It has been quite the journey for Joel Ward at Crystal Palace. From playing a key role in his first season with the club as the Eagles won promotion to the Premier League in 2012-13, to playing in the FA Cup final in 2016 and re-establishing himself as the first choice right-back following Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s move to Manchester United, Ward has been through a lot with the Eagles. But the former Portsmouth defender has opened up on a moment that changed everything for him in his career prior to his move to south London.
Joel Ward said “[It was] Someone like Huddersfield. We got beaten. We shouldn’t really have got beaten. I got home and got a bit of a grilling, to be honest with you, from the old man, my brother and a family friend. It was essentially a message to be like: ‘Well, where do you see yourself getting? What are you going to change to give yourself the best chance? How are you going to put that into practice?’ Essentially, ‘pull your finger out, because you only get one opportunity and one chance’. I remember that very clearly.”
And it was a message that clearly stuck with Ward, as he went on to make his senior professional debut not long after during a loan spell with AFC Bournemouth, before breaking into the Portsmouth side. He played three times in the Premier League with his hometown club and 96 times in total in all competitions, before he made the move to Palace in 2012. Since then, he has played 237 games for the Eagles in all competitions, with Ward approaching 200 Premier League appearances for Palace, after helping them achieve promotion with a crucial clearance off the line in the play-off final against Watford at Wembley back in 2013.
Joel Ward said “I thought right, ok, this is serious business. If I want to make a go of this and make it my livelihood and have a career, the career that I’ve dreamed of, I need to make sure I take this on board. Harness the defeat and the defeats, use that to channel the dedication, the hard work and use it for good rather than dwelling too much. Football was always my dream and that was always my main focus, although I loved participating in other sports. I tried to put my hand to anything I can, but I had the blinkers on for football and there wasn’t anything that was going to sway me from that.”
He did lose his place in the team to Wan-Bissaka after the Palace academy product’s rapid rise in the 2017-18 campaign, and only played 12 times in all competitions last season. But the 30-year-old is now the first choice right-back for Roy Hodgson once again, following Wan-Bissaka’s big-money move to Manchester United last summer, with Ward making 19 appearances for the Eagles so far this season in the Premier League. And Ward insists that it is the grilling he was given back in his days in Portsmouth’s academy that has stood him in good stead throughout his career.