The ending of John Bostock’s Palace career was the cause of a lot of anger in SE25, particularly amongst fans and some of the senior figures at the club.
Rumours were rife; his head had been turned, Micky Hazard had used his contacts to engineer the move, his dad was forcing him to leave the club he had joined as a boy. Through it all, the player himself had remained quiet, taking the heat and checking the BBS, all the while focusing on his career and trying not to feel bitter towards the club he loved.
“I was born just south of the river, and I grew up in West Norwood about a 10-minute drive [from here],” he says, on arrival back at Selhurst Park for an interview with Palace TV.
“I was a normal south London boy with a passion to play football from a very young age. Football was always the thing that I wanted to do and that entered into every single part of my life. I was a happy kid with a ball under his arm.”
Bostock’s father was the one who first got him into Palace. A season ticket holder himself, he would take five-year-old John to games, where they would sit in the same seats in the Arthur for the next decade.
“It was the same seat every season after that until I was 15,” says Bostock. “I had every kit, home and away, with my name on the back. It was actually “John” - it wasn’t “Bostock” – it was always “John” with my age on the back, whatever age I was. I even had the ‘keeper kits, gloves and all sorts – I grew up Palace crazy!” he laughs.
Like every Palace fan from that era, there are a few standout players when John’s asked to reminisce. “I remember Sasa Curcic, the man used to come off the bench and just cause mayhem, but the one I really looked up to was Attilio Lombardo. He just brought something different to the game. He was just calm, creative and was on another level, so he was the one that stood out.
“Also, Dougie Freedman!” he adds. “He was like Mr Palace and then having the chance to play with him after watching him for so many years was a huge honour. He really was so good. I think he was underrated because you look at the way he played, the way he had an effect on games and also how he carried himself behind the scenes… and his touch was a joke!”
Bostock’s rise through the ranks at Palace happened as quickly as his exit seemed to, to those on the outside looking in.
“I started training with the first team under Peter Taylor, he called me up when I was 14. It was crazy, but it felt natural, I’d been at the club since I was young and it had always been my dream to play for the club, so when I got the call up I wanted to seize the opportunity.
“I was training for the first-team on and off for a while and I got day release, so I was allowed to leave my school to come and train!
“I got home from school one day and my dad had received a call. He said to me, “John, that was Neil Warnock at Palace. He wants you involved in the game tonight!” I was like: "Tonight? Wow, what do I do?" So I tried to have a nap, a little siesta, but I obviously couldn’t rest because my dreams were coming true.
“That night I came to the stadium and I wasn’t actually allowed to be in the first-team dressing room legally, because I was 15 and underage,” he laughs. "I just had to try to soak it all in. It was an unbelievable experience, you run out at Selhurst on to the pitch and it’s just unbelievable. You’re warming up and then Warnock nods at you and you go over… it’s the stuff dreams are made of.
“I look back on that day with a lot of emotion and see it as the realisation of a dream come true. I did well [when I came on]. I had a 25-minute cameo and I think we were 2-0 or 2-1 down, but I just completely forgot the score and just tried to enjoy my performance and play as if it was the under-18s.
"I got on the ball quite a bit and there were a few no-look passes I remember, a couple of tackles too. I had one tackle against Jobi McAnuff, he was at Watford but had been at Palace before so I knew him, and I smashed him in a 50/50 which was nice! I just got involved in the game, I just wanted to soak it all in and my family were there watching as well. It’s a great memory.”
Having joined the Eagles as a six-year-old in the under-8s, Bostock was used to playing above his age group. He remembers playing for the first-team ever before he featured for the then reserve side, and saw a lot of future Palace stars coming through the ranks along the way.
“Victor Moses, Sean Scannell, Nathaniel Clyne,” he says. “I didn’t train with Wilf, but he was spoken about in the academy. There was a coach called Colin who would always say: “watch out for this kid, he’s got unbelievable feet,” so I watched him train a little bit and you could just see that the way he manipulated the ball was different.”
An impressive debut and a start away to Cardiff City at Ninian Park shortly after had people keeping tabs on the young midfielder. It wasn’t just Tottenham Hotspur, where Bostock would eventually end up, it was all the big boys, from the Premier League to La Liga.
“It was probably around the age of 14 or 15 when Barcelona made their interest [known],” he reflects. “They actually offered me a contract and asked me to sign for several years, which was obviously very attractive but we didn’t think it would be in our best interests. Growing up in England you just think about the clubs here, you don’t think of going abroad as an option. So when that came it was something you really had to consider.
“I was coming to the end of my last year at school, so would have been close to signing scholar terms [at Palace], and I wanted to stay, but obviously other factors came into it, agents and other peoples’ advice,” he admits honestly.
“The people who were managing me at the time weren’t happy with the offer that Palace gave so they were pushing me towards another option, but it was always my desire to stay at the club. Palace always made it clear that they wanted to keep me at the club and for me to go on to be a first-team regular and really take my place in centre midfield, so that was my plan also.
“They said everything and when it came time to offer the contract I think the people who were in control of my decisions at the time weren’t satisfied with it, and there were offers from elsewhere that were more attractive so the feeling was that [Palace] weren’t really backing up what they said in the first place.
“I was just a kid,” he adds. “I was a 15-year-old and all I wanted to do was play football. You don’t really have that much say [at that age] so you have people to make decisions for you in faith that it’s the best decision, so that’s how it kind of came about. It may have looked like it was a change of mind but I think there was a disappointment at the offer and then some persuasion from other interested parties."
Hazard shouldered a lot of the blame following Bostock’s move, with fans suggesting his past with Spurs was a key factor in the negotiations, but the player feels differently.
“Micky didn’t really have anything to do with [the move to] Spurs,” he says. “Obviously it looks like that would have made sense, but honestly he didn’t.
“I could have chosen any club in England, but Spurs came really hard with the interest; put pressure on my parents, put it on my agent by setting a deadline to sign and so when Palace didn’t quite match up to what my managers thought I was going to get, in terms of a contract, Spurs were there putting on pressure.
“It happened so fast,” he continues. “I remember coming home from school and being told I had to sign this contract and I was like: “wow, really? Is this the best thing?” Everyone around me was saying it was and even though I was big for my age, probably a bit more mature, I still didn’t know what was best for me.
“You’re not worried about money at that age, you just want to be playing and focusing on playing first-team football and representing my country at youth level. But the people around you worry about other things. Everybody’s got an opinion, and now that I’m older I can make decisions for myself. You learn from these situations.
“Was leaving Palace the best decision for my football career? I do not believe that it was,” he admits. “Having said that, I’ve developed and used that situation to become a better player – 100% - I’ve had to. I appreciate what I’ve gone through, but if I could have made another decision for myself I would have 100%.”
Former chairman Simon Jordan was a vocal critic. In the ensuing furore, he – amongst other things – declared that he would be revoking Bostock’s season ticket in the Arthur Wait, along with his dad’s.
“He did! He did!”, Bostock says with a smile. “Honestly, we’ve not been back since and it hurts because I’m a south London boy. I’ve gone to play abroad but I come home [a lot], I’m local and the club is embedded in south London culture, so everywhere I go I see the club. I follow the club and am still passionate about it, so when the head of the club says stuff [like that] about you it hurts, but I completely understood where he was coming from.
“Even reading some of the forums, the stuff the fans were saying… There was no Instagram, no Facebook, I think only MySpace. You’re a kid and you want to know what people say about you, so [you go to] forums. You look because you care. If I hadn’t cared I wouldn’t have looked, but I wanted to see what the fans were saying. There were death threats and stuff but I was never bitter, I was never like: “Ugh, Palace fans!” – I was never critical, I understood. Because I was a Palace fan I understood how they felt, I just couldn’t fix it. I couldn’t change what was done.”
Despite everything that happened, Bostock holds no grudges. He understands the anger and he can see why those making his decisions did what they did.
“You only want to do what you think it best for your child,” he says. “I’m a father too now and I know that all you want to do is the best for them. It probably wasn’t the wisest decision [looking back], but I don’t doubt that they had my best interests at heart.”
He says he hasn’t been back to Selhurst Park between the day he joined Spurs and the sunny June afternoon of the Palace TV interview, but then concedes that it’s not entirely true. He had returned once before, as a player, on loan at Hull City from Spurs.
“We had an away game at Palace and I remember pulling up to the stadium on the team bus and holding back tears. It was so emotional. I thought: "I’m back home now, but not.
“I went into the away changing room and someone at Palace had put the tactics board out with a ‘Palace Legends XI’ on it, so you had Ian Wright, Mark Bright, Lombardo, Dean Gordon. Then you had the subs bench and then they wrote 'Kit Man: Bostock!' Somebody had bantered the changing room and the Hull City boys are killing themselves laughing and saying: 'they must really hate you here!'. All I was thinking was, 'nah, it’s home.'
"I was desperate to play in that game but I was on the bench. At half-time during the warm-up, every time I touched the ball I was booed. [In the end] I took a touch and just hit one top corner and the fans just went silent. I just thought: “Please, I just want to come on. I want to come on so badly.”
“But I didn’t get the chance to. I think it was a boring 0-0 draw and I was thinking 'just put me on, you never know what could happen!' It wasn’t meant to be and that was the only time I’ve been back since leaving. I would have been 18 or 19 then and I’m 26 now and this is my first time back in the stadium, so it’s a bit emotional.”
A bit emotional is right. He’s visibly moved as he traces the steps of five-year-old John back to his old place in the Arthur, stopping in front of the two seats before continuing the Palace TV interview from them.
He’s spent the majority of this decade overseas: Canada, Belgium, France, Turkey and now back to France, having joined Toulouse in early July. That transfer means he will be in line for another visit to Selhurst Park in early August, as the Eagles host the Ligue 1 side in a final pre-season friendly before the 2018/19 season.
Speaking before that deal came to light, Bostock gives the impression that he hopes to visit more often in the future. “Ultimately I want to be based in south London when I retire,” he says. “Hopefully I’ve got another 10 years yet, but I’d love to take my children [to Palace]. My son is two-and-a-half now so when he’s a little bit older I’d love to get the same seats, to be in the same place and to repeat that family history.
“It’s an unbelievable club to support, especially during my time with the ups and downs were crazy. We’ve been in the Premier League for years now, but you never knew if we were going to win or draw, and as a fan it was an emotional rollercoaster.
“I would love for my son, and any future children, to experience the same things and feel the same way I feel right now.”
You can watch the full 20-minute interview with John Bostock on the official CPFC app or eagles.cpfc.co.uk, including his struggles at Spurs, his time abroad, rebuilding his career and rediscovering his love for the game.
Tickets for Bostock's potential return to SE25 when Toulouse face Palace on 4th August are on general sale and can be purchased online. To do so, you will need to create a new Palace Account to use this service. Register or find out more.