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'I didn't have a club' - Mitchell reveals journey to Premier League

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The harder you work, so the old saying goes, the luckier you get. For Tyrick Mitchell, this has never been the case.

Still just 21-years-old, the Palace defender has completed his first full season with the first-team, but it took some fight to get there: an Academy shutdown, injuries at the worst possible times, and a global pandemic that has meant he is still yet to play in front of a full stadium more than a league after his Premier League debut.

“You can work hard and it not be enough,” he says, “but if you don’t work hard it will never be enough. If you work hard, you give yourself that little chance.” Mitchell’s rise to first-team football has been a masterclass in taking those little chances.

After signing scholarship forms at Brentford, the only academy he had known since joining as a 10-year-old, he was informed that the club were shutting down their entire youth structure.

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One minute I was there and then the next: ‘Oh, I don’t have a club.’

Tyrick Mitchell

“One minute we were there, and then the next minute they decided to close it,” Mitchell remembers. “It was literally: we got our scholars and then a month later we were told it wasn’t continuing.

“It was a surreal moment – probably the weirdest moment of my career, because I’d been there from primary school. These people, these coaches and players, these are the people that I grew up with. One minute I was there and then the next minute it was like: ‘Oh, I don’t have a club.’”

Mitchell was grateful for the distractions of normal life, as the career that he had sacrificed so much for looked to be in jeopardy. “The good thing about it was that I was still in school,” he says. “I was around my friends often. Obviously we were focused on our GCSEs, so it kind of took my mind off football.

“If I was a scholar, we left and then it finished and I didn’t have anything else to do until I find another club, that would have made me realise: ‘Damn, this is a big thing.’

"But because I was still waking up early and going to school every day, chilling with my friends and stuff, it kind of helped me forget about the situation that I was in.”

For Palace’s ever-growing ambitions to develop young talent, Brentford’s decision spelled opportunity. “It was weird,” recalls Mitchell, “I went to see two other teams and I wanted to stay in London because that’s all I knew. I was leaning towards anyone that was close to London.

“But then I got told that Palace would want to sign me straight away. I thought about it for a second, but then straight away I knew: ‘It’s in London, they’re a good club.’

"So when I heard Palace, my mind was kind of set on trying to meet them and trying to push that through. I met Gary [Issott]. He showed me that if I was to work hard and fulfill what I need to do, that the pathway is there.”

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If there's no one you can vent to, it becomes a dark world and you feel alone.

Tyrick Mitchell

For Mitchell, facilities are only half of what makes a successful academy structure. “Sometimes you’re going through your career and you’re going through ups and downs,” he explains.

“Life is full of ups and downs, especially when you have the pressure in football, it’s even harder. Having coaches that you can speak to away from football, that understand you, is vital.

“You might not be playing to the best of your ability, you might not be happy and then if you have no one you can vent to, no one you can speak to, no one who can help you, then it becomes a dark world and you feel alone.

"That’s the main thing for a club. You’re constantly dealing with a load of different personalities, and having the best facilities doesn’t always bring out the best in players.”

Under Alan Pardew, Mitchell was invited to train with the first-team for the first time. It’s a memory he relishes reliving. “The level, the strength, everything was new to me,” he says. “Usually if I wasn’t playing with my age, I was playing with one or two years older, but this was playing with guys who are 28 – seniors – playing in the Premier League for five or six years.

“It’s completely different. Their mind works differently. When I’m in the Under-18s, people make mistakes. People take bad touches and you can kind of get away with taking a bad touch. There, you can’t get away with anything.

“You take a bad touch and someone’s going to pressure you, and especially because you might not be as physically developed as them, as soon as you take that bad touch – even if they don’t actually tackle you – they lean on you, and it’s hard. They’re professional athletes.”

There was no question of his idols going easy on him – not that that is something he would have approved of. “They’re going to help you when it’s not training, or before training, but when it’s a training scenario and you’re in possession, they want to keep that same level.

“But the good thing about that is it makes you better. For me, I wouldn’t really want them to take it easy on me because that’s not how football works. That’s not how life works.

“You don’t really know what to do to get to that level, but I feel like the more you train with them, you slowly become more confident. I think that’s the main thing. Because as you go up, you’re not really confident because you’re around players that you looked up to, that you’ve watched week in, week out.

“It’s about having the confidence to say: ‘I know why I’m here.’ You can look up to people for what they’ve done in the game, and want to emulate their careers or professionalism, but when it comes to being starstruck when you’re on the pitch, I don’t think that’s a good thing. You forget about your own game.”

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It's about having the confidence to say 'I know why I'm here.'

Tyrick Mitchell

Mitchell’s hard work was paying off, and he began to be named on the bench for the first-team, only for injury to strike once again. “I think that was the hardest moment of my career,” he admits. “Going into pre-season, I was telling myself that this could be the season where I potentially made my debut. Then I got the chance to go on pre-season and it was the next step.

“A couple of injuries came but I made the effort to get back and get on the bench, but then getting injured straight after was difficult. Because I knew as a young player it’s all about trust. If you can’t trust a player then it’s hard to give him that opportunity.

“It was my first proper season in and around the first-team, so they were explaining to me: ‘These players have done this for years. When your body gets there, you’ll be fine.’ It was just understanding that my body might not have been ready for how intensely they train, how intense they are in the gym.”

Flash forward six months, and Mitchell was a key part of the side that beat Manchester United on their own patch. It was a seismic moment in his career – but he insists it is no guarantee that he has ‘made it’.

“For me to play in that stadium and actually win was a massive thing for me,” he says. “I was like: ‘This is Old Trafford.’ You see it on Match of the Day as the 'Theatre of Dreams'. People speak about it with such high regard, and to actually step on the pitch and help the team beat United at their ground, it was surreal.

“I feel like this season is my proving season – to myself as well – and I’m trying to prove that I can handle the Premier League week in, week out. After the match I didn’t look to myself and say: ‘I’ve finally done it.’

"It was an achievement, but at the same time I thought: ‘I’ve still got so much more to do. There’s so much left in the season that I’ve got to do to prove to myself and prove to other people that I belong where I am.”

While Mitchell grows at the highest-level, he shares the excitement of the current crop of talented youngsters as the club’s new Academy opens.

“It’s massive, because if you put yourself in the environment to succeed and you work hard, you will succeed,” he says. “You’re giving players the best environment, the best pitches, the best gyms, the best coaching to succeed.

“What I would say to them is: be tunnel-focussed. Because it’s easy to see other people get their pros before you, get their scholars before you, play up before you. But you’re in your own race.

"So unless you stay with tunnel vision, you’re going to be side-tracked watching other people. And then you find yourself missing out on that chance, because you’re too focused on other people.

“If you don’t work hard, it doesn’t matter how talented you are: it’s not going to work.”