it will be a sell-out crowd as both sides will be looking to get their first league win”