The DNA running through a football club is an overused metaphor that many football supporters apply to their own clubs, but in truth, struggle to explain what it is.
At financial superpowers such as a Chelsea, Manchester City, and more recently Newcastle United, buckets full of cash have meant that their DNA has been diluted. It is there in the background but means little as the next superstar player flies in on a private jet, suggesting it has been their dream to play at a club they had to search for on Google Earth only hours earlier.
Likewise, successful multiple trophy-winning clubs like a Manchester United or Liverpool have ultimately become brands. They are tourist destinations. Some may well feel the spirit of Shankly in the Kop, but the reality is far too many who attend matches at Anfield are as anxious about their return flight on EasyJet later in the evening as they are on the result.
This isn’t to be critical. It is a price you have to pay (and arguably one worth paying) if you want silverware repeatedly. It is a sacrifice I doubt many Newcastle United supporters are particularly bothered about making when they have an entire nation’s wealth to bankroll them to glory.
But for teams punching above their weight like Crystal Palace FC, the DNA of the club is what fans have to hold onto more than anything else, and at the minute, it feels as though that strength of the connection between south London, the DNA of the club and the loyal supporters in the crowd has never been stronger.
South London & proud
South London is a tough place to live. Unlike other parts of the capital, south London is known for its edginess. South Londoners have to shout louder than others to be heard, yet they never bow down to their contemporaries with an inferiority complex. If anything, south Londoners burst through doors, announcing their arrival with swagger and confidence, letting all those around them know they’re here to make their mark.
And currently, Crystal Palace FC is making its own mark with a unique brand of football, which has red and blue DNA running through it from top to bottom.
Ask any Palace fan from years gone by what DNA strands you’d expect to see at the club and they would all say the same. The first would be hard work, the second would be pace and trickery, and finally, the last would be to fear nobody, no matter how illustrious their opponent is.
Well, nowadays at Selhurst Park, you see all of the above. Hard work has been evident since Palace returned to the Premier League, as has a fearlessness. But now, something else has been strengthened. There is a glorious south London vibe running throughout the club, which sees pacy, tricky frontmen embarrassing their rivals every week, paying zero regard to reputations in the process.
There is a sense that the legends of yesteryear like Vince Hilaire, Ian Wright, John Salako and Clinton Morrison are influencing a style of football unique to an area and not replicated anywhere else in Europe, let alone England.
Wilfried Zaha has been the figurehead of such an identity for many years. His pace, outrageous skill and eye for goal have meant he has a special place in the hearts of all Palace supporters, regardless of whether he decides to have one more crack at playing for a top European giant before retiring.
Yet there are others too.
Eberechi Eze, south London born, has shown flashes of brilliance since returning from injury. Michael Olise, the young Frenchman, clearly identifies with the club’s unofficial motto, which reads ‘leave defenders on their backsides, be shameless about it, laugh and then do it again’.
Likewise, Malcolm Ebiowei, signed from Derby County, clearly has a similar mentality - a mentality which gets supporters off their seats at the prospect that the south London swagger will lead to three points on a Saturday.
And, of course, sometimes it doesn’t lead to victory, but that really does not matter in the grand scheme of things as the Palace faithful feel an identity with the club that is stronger than it has ever been.
And what is even more exciting for Palace fans is knowing that through having category 1 academy status, that DNA will only get stronger as time goes on.
The reality is that south London produces awesome talent. It isn’t a myth. Look at the facts. Wilfried Zaha, Eberechi Eze, Jadon Sancho, Joe Gomez, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Reuben Loftus-Cheek, Marc Guehi and Tammy Abraham are just a few players from south of the River Thames, and there are many others out there, too, who could be added to that list.
Previously, Palace have seen this talent opt to join other London academies due to them having better facilities. This is no longer the case. Palace not only have access to a vast ocean of superb south London talent, they now have an academy whose facilities can rival the best teams in world football.
If you’re a young, talented footballer from south London, it is Palace’s academy you want to join first and foremost these days.
In addition to this, the club are able to mould these youngsters into ones who have the Palace DNA of hard work, fearlessness, and a cocky swagger running through their veins. Straight from the cages of Croydon, Elephant & Castle, Woolwich, Wandsworth and Lewisham, there is talent out there ready to explode, and Palace are at the front of the queue to grab these gems and harness, guide and unleash their potential.
"Our ambition is to have one of the country’s leading football academies to capitalise on the hotbed of footballing talent in south London", said a clearly delighted Palace chairman in The Evening Standard ahead of opening the academy.
"The investment in the playing facilities, education offering and player care provision will enable us to attract and develop the next generation of Wilfried Zahas and Aaron Wan-Bissakas."
The reality is that as an underdog, with a ground that desperately needs upgrading and owners who (although superb) just don’t have the financial muscle of other clubs, the academy is the club’s only realistic avenue to having success and continuing to upset more ‘illustrious’ opponents.
Has there ever been a better time to be a Palace supporter? Arguably not. The pride of south London continues to get stronger, and with a DNA unique to the area, the club can look to having a bright future.