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      Clyne: My dreams, my education & my Crystal Palace


      To celebrate the news that Nathaniel Clyne has extended his contract with the club, we're republishing the Academy graduate's programme interview from earlier this season – an in-depth reliving of his 200-plus appearances for Crystal Palace Football Club.

      Nathaniel Clyne’s substitute appearance against Tottenham Hotspur in October was his 200th for Crystal Palace in all competitions – a figure, just a few days beforehand, the Academy graduate had been unaware of.

      Here, Clyne reflects on the changes in his life and times – but not, crucially for him, in the fabric of the football club…

      This interview originally appeared in the Crystal Palace v Everton matchday programme. You can shop for programmes by clicking HERE.

      When the ‘getting to know you’-style questions come to the fore in interviews, it’s not uncommon to hear footballers answer immediately with well-trodden responses.

      As a senior England international with over 220 top-flight appearances to his name, Clyne’s answer to one quickfire question – ‘What would you be, if not a footballer?’ – was prompt, immediate, likely decided long ago. “I’d be an actor,” the full-back smiled, straight away. “That would be my dream job."

      It was 18th October, in fact, that Clyne celebrated 15 years since his Crystal Palace and professional debut under Neil Warnock.

      A ‘sliding doors’ moment, perhaps – for had he instead pursued life on the silver screen, Clyne might have spent 2008 starring in action movies The Dark Knight, Iron Man, or the slightly baffling Bond flick, Quantum of Solace. Less likely candidates for his talents: the first Twilight film, Mamma Mia! or the UK box office leader on debut day, The House Bunny.

      Pink’s So What topped the UK music charts. There were around 300,000 posts per day on Twitter – okay, ‘X’ – then; today, make that 500 million. Instagram was nowhere to be seen. And you’d be lucky to find somebody who knew how to hashtag.

      Feel like yesterday? Clyne shakes his head: “That makes me feel old – but it feels like a very, very long time ago.”

      Why? “Because I’ve been through so many different experiences, played so many different games, lived all over the country... It just feels like a long time.”

      A long time, maybe, but Clyne’s eyes burn bright with clarity when asked to recall his Palace origins. The Stockwell-born fullback, three years after departing Tottenham’s Academy due to excess travel, described it as: “The perfect fit.

      “I knew the Academy Director, Gary Issott. He was my coach at Tottenham. That made the transition even easier, really. And being from south London, they were always a team I’d kept an eye on.”

      It had been a productive few years for the Academy, as the likes of John Bostock, Victor Moses and Sean Scannell had debuted in 2008. Kieron Cadogan, Clyne’s close friend to this day, was perhaps the standout name in 2009; one Wilfried Zaha that of 2010.

      “They were rated higher than me – they were stars from early on!” the man now with 201 senior Palace appearances jokes. “But playing every week for the Under-18s, I was always told by my coach that if I kept in putting in performances, I’d get my chance – and that’s what happened to me.

      "I got it, and I took it.”

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      It was a good feeling, a packed Selhurst Park. All my friends and family were there, and if they weren’t, they were watching on live TV.

      Nathaniel Clyne

      With Danny Butterfield suspended, the then-17-year-old officially graduated by playing the full 90 minutes of a 3-0 win over Barnsley at Selhurst Park. He smiles: “I remember everything about that day.

      “The day of the game, I took the bus because I couldn’t drive. I remember having my boots and my shinpads in my hand; I didn’t know I could leave them with the kit staff.

      “I even bumped into one of my school friends on the bus and he said to me, ‘What are you doing?’ and I was like, ‘I’m playing football tonight.’ He said: ‘with the youth team?’, I said: ‘nah, the first-team’ – and he was like: ‘nah, no, you’re not mate, stop lying!’

      “I even remember going into the changing room. I didn’t even have a pair of studs, and it had been raining. I was sitting next to Clint Hill, who was left-back… and I ended up wearing his boots instead!

      “It was a good feeling, a packed Selhurst Park. All my friends and family were there, and if they weren’t, they were watching on live TV. I just knew I had to put in a good performance.

      “At the beginning of the game, I kept it simple. I didn’t want to do anything out of the ordinary. But as my confidence grew, I expressed myself more on the ball. We won 3-0 and I got Man of the Match as well – so that was decent!”

      Two days later, Clyne signed his first professional deal. Palace appearance number one down – 199 (well, now 218) to go.

      “I wasn’t quite sure if I’d play again, but I knew I’d be training with the first-team and when my next chance came, I had to do well,” he admits – but senior football, as it turned out, came easily to the teenager.

      Developing under the tutelage of Hill, Butterfield, Paddy McCarthy, and more – “I learned something from all of them” – the Eagles won seven of Clyne’s first nine matches, the teenager starting every time.

      “It made it difficult to take me out of the team. I made sure I progressed every game, showed I was getting better and better – and that’s what made me the player I am today.

      “That was a good education. In senior football, you learn how to change your gameplan in matches, maybe to be more cautious defensively or more expressive if you need to get a goal back.

      "Even things like running the clock down, you wouldn’t do that in the youth team – but in the first-team, winning is everything.

      “First-team players have mortgages to pay for. When they want to stay in the league, or challenge for promotion, three points mean a lot. They need them urgently.

      "And I enjoyed learning to play away as well – strangely enough, fans booing me made me feel good, much more like a professional player.”

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      Even some fans used to say: ‘We hadn’t really heard of you, and all of a sudden you’ve burst onto the scene.’ Maybe that’s what kept me going.

      Nathaniel Clyne

      It took Clyne six appearances before his first goal involvement: a cross for Shefki Kuqi in a 3-0 win over Southampton. “I don’t remember assists!” Clyne reacts – but the following season, in Palace game 34, his first goal: “I remember that one: away at Reading!

      “We won 4-2 and I scored in the seventh minute – a long shot from outside the box. I don’t know how it went in, but it trickled in…”

      Clyne’s consistency saw him awarded Palace’s Young Player of the Season in his first two full campaigns, and Football League Young Player of the Year in 2009/10.

      “I was quite surprised how well I adapted because even in the youth team, I wouldn’t say I was rated that highly – I wasn’t really talked about,” he explains, modestly. “Even some fans used to say: ‘We hadn’t really heard of you, and all of a sudden you’ve burst onto the scene.’ Maybe that’s what kept me going.

      “Obviously I had a good family around me to keep me on my toes, and not let any fame get to me.”

      Yet troubled waters arrived in 2009/10, when financial troubles and a ten-point deduction took hold, and Palace’s very existence came under threat.

      Fellow Academy graduate Moses was sold to balance the books, and rumours abounded Clyne would follow – but despite Premier League overtures, Clyne wanted to remain: “I’d decided: I was just enjoying playing for Crystal Palace, my local team.

      “The other players had a little banter, saying: ‘Please go, I want to get paid this month!’

      "We were doing really well, and all of a sudden we found ourselves in a relegation battle… but we got together, stuck together, and got through it.”

      Thankfully, thanks to the outcome of ‘Survival Sunday’, Clyne would get the chance to add to his 57 Palace appearances, and he hit the 100 mark against Ipswich in April 2011 after just two-and-a-half years as a professional.

      Appearance number 116 was a certain League Cup victory at Old Trafford, as Championship Palace defeated Premier League champions-elect Manchester United – “my first time playing at a stadium like that, so I was buzzing with that!” – but it would not be Clyne’s last appearance on the game’s grandest stages.

      After 137 games, Clyne’s career diverted: he moved to Southampton in 2012, where he debuted for England under future club manager Roy Hodgson; switched to Liverpool in 2015, where he started League Cup and Europa League finals and reached a third in the Champions League; and he represented his country, again under Hodgson, at Euro 2016.

      "When you start out, you dream of playing at those big occasions,” he observes.

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      There were a lot of quality, international players, and the youth set-up system was a lot better. You could see that, all-round, the standards were higher.

      Nathaniel Clyne

      Nathaniel Clyne’s 138th game for Crystal Palace: a 2-1 win over Fulham at Craven Cottage on 24th October 2020. He confirmed: “I was waiting for the phone call, and as soon as my agent said ‘Crystal Palace’, I jumped at the opportunity to come back home.

      “I came back on trial, put my head down, proved my fitness, trained well, and signed a contract – and that was it.” The parallels with his debut apparent – a career seemingly come full circle.

      “But there was a massive difference: I left when the club was in the Championship, and I came back to the Premier League.

      "There were a lot of quality, international players, and the youth set-up system was a lot better.

      "The quality of the training ground had improved. You could see that, all-round, the standards were higher.”

      Yet crucially, Clyne testifies, both club and player remain of the same character, the same values – the same heart – as that ‘long time’, that near-16 years ago, October 2008.

      "This club means the most to me. It’s a club where you can come and enjoy your football, mix with the lads and do the best you can for your team.

      “You can see everyone’s close here, from the players to the kitchen staff, and the people that work behind the scenes. It’s got that feel-good factor here.

      "I feel like it’s a family club, definitely with the fans. The fans make it. They show their support every game, home and away.

      "The people around the club, the staff, the coaching staff, and everyone really just make it into a tight-knit family club, and that’s what makes the club special.

      “The Palace fans have always been good to me. They recognise I’m someone who came through their Academy, so they’ve always treated me well. Their support on matchdays is what helps us to play better, home and away.

      “I’m happy to have played so many games for Crystal Palace and hopefully will have many more to come – but it’s something I’ll look back at later on. My career is nowhere near over yet.

      “Achieving your dreams is a very good thing – but I’m just looking forward to more opportunities.”

      Hollywood aspirations subdued, Clyne’s dreams remain alive in red and blue – grounded in where he belongs and desires to be: Selhurst Park.

      The right choice was made. And, let’s face it, Quantum of Solace was arguably a bit naff, anyway