Our latest player profile features Gareth Graham who was one of many that came through the youth academy production line and was part of the successful youth teams of the mid-nineties.
He went on to play for Brentford, AFC Wimbledon and Croydon Athletic to name a few. We thank Gareth for taking the time to answer our questions. Here is what he told us but if you have any more questions for him them you can get in touch on Twitter here.
TEB – Do you look back fondly on your time at Palace and how did it all happen for you?
GG – Palace was great for me. It was such a welcoming club after moving here at the tender age of sixteen to do a Youth Training Scheme (YTS) as it was called in those days. I was spotted while in Belfast playing for my boys club Dungoyne Boys and Glentoran Youth by the local scout back then Maurice Chambers. He got the Youth Development Officer at the time Stuart Scott to look at me and he wanted me over on trial. It all happened quite quickly, I had a one week trial and they offered me a YTS the same week.
TEB – How was the youth set up at Palace back then?
GG – I was very fortunate to play in two very successful youth teams. Not only winning the league both years but also getting to the semi final and final of the FA Youth Cup. In my second year I was captain of the Southern Junior Floodlit Cup team as our normal captain Hayden Mullins was suspended.
TEB – Did you have any superstitions or regularly do anything before playing a game?
GG – I actually don’t but one of my close friends at Palace and Brentford, Richard Kennedy, used to watch Rocky IV before he played every game and as I shared digs with him we used to watch it together.
TEB – Is there a team mate in your time playing at youth level that you always thought would make it?
GG – There as quite a few who I thought would make it. My good friends Andrew Martin and Steven Thomson and there was also Clinton Morrison and Hayden Mullins. For me Hayden was the best of us all though, he played sweeper but if we were struggling he would move into midfield beside me and scored 20 goals in our second year on the YTS.
TEB – Which team do you support and how did that come to be the team for you?
GG – I grew up supporting a few teams – Tottenham, Glasgow Rangers and my team back in Belfast, Linfield. It is the norm in Belfast to have a Northern Irish team, Scottish team and an English team to support. My Dad actually played semi-pro back home and played for Linfield and my Gran used to take me to games when I was younger. That was the connection with them and also my Dad was a Spurs fan, when I was growing up the likes of Glenn Hoddle, Gary Lineker and my idol Paul Gascoigne all played for them. Glasgow Rangers was also a great club at the time and coming from the side that I do back home it was a must to support Rangers!
TEB – If you could have chosen one team to play for during your career who would it have been?
GG – This is a tough one. My last professional game was at White Hart Lane and the pitch and atmosphere was amazing. But I would also have liked to played in an Old Firm game for Rangers against Celtic. The atmosphere in those games are electric and it is a shame that the demise of Rangers has seen those games come to an end for a while.
In saying that, playing for Palace and coming to games since I left, there is no better atmosphere. Palace fans, home or away, always sing. I went to the Play-Off Final last season and I have never been to a better atmosphere (even the old firm games!). It was a day that I will remember that’s for sure.
TEB – Who was your biggest footballing influence when you were growing up and who do you admire from today’s game?
GG – My dad was my biggest influence in my career to be honest but I had the opportunity to play under some great managers and coaches in my career. Brian Sparrow was my first manager at youth level, then Peter Nicolas and Geoff Taylor, Stevie Kember, Steve Coppell, Ray Lewington and Terry Bullivant at Brentford and even Terry Venables in his short term as manager. I learnt from all of them as they each had something different.
TEB – If you had the power to change one thing in today’s game what would it be and why?
GG – It would have to be tackling. The game is becoming a non-contact sport. I was hard in the challenge and feel that in this day and age I would probably be sent off every week! I do think players are protected too much now, they roll about on the ground as if they have been shot. I never went in to hurt anyone but tackled hard and fair and think the art has been taken away from the game.
TEB – What tips would you give kids trying to make it the game today?
GG – If I would have known when I got injured at Palace what I know now I would have done things differently. So I would say that football is a short career and it doesn’t get given to you on a plate. You must work hard to try to be the best that you can be.
TEB – And finally, tell us a little about what you are doing now and anything that you would like to promote.
GG – I am now an Insurance Broker based in Croydon for Lark Insurance who actually sponsor Palace Ladies. I work in the “Performance” scheme who specialise in Film, Media and Entertainment Insurance.
I also still play semi-pro for Lingfield in the Sussex League although my legs have stopped working. I coach kids football on a Saturday morning aged from 4-6 and 7-11 which is very enjoyable. I was offered the U11s assistant mangers job at Palace by my friend Joe Dolan in the summer only to find out I didn’t have the right qualifications (which I am now hoping to get).
I have nothing to promote other than my wish for Palace to stay where the club and the fans belong – in the Premier League!