Jason Puncheon has helped Crystal Palace move away from relegation
Puncheon has been the lynchpin as Crystal Palace have hailed themselves away from the Premier League relegation zone with five wins in six games, including Monday night’s remarkable 3-0 demolition of Arsenal, alongside another local lad in Wilfried Zaha.
Now Palace are trying to ensure that other local kids get a chance in life through their new Palace for Life Foundation, launched this week.
Puncheon, now 30, grew up around Selhurst Park but joined Wimbledon and dropped out of football entirely for a while before he ended up back at Palace 20 years later via stints at Barnet, Plymouth and Southampton.
Palace chairman Steve Parish said: “People like Wilfried and Jason Puncheon that are born and brought up round here are from the same streets with the same problems and the same backgrounds as the kids they’re inspiring.
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“Look at Jason – Sam has made him captain and he has grown. He’s gone all serious now whenever I try to talk to him.
“The first thing he did when we signed him from Southampton was buy a box for his family to watch from. I thought that was good because no-one wants their family to watch them and be bad!
“When we played Norwich last year and we really needed a win to stay up, you saw and how much that win meant to him emotionally. If you have a core of a team that has that connection to the local community, it makes a big difference.”
The Foundation will work with the club to use the name of Palace to help local kids through programmes involving physical and mental health, early intervention and mentoring, and and helping youngsters make the transition from education to employment.
But Allardyce also wants to make sure that local youngsters like Puncheon and Zaha who do make it through the ranks, are not tempted away by bigger clubs.
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Sam Allardyce is desperate to keep hold of Wilfred Zaha
He said: “There has to be a change of direction that doesn’t allow any club to nick our best 14 year old whenever they feel like it.
“A 14 year old shouldn’t be bought from Crystal Palace by Manchester City or Chelsea, because they’re just overloading. Chelsea have more than 30 players out on loan this year.
“Leave them where they are and let them play and develop in their own club. If the time comes along where the big club comes along and takes him away fine, but take him when he is ready.
“If they stay in the club, they will get in the first team quicker and get to the top if they are good enough. That is a much better way.
“My grandson Sam just got released from Manchester United, which was disappointing for him, but he has signed for Bury, so great, if he is good enough, he will be in Bury’s first team before he would be in United’s.”