Skip navigation
Crystal palace

      Ward’s 10 years: Hong Kong back streets, waterlogged Exeter and skiing


      When Crystal Palace entered their 10th consecutive Premier League season, only one player was able to reflect on each campaign. Here, Joel Ward explains how the journey has been, what he did in pre-season, and why he has his eye on the ski slopes.

      It’s pre-season media day, and Joel Ward is complaining. He’s been photographed in three different kits for several rights holders, provided green-screen celebrations and walkout poses, and now we ask him for an interview in the programme. A player of his experience knows that’s no short task.

      But that’s not why he’s complaining – in fact, he’s more than happy to stop for a chat. Instead it’s because he’s spotted our list of subjects, and it’s hardly concise. His face adopts a look of faux-outrage and he can’t help but blurt out: “How long is that list of questions?!”

      This is, however, a problem of his own making, because Ward has provided Palace fans with no shortage of memories. As the club enters a record 10th consecutive season in the top-flight we point out that he is the only man to be ever-present for the ride.

      It’s a fact that stops him in his tracks, and after a period of reflection draws the hint of a smile. “It’s crazy to think that,” he says, with the look of a man turning the past decade over in his head.

      “It’s been a journey. It’s been a rollercoaster, but there are so many great and fond memories over the period of time here. I think I’ll probably dwell on that a little bit more in years to come.”

      As metaphors for a club’s growth go, among the best is a comparison of this summer’s mammoth pre-season tour of Singapore and Australia with Ward’s first Palace trip. After signing from Portsmouth, the 2012 summer of training was a soggy affair.

      “My first pre-season at Palace was somewhere down in Exeter,” he remembers. “I think a Formula One driver [Nigel Mansell] owned the hotel. We got down there and it was crazy rain. It was waterlogged. We ended up coming back and just training at the Training Ground because the weather was so bad.”

      Quote Icons

      It’s been a journey. It’s been a rollercoaster, but there are so many great and fond memories over the period of time here.

      Joel Ward

      It wasn’t long before Ward returned to Devon, making his Palace debut away at Exeter City, coincidentally, in the League Cup first round. The attendance that night was just over 3,365. Ten years later, Ward started for Palace against Manchester United at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, with more than 75,000 people watching in person.

      “It’s what dreams are made of, right?” he says. “I don’t think anyone thought we were going to go on and do what we have done. Especially in that year [2012/13]. Maybe there was a plan to do so, but to achieve it in the time that we achieved it was something pretty special.

      “Then to remain in the Premier League for that amount of time is something that the club has never done as well, so it’s been record-breaking in many different ways.”

      As a young player coming through the ranks at Portsmouth, Ward witnessed a club’s rapid rise in stature first-hand. “I was lucky enough to see them from a very young age be promoted, be in the Premier League and win the FA Cup, so that was pretty incredible,” he recalls. “Then going into European nights and having AC Milan [at Fratton Park].”

      Pompey held the seven-time European Champions to a 2-2 draw on the south coast – no mean feat considering the calibre of players. Filippo Inzaghi scored the equaliser for Carlo Ancelotti’s side in added time, but Ronaldinho, Kaka, Andriy Shevchenko, Clarence Seedorf and Gennaro Gattuso all featured; Andrea Pirlo was an unused substitute.

      The glory days at Portsmouth came and went, but Ward is determined that at Palace the club keeps striving to move forwards. When the Eagles were promoted, the challenge was to stay up at all costs. Soon they became known for their resilience, and Selhurst Park for its atmosphere – the fans made sure Palace were a difficult team to beat.

      After a prolonged stay however, and particularly since the arrival of a new brand of football under Patrick Vieira, Palace present themselves as a new beast: not just capable of beating anyone but determined to do so; not just content with outfighting an opponent, but wanting to outplay them as well.

      “I certainly think there has been that transition,” Ward agrees. “If you get caught standing still for too long you’re in danger, so to continue to evolve, move and adapt is vitally important in the Premier League. You’ve got to move with it.

      “I think we’ve got a great mix, and we showed that last year in the style and the way we played. There were lessons learnt from last season, but we need to kick on and strive to raise the bar.”

      That’s not as simple as saying so. You need inner strength to follow through on that message, as well as something Ward believes to be inherent in any player making a long career in the professional game: resilience.

      “There are always going to be moments and stages through life where you have got to dig deep and see what you are made of,” he explains.

      “There are going to be times when your back is against the ropes, and I think it is in those times where you come out swinging or you shy away from it. You certainly have to be able to adapt and to take yourself through the things that the average person might not experience.”

      It’s been a journey for both Palace and Ward on and off the pitch, and as someone who prefers a remote Norwegian fjord to a flashy Dubai hotel, pre-season tour offers a chance to see the world.

      It’s tricky to balance training and playing with sightseeing – and worldwide fame, though an incredible demonstration of the Premier League’s power, doesn’t help – and in Singapore and Australia the squad were deluged with requests for signatures and selfies the minute they stepped outside.

      “Every trip is different, and I think as time goes on the stature of the club has grown,” Ward says. “It’s been exciting to see that journey, the trajectory of the club and the way that fanbase is reached. It’s awesome.

      “You don’t get a huge amount of time to go and explore. I'm someone that doesn’t necessarily want to be cooped up in a hotel room, so as much as I can I will try to get out and see things, or find a nice coffee shop or something like that.

      “I try to make the most of the downtime we do get after training to go and see things. I caught up with some old friends that came down [in Australia], so it was nice to see them. Obviously I hadn’t seen André Moritz for a long time so it was great to see him [in Singapore], and to congratulate him on getting married and that next chapter of his life.

      “You’ve got to make the most it and do a little bit of adventure, and I’m not one for saying no. You’ve got to push boundaries.”

      Quote Icons

      If you get caught standing still for too long you’re in danger, so to continue to evolve, move and adapt is vitally important in the Premier League.

      Joel Ward

      After 10 years of touring with Palace, Ward has fond memories from so many places – from waterlogged Exeter to heading down under.

      “In Hong Kong I remember going onto the backstreets and meeting a friend of mine who had just started a little restaurant,” he says. “It was good food. It was called Three Blind Mice because they were three international boys playing rugby, and they were kind of blind to it all.

      “In Cincinnati we popped along to the baseball, which was quite nice managing to do that one evening. I wouldn’t say I'm clued up on baseball but I'm always keen to go and experience something different.

      “South Africa was a good trip – I enjoyed that. I would have like to have seen more.” So when he finishes playing – not for a good while yet, mind – where is first on the list to explore?

      “There is always America. There is endless amounts to see. I enjoyed Vancouver when we were there, that was an incredible city. I would like to do more of Australia, but that may be in later years when the kids are older.”

      There is one trip in mind above them all, however – and once again, Ward doesn’t want to do things by halves. “Skiing will be one of the first I do in years to come. Snowboarding is harder to pick up but easier to get good at, whereas skiing is easier to pick up and harder to get good at, and I like the challenge.

      “There’s a little rivalry there, isn’t there? It’s like surfing and bodyboarding. I’m a surfer – I can ride a wave.” For a man entering his 10th top-flight year at the same club, that seems like an apt metaphor to end on.

      This interview was originally published in the Palace v Arsenal matchday programme. You can buy programmes here. Alternatively, listen to the interview in full by clicking HERE.