Joel Ward (right) has been with Premier League side Crystal Palace for over a decade

Joel Ward praises Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish

Throughout his life, Joel Ward appreciated the importance of constants. The constant, unwavering belief in a higher power that shaped the values ​​of the man sitting in the media room at Crystal Palace’s training ground.

And the consistent, familiar faces that have forged an unshakable culture at the heart of his ever-changing club.

He is one of them. No player has been at Palace as long as Ward. He’s been there for over a decade. No one felt the glory of promotion and stayed every step of the way. Even Wilfried Zaha joined Manchester United a bit.

Joel Ward (right) has been with Premier League side Crystal Palace for over a decade

He saw the club change and grow, right up to its 10th permanent manager in Patrick Vieira. In the days of Ian Holloway and Neil Warnock, Alan Pardew and Roy Hodgson and now under Vieira, they have developed a new identity and a new style of play.

And yet, even if a lot has changed, what matters is what has remained.

“One thing I love about this place is the culture,” says Ward. “The environment stayed and that gave the club the foundation to grow, the influx from the academy, the players we attract, we went on a journey.”

Defender Ward has had 10 different permanent managers in his decade with Palace

Defender Ward has had 10 different permanent managers in his decade with Palace

“It’s not a trip where you go up and spend money and that’s it and come back down, it’s been a real gradual building process and I think it was exciting to go on that trip, to see so many of different faces walk through the building and so many great characters.

“We are now in a position where the transition period has been important. We changed the style, the philosophy, we changed a lot, but the culture remained in many ways: the way we approach things, how we do things, the standards, the dynamism from the president to the players and staff and everyone involved with the club.

“We’re all on the same page, we all know what we want, and that’s to improve, set standards and keep raising the bar.”

Faith binds everything Ward does. A devout Christian, who grew up in the New Life Christian Church, an evangelical group, in Emsworth.

Her parents, Phil and Kim, were part of the church leadership team and helped tend the grounds. Ward and his brother Alex lived with them on the estate while no fewer than 40 students from around the world traveled there to study the Christian faith.

Ward kneels on the field to pray before every game. He has a verse from Corinthians tattooed on his arm. It shapes his life and his football.

“It gave me a moral compass, it gave me an anchor in addition to my family and those around me, my wife and my children,” Ward says.

“The church gave me an anchor to hold on to, somewhere I can get away from things, I can throw my burden off so to speak, and just talk and have support, which has been the thing. most importantly, just having this community. This has been a constant throughout my life and has kept me stable and consistent.

However, it is not always easy to become a footballer. Until the age of 16, he could only play for Portsmouth, his first club, once a month as games were played on Sundays when he was at church.

At Palace, there’s another big man upstairs who Ward says was key to Palace’s foundations, another constant among Ward’s list of his greatest influences.

Ward believes chairman Steve Parish (pictured, right) was key to the foundations of Crystal Palace

Ward believes chairman Steve Parish (pictured, right) was key to the foundations of Crystal Palace

“Managers have come and gone. The president, Steve Parish, has played an important role in the process from the beginning until now. He helped to make the transition and to guide this process throughout the period.

Another is Danny Young, the former Palace kitman turned player liaison officer. Huge characters like Damien Delaney, Scott Dann, James McCarthy.

Another is Zaha. “Wilf is gifted beyond so many,” Ward says. “For so many years Wilf has taken it upon himself to be the star man, the main man for us. He wore this.

“Coming from the region has also given so many people the belief that they can do it and continue to create a career for themselves. He is a poster boy for the club who embodies what Crystal Palace is all about.

Ward is happy that Zaha is on the posters. Ward is happy to do his part and take time away from football when he needs to, to spend time with his wife Jess and children.

He is ready to take Palace’s young players under his wing. The same way Lee Bradbury and Sami Argo did for him at Bournemouth. Like Linvoy Primus did in Portsmouth. Ward is a big supporter of Primus’ Faith and Football charity.

“They set the standard and you saw the culture and what was expected of you. There are incredible talents here and they have a bright future ahead of them.

Ward issues instructions to Joachim Andersen during Palace's goalless draw at Newcastle

Ward issues instructions to Joachim Andersen during Palace’s goalless draw at Newcastle

“If I can play my part in helping them develop on and off the pitch, that’s such a special thing to do.”

Without Ward, Palace might not be here at all. It was his header, deep in their triumphant Championship play-off final nine years ago, that nodded Watford striker Fernando Forestieri off the line.

“I can see it now,” Ward said. “He cut inside and cut it with the outside of his boot. Danny Gabbidon and I were online. All I remember is Gabs looking at me as I cleared the ball and then it was just getting up, going out and chasing the rest of the game.

“Being part of something that was, in many ways, a landmark campaign in history and going on a journey with the club has been a bit of a fairy tale.” It’s been a roller coaster but in many ways my time here has been precious, a real honor and I hope it continues and we continue to grow as a club and continue on the path that they follow and the ambition that they have set for themselves because I think this club has an incredible foundation to do that.

And now it grows under Vieira. Ward admits he wasn’t sure what to expect when Patrick Vieira took over.

He calls Vieira one of the first ‘new era’ managers he worked with, those former players with outstanding careers on the pitch now trying to make their way. That famous fierce, feather-stealing midfielder from Roy Keane.

Patrick Vieira is one of the first 'new era managers' Ward has worked with in his career

Patrick Vieira is one of the first ‘new era managers’ Ward has worked with in his career

“It was amazing to see what the gaffer brings,” he said. “We all know about his football career and what he achieved. This list speaks for itself. There is a different side to him where he brings out the best in people.

“He has time to talk and help people grow, not just on the football pitch, but as a character and a person. This stems from the fact that he has been a leader throughout his career. He has this stature of a man and he has this character that you can approach him.

“He demands of you, he expects you to perform, to improve, to develop and to raise that bar.”

“He sets those standards because he’s a winner. He wants to succeed and be successful. But he’s also someone who can put an arm around someone and bring out the best in them.

It was supposed to be United on Sunday. Another chance for Palace to prove what they have become under Vieira against big opponents.

They drew with Liverpool on matchday one, were 2-0 against Man City before Erling Haaland changed that. Now, with the matches postponed, we will have to wait.

United, meanwhile, are a club trying to find themselves. ‘United have been through – and still are – a period of developing, changing and transitioning and there is a lot of work to do to get back to where they want to be, not just on the pitch but off the pitch.’

Ward chases after Manchester City's Phil Foden during their game at the Etihad last month

Ward chases after Manchester City’s Phil Foden during their game at the Etihad last month

Ward pauses when asked if United still have an aura. “I think there was a period of time [when they did], yes. I think they are still looking for that. They are still one of the biggest clubs in the world. They will eventually regain the strength they want to be.

“But, like everything, it takes time. There have been a lot of changes in the last seven, eight years at the club. There were a lot of ups and downs. As a football fan, you want to see them back to competing where they should be.

Ward sees the parallels to what he has experienced at Palace over the years. The need for everyone to be on the same hymn sheet, from the boardroom to the ball boy.

He was listening to Gary Neville speak on Steven Bartlett’s Diary of a CEO podcast a few weeks ago talking about United needing to rebuild the right culture.

“They’ve had this for so many years. We all know the Class of 92 and the culture and success they had. For so many years they were at the top.

Members of this era want to see the club back to where it should be. It comes, like here, when you have the top down in unison and you work together.

Joel Ward praises Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish

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