Here, in his own words, the Academy Director, Gary Issott, who has played a vital role in Crystal Palace's famed Academy production line, talks through what exactly Category 1 Academy status will mean for the south Londoners.
When the owners took over in 2010, the desire was always to achieve an Academy with a Category 1 status.
The Academy’s then-site of Copers Cope Road just wasn’t big enough to house all 10 teams – people may not realise just how big an operation the club is running with sides from Under-9s right up to the first-team. And for that to work we needed all facilities and pitches to be moved under one roof. This is what the Category 1 plans will give us.
We currently play in a Category 2 games programme which is largely made up of Championship and League One teams – plus three Premier League teams: Watford, Sheffield United and Burnley.
All other Premier League clubs are Category 1 apart from Bournemouth who are Category 3. There are also some Football League clubs: Middlesbrough, Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion, Swansea City, Reading, Stoke City, Blackburn Rovers, Derby County and Fulham who are Category 1.
Up until Under-15s level, every club plays against one another. However, the matchday programme splits into Academy categories from Under-16s and continues through to Under-23s.
Crystal Palace Academy supports community through Player Voices' Football Unites20 May 2020
Category 1 status will see a huge increase in staffing and resources available to the players across education, mental wellbeing, fitness and training.
Putting player wellbeing at the forefront of everything we are doing will see the club hire eight new tutors at the Academy, to make up for any school time missed due to footballing commitments. This will make sure that all players will not regress academically and will benefit from small group tutoring sessions.
Furthermore, the facilities that are required for the Category 1 status are impressive: you must have an on-site dome, Astroturf, purpose-built classrooms and a gymnasium.
All of these aspects and dramatic upgrades allow for a cohesive pathway for our Academy age groups from Under-9s right the way through to Under-23s.
The facilities themselves, although hugely important and impressive, are not enough to secure the finest players coming through south London’s dense talent pool. It has to work alongside an advanced scouting network which we now have in place.
The owners have invested heavily in our scouting operation since our return to the Premier League and we have grown from one part-time member of staff and five scouts to five full-time members of staff and over 60 part-time scouts.
We’d now like to think we would absolutely be able to secure the best young players in our catchment area because of the net that we’ve cast with our scouting network.
Once you do uncover the best players, the Category 1 set-up will improve our retention chances significantly. In the past, we’ve always been susceptible to a Category 1 club coming in and taking our players and it was always difficult to convince them to stay because Crystal Palace were only a Category 2. That issue will cease to exist; we can secure and compete for the rising stars and then keep them within our system.
That being said, just because we are aiming to become a Category 1 Academy club doesn’t mean we won’t lose a player to a rival again. However, we will be better protected financially as a Category 1 Academy club can command a higher transfer fee for players should they wish to move at any age.
The opportunities for the players, as part of a Category 1 Academy football club, don’t end within the club’s set-up either. It allows us to take part in the Leasing.com trophy and if our first-team were fortunate enough to qualify for the Champions League, it will allow us to take part in the Academy version of that competition, too.
It’s a hugely exciting time for the club’s Academy and the future is really positive: we have our Under-16 National Champions joining us as scholars and having them coming into the setup at this time will improve and speed up their progression.
There’s nothing to suggest that we can’t be the first again to unearth the next crop of Nathaniel Clyne, Wilfried Zaha and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, three high profile players who grew up in our catchment area and we are proud to say came through our ranks.
With an impressive Academy-to-first-team pathway already in place as a Category 2 – 35 players since 2004 have appeared for the senior team – the next few years, with a Category 1 set-up, could be even more rewarding.
Season Ticket holders who waive their right to a refund and direct funds towards supporting the club’s Academy will receive incredible benefits:
- An invitation for you and one guest to watch the first-team train, take part in a signing session, and enjoy a tour of the Training Ground.
- An invitation for you and one guest to visit the new Academy site for a tour.
- Receive one Season Ticket for the Under-23s next season.
- Receive a £10 gift card to be spent in the Club Shop or online.
- Receive a limited edition enamel pin badge.
- Have your name listed as an Academy Founder Member on a wall at the Academy Reception
Whilst we are continuing to move forward with the project there are always more educational and physical facilities we can add and new players we can recruit to help fulfil our goal of being the leading Academy in the UK. We can promise you any money offered in this way will be specifically targeted there and will not go to waste.