Crystal Palace FC are ploughing ahead with ambitious plans to take their current academy from Category 2 to Category 1 status ahead of the start of the 2020/21 season, with a complete overhaul estimated to be costing close to £20 million set to get underway in the coming weeks and months.
As things stand, the Eagles see their academy programme split across separate sites throughout South London, something which presents a number of challenges for the players and coaching staff in the various age groups across the club’s care; should the plans mentioned here be given the green light by local residents and Bromley Council, our academy set-up will function in a single 44,000 square foot site, a stone’s throw from our first-team training facility.
Whilst Palace are already working to many of the standards required to achieve Category 1 status, this planned overhaul will see drastic changes made to the facilities available to our young players with nine pitches developed in total, including one indoor playing surface, alongside pastoral care which will see eight full-time teachers brought in as well as a full-time psychologist to ensure that every young player can be fully looked after whilst in our care.
Image from CPFC/KSS
Currently, we find ourselves on a par with the youth programmes at Charlton, Millwall and AFC Wimbledon at Category 2, whereas a move up to Category 1 would make us the only London club with an academy set-up operating on that level south of the River Thames. When you factor in the increased prestige, quality of opponent, level of care and ease of commute for the thousands of talented young boys currently playing football across South London, the sudden boost it would offer us in terms of recruitment is there for all to see.
Image from CPFC/KSS
The benefits offered by a move up to Category 1 are multi-faceted, with the increased space, staffing and facilities giving our young players room to grow as footballers and people simultaneously, whilst the lift it will give our U23 players will likely be immeasurable. Right now, the only path available to them is Category 2 youth fixtures or a loan to the lower leagues instead of being thrown straight into the Palace first-team, whereas a jump to Category 1 would majorly improve the standard of opponents the late development groups come up against from week to week, thus giving the likes of Roy Hodgson and his fellow coaches a greater steer on their true potential.
A great deal more detail will come out in the weeks following this but believe me, if all of the plans for the academy do come to fruition in the proposed time frame, it will work wonders for the football club for decades to come.