The project is the culmination of Chairman Steve Parish’s long-term plan to invest in and capitalise on south London’s hotbed of talent, replacing portacabins with state-of-the-art facilities in an elite Category 1 Academy, which will become an important community resource.
Southgate, who graduated from Palace’s youth system in 1990 and made 191 Palace appearances, captaining the club to the First Division title, cut the ribbon to declare the site open alongside the club Chairman.
Palace manager Patrick Vieira and the first-team squad watched the ceremony, alongside dozens of VIP guests, including several Academy graduates, former managers Roy Hodgson, Alan Pardew and Ian Holloway, members of the 2013 promotion-winning team and club legends from previous eras.
The club was granted planning permission for the redevelopment in March 2020, just six months after unveiling the concept, and immediately before the first lockdown. Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the project was completed in 19-months with the Academy teams still using the site.
The new-look Academy will have six full-size pitches, including an outdoor 3G pitch with floodlighting, a show pitch which will have a 500-seater stand, and a full-size covered indoor 3G training pitch with a built-in sprinkler system.
More than 220 young players will benefit from world-class playing, training and education facilities on a single site, which was acquired by the club in December 2018. It was previously shared with other tenants.
The all-round development of young players is at the heart of the vision for the Academy and the redevelopment includes classrooms, a lecture room, analysis and meeting rooms, as well as a gymnasium, restaurant and kitchen. Tutors and psychologists will be on site to ensure that young players receive the best education and welfare provision.
A state-of-the art medical rehab and extended gym therapy area are planned and will form the final phase of the project, alongside the completion of the show pitch stand, to be completed in the next 18 months.
With modern facilities and Category 1 status, the Academy will now be able to compete with other London clubs to recruit and retain the best young talent. Dozens of players have come through the Academy ranks in recent years, making more than 1,000 appearances for the Eagles, including three graduates in the current first-team squad, Wilfried Zaha, who joined at 11, Nathaniel Clyne, who joined aged 14, and Tyrick Mitchell, who joined at 16.
The impact of the redevelopment in inspiring the current players has already been obvious, with the Under-23s winning promotion to Premier League 2 Division 1, the highest level of development football, last May. Promotion was a remarkable feat as it was the first time the team had competed at Category 1 level.
The Under-18s, now led by Head Coach Rob Quinn, are currently joint third in the Under-18 Premier League South and are receiving plaudits for their athletic brand of football, having finished second on goal difference last season.
The new Academy facilities will also help the club’s charity, Palace for Life Foundation, which works with 14,000 people a year, to expand its existing programmes for young south Londoners, including disability football and girls’ football, and important community projects promoting social mobility, health and wellbeing.
Palace for Life projects taking advantage of the new facilities will include:
Premier League Kicks: free sports sessions, diverting young people from anti-social behaviour and building positive relationships.
Social Mobility Programme: support for 16-23-year-olds furthest from the job market to improve their self-esteem, giving them skills and vocational qualifications.
Breaking the Cycle: One-to-one mentoring to help young people turn their lives around.
Crystal Palace Chairman Steve Parish said:
“The new Academy will have a transformative effect on the future of the football club and the local community, not only enabling us to attract and retain the best players in one of England’s richest footballing areas but also to help scores of young people and local schools enjoy the facilities.
“We will also be able to offer a comprehensive educational and player care programme, ensuring that even those players who don’t make it have an improved set of life choices. Outside of football, the classrooms, together with our Foundation, will be used to run evening classes, enhancing the educational and life choices of young people in south London.
“Gareth was a pivotal part of creating the current academy system and his success is testament to the type of person and player this club strives to produce. He is an immensely proud part of our history, and we also hope we can produce some home-grown talent to help England win a major tournament.
“It is fitting that he should open our new facilities to mark this monumental step forward for our football club.”
England manager Gareth Southgate said:
“Crystal Palace have always had a philosophy of producing home-grown players and have a hotbed of talent to choose from in south London. As a young player, they instilled in me a toughness, adaptability and resilience that was important throughout my career.
“I was delighted to be asked to open the club’s fantastic new Academy facilities, which are a world apart from the conditions I remember as a young player here, and an investment for the future.
“I am impressed by the club’s vision to develop well-rounded, educated individuals with good life skills who can be role models in the community, as well as technically gifted young players who can excel on the pitch”.