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Ambrose: How I adapted to the strangest part of my career

14 January 2021

Throughout the season, Palace icon Darren Ambrose has shared his views and untold stories with the matchday programme.

In every edition, he recalls behind the scenes with Palace, Newcastle United, Charlton Athletic and others, offers insight into a former player's view and provides a glimpse into the realities of professional football.

Below, you can enjoy three highlights from his column so far. Make sure to not miss another word and buy the final 10 programmes for 10% off here!

On international duty (Palace v Newcastle, 27th November)

If I were to have any regrets from my career, it would be that I didn’t manage to get a senior England cap.


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15 January 2021

At one stage, when I was at Newcastle United, I really thought it was coming; I was very close. But when I think about the players ahead of me: Paul Scholes, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, and of course the main one, David Beckham – not many, if any, forced Becks out of the team – then it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time as part of the youth teams, though. I remember playing France Under-21s across two legs, with the winner qualifying for the European Championships.

The first leg was at White Hart Lane, which as a Spurs fan growing up (my dad was West Ham!), was special. I scored that night and the game ended 1-1.

For the second leg four days later, France brought on Franck Ribéry in the second-half with the game at 0-0. At this point, no one really knew about Ribéry but we certainly did after he scored two quick goals and knocked us out!

It reminds me, too, of when I faced Spain at Under-16s level. The player’s name escapes me, but there was one who stood out ahead of the game, with his flash boots and the way he was warming up; a proper technical player that we’ve become accustomed to seeing emerge from Barcelona’s La Masia. He was earmarked as the one to stop.

Come full-time, we lost 4-1, that player we’d been admiring did nothing and a certain Fernando Torres scored all four.


Another career debut (Palace v Liverpool, 19th December)

I made my Sky Sports debut covering the West Brom game and really, really enjoyed it. I’m not a shy or nervous character but going in to that I was a little anxious; I didn’t know what to expect.

But, in the end, it was the perfect game for me to cover. I’ve watched Palace for two years, everyone knows how fond I am and, second-half, it was all Palace. Easy.

It’s very early days for me still but I’m getting more and more work. The media is something I really want to break in to and I think Palace fans will hope I can cover them more. I look at Clinton, a Palace legend, and he’s someone I want to emulate. There aren’t many Palace pundits out there so I’m trying to give him a hand!

There’s a flipside to the media’s relationship with footballers, though, and I had a memorable moment myself while with Palace. I was coming away from a match that we’d lost and a local reporter asked me for a few words.

I’d had a bad game and said: ‘Look, have you spoken with the press guys at the club? Talk to them before I speak to you so I don’t break the rules.’

That was a little throwaway comment to get me on the bus quicker, something I’d never done before. I always wanted to give the press my time but I wasn’t happy after that match. Then in the Sun the next day was me saying: ‘Dougie Freedman bans players from talking to press.’ Wow.

I obviously had to go to see Dougie and say: ‘Have you seen the article? It didn’t happen like that.’ Dougie had been a player and been around these situations himself so, thankfully, wasn’t too concerned.

But that was a warning for me: watch what you say and, mainly, give the press time because they can work for you or really work against you.

Returning to ‘normal’ (Palace v Sheffield United, 2nd January)

When you’re young and starting out in football with no kids, the festive season is okay. You want to be with your missus around Christmas and New Year but they understand. They can always travel to watch and my wife used to do that regularly. After all, it’s your job and I loved playing football, so it was absolutely fine.

However when you become a dad and your kids want you to be there on Christmas Day, it’s a little bit more difficult. But they grow up in that environment, so they understand as well.

Having no fans this year will have made it more difficult for everyone involved. When you’re struggling a little bit on Boxing Day or the 28th, the fans really lift you.

They’re normally the busiest games – tickets get given out as Christmas presents, so you have full stadiums and they always lift the place.

This season will have been a little bit tougher but that’s the way of the world at the moment. These players are professional, they know it’s their job and they need to pick up points.

My first Christmas after leaving the game was odd. Of course, it was nice to spend time with family and be amongst my kids. But I found it the strangest part of the year because it’s normally so hectic. That was a little bit hard to handle in the early stages.

I suppose your kids get you through it, really. They love you being at home and you’re setting stuff up all day. After that, you can actually eat and have a couple of drinks having not been able to for 16 or 17 years. It’s nice but it can be tough.

Players will tell you when they leave the game that it’s hard to handle. You need a strong family around you and thankfully I had that.

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