Last night saw Sam Woods became the latest academy graduate to roll off the Selhurst Park production line as he made his Eagles debut in the Carabao Cup tie at Middlesbrough.
It marked the culmination of a nine-year journey from watching Palace from the stands to representing them on the pitch, cheered on against Boro by his dad who took him to his first game back in 2004. Here you can find out everything you need to know about Palace’s new number 35.
One of our own
Stepping onto the Riverside Stadium turf wearing the Palace colours fulfilled a dream come true for the 20-year-old, who has been a lifelong follower of the Eagles and a member of the club’s academy for nearly half of his life.
“I’ve been a fan since I was four as my dad is a Palace fan,” he said in an interview with the matchday programme. “He bought me a season ticket and I used to sit in the Family Stand watching the games. I went to Cardiff for the 2004 play-off final against West Ham which was my first ever match and my favourite players were Andy Johnson, Darren Ambrose and Julian Speroni. I remember my first day walking into the training ground and seeing him, as a fan I was just like ‘wow’. He’s been here so long now, he’s a legend.
“I was playing for Sellsden juniors when I got spotted and signed for Palace’s under-12s. My first match was against Fulham and when I pulled on the kit for the first time it was an amazing feeling. When I became a Palace player I used to play and train on Saturdays so it was harder to keep up with them but I still watched some games.”
Working through the ranks
Slowly but surely the centre-back advanced through the age groups. After captaining the under-16s, he broke into the under-18s in the second half of the 2014/15 campaign and would make an initial step up to the development side the following season.
After establishing himself at that level in 2016/17, he was handed the chance to train with the same players he idolised from the stands. It was a surreal moment, but gradually he has become used to sharing the same pitch as the first-team and absorbing all the information possible.
Looking back, he said: “I was quite nervous in the beginning because they were the players I looked up to. I remember the first training session with the first-team and I was quite star-struck, but now I can get advice from them and there isn’t that feeling of awe anymore.
“The first time I got to play at Selhurst Park was against Aston Villa in the FA Youth Cup [in 2015] and we lost 5-0! But the initial feeling of getting out onto the pitch was amazing, and it was a weird feeling having been in the stands.
“I can only imagine what it would be like to play in front of all the fans for the first-team and to score in front of the Holmesdale would be crazy. I’m just trying to work hard to get to that point.”
The season so far
As well as appearing seven times for the under-23s, Woods’ name first appeared on a first-team teamsheet in August in the Carabao Cup second round clash at Swansea City. On that occasion, and again at West Bromwich Albion in the next round, he had to wait patiently for his chance as an unused substitute, before finally getting the chance to make his bow on Teeside.
He replaced Pape Souaré for the final 12 minutes to make his professional debut, and speaking post-match he said: "It's mixed emotions really. Obviously, I'm really disappointed to be out of the cup but very happy to have made my debut. I was just trying to impact the game and I feel like I did okay when I came on.
"I'm just trying to learn every day in training and, even in the game today, I'm learning all the time. That's all I'm trying to do at the moment."