By Matt Woosnam
John Bostock admitted that he has learnt the hard way after his first appearance at Selhurst Park in almost 11 years.
The midfielder returned to Crystal Palace as his Toulouse side were comfortably beaten 4-1 by his boyhood club in pre-season, and despite the defeat, he admitted he enjoyed coming back.
“It was a special occasion, a real emotional one,” he said. “It’s always an honour to be back home. I’ve been at this club [Toulouse] for a month so I’m still feeling my way into the new surroundings but ending the pre-season back at Palace is something I will remember for a long time.”
Bostock left South London in acrimonious circumstances after breaking into the first-team and becoming Palace’s youngest ever player aged 15 years and 287 days, when coming on as a second-half substitute in a 2-0 defeat by Watford in October 2007. He then moved to North London with Tottenham Hotspur for an initial £700,000 – the fee was slammed by then-chairman Simon Jordan who threatened to walk away from football altogether.
But despite also becoming Spurs’ youngest ever player, he was never able to secure himself in the first-team, spending time out on loan at several Football League clubs, before eventually being released. He spent some time in the wilderness, joining Toronto FC, and then moving to Belgium before spending two years with Lens. Earlier this year he joined Bursaspor, until a return to France with Toulouse piqued his interest.
The 26-year-old had returned once before to Selhurst Park, as an unused substitute for Hull City in a 0-0 draw, and he was jeered by the home support when they mistook him for Jay Simpson.
This time around, things were much different and he was warmly received.
“Obviously the club is at a different place now but it feels the same,” he said. “This is my first real return since I left and there is still the same feeling, still the same emotions and, honestly, it was a special day for me and my family.
“I really appreciated that [the good reception]. I wasn’t too sure how I would be received but the fans were amazing and I really appreciate it.”
A decade on from his departure, he concedes that he made a mistake by leaving, admitting he has not taken the easy route in his career.
“In hindsight I should have stayed at the club but it’s done now.,” he said. “With every young player their situation is different so make the decision that is best for your career but it’s best to get experience where you’re appreciated and able to grow. I’ve had to learn that the hard way and hopefully young players can learn from my experience to develop that way.
“Every situation is different. Mine is just one example and there are plenty of others. If you flip it, I didn’t give up and you can see that there are many different ways to progress and different ways to get to where you want to get to.
“I wish all the young players at Palace all the best. I’ve got great memories and great words to say about Gary Issott and the whole team there developing young players. This club is always going to develop new talent.”
He took the time out before and after the match to pose for pictures and sign autographs, admitting he wanted to repay the support he received, and even pulled on the Red and Blue shirt again after swapping shirts with Andros Townsend at full-time.
“I was and still am a Palace fan so the least I can do is spend a little bit of time with them,” he said. “They have been kind to me so it’s a pleasure to give them a bit of time.”
It is evident that Bostock retains significant affection for the club, and that it never left him, as he constantly checks himself from referring to Palace as “we”, and talks fondly of the progress made by the Eagles since his departure.
“The club has evolved,” he said. “To see that makes me happy. It’s great to see we are an established Premier League club that has been able to attract some top players. I’ve heard about the building of the new stand – the club’s only going to push on so I wish them all the best for the season, I’ll follow closely as I always have done.
“When you support a team, you’ve played for them and it’s close to your heart you always want to keep an eye out. My main focus is my own career but I always see how the red and blue are doing and hopefully Palace can build on the finish of last season.
“I had more than enough time to dream about playing at Selhurst Park from five to 15 watching every week and it felt natural to play on the pitch. It’s always an honour to grace this place which is close to my heart.”
With his career beginning to reach the heights anticipated of him at a young age, Bostock is settling in to his new club, but refused to rule out a return to England – or Palace – again in the future.
“In football you never know what can happen,” he said. “Home will always be home so if the right door opens at the right time everyone wants to go home, but right now I’m a new player at Toulouse, playing in a fantastic league.”