BY ANDREW MCSTEEN
The annual Crystal Palace FC Awards took place on Tuesday night at Boxpark, Croydon, with little suspense about who would win the big prizes going into it.
Despite strong seasons and crucial goals from both captain Luka Milivojevic and star man Wilfried Zaha, Palace defender Aaron Wan-Bissaka took the Player of the Season Award clearly, denying Zaha his fourth-consecutive one which would have tied him with Julian Speroni for a club record.
The Croydon-born Wan-Bissaka had earlier won the PFA Male Community Champion Award for the club and was then voted by the players as their ‘Players Player of the Season’, which meant a clean sweep for the 21-year-old off the pitch, adding to his fame for clean sweeps on it.
“It’s a real honour, I really didn’t expect it but I’m happy to have won,” said Wan-Bissaka, who received the award from his manager, Roy Hodgson. “I’m very grateful [to Hodgson and his coaches], I can’t thank them enough for giving me the opportunity.
“It makes me feel proud to come away with three [awards],” continued Wan-Bissaka, who is in his first full season of first team football. “As I say, I didn’t expect it but at the same time I am grateful to win all three.”
Wan-Bissaka is the 35th Eagle to have won the award since its inception in 1972 and comes after he picked up the Young Player of the Year Award at last year’s event. And it was no surprise that the young defender won the public vote, gaining 59% of the 8,000+ votes, putting Milivojevic and Zaha into second and third spot respectively.
His manager Hodgson also praised the England U21 player. “He’s been outstanding,” said the Croydon-born Hodgson. “He had a baptism of fire over a year ago now, playing three of the top six teams in his first games but he’s been so good in all of the games. He’s a complete full-back as far as I’m concerned and I’m very glad we have him and delighted for him and his family.”
Andros Townsend’s missile strike away at Manchester City in the Eagles’ 3-2 league win in December saw 91% of votes go to him for Goal of the Season, with Palace goalscoring legend Mark Bright presenting the award. The only surprise was that it did not receive 100% of the votes, and the 27-year-old winger admitted it would be hard to ever beat it.
“It was probably the sweetest strike of my career,” he said on stage. “I’ve scored one or two that I’ve been happy with but this season I was aiming for quantity over quality, but I think it’s been my best goalscoring season.”
Defender Malachi Boateng won the Under 18 Player of the Season, while midfielder Kian Flanagan took the Under 23 award. Striker Ashlee Hincks, who has scored nearly 30 goals this season, took the
Ladies Player of the Season Award, while teammate Ciara Watling won the PFA Female Community Champion Award.
A special award was also presented to club legend, goalkeeper Julian Speroni. The shotstopper from Argentina received the ‘Chairman’s Award for Outstanding Contribution’ from Steve Parish, recognising the 15 years at the club for the player who has made over 400 appearances for the Eagles and who is out of contract at the end of the season.
“In the modern era you just don’t get players who’ve had the opportunity to leave but always done the right thing, always been available, always performed,” said Parish. “This guy is an absolute model footballer and when you give your whole professional career to a football club, that’s a lifetime.”
Proceedings had to stop while the crowd inside Boxpark chanted his name, but the goalkeeper revealed the Speroni name at Palace could stretch to two generations.
“I can’t really express how much this means to me, how much the fans mean to me and not just to me but my family too,” he said. “My son wants to be a goalkeeper as well and to see him wearing a Palace shirt makes me so proud. I can’t thank everybody enough. The fans show their appreciation, the love and it goes both ways.”
The free event for supporters has moved around a number of venues in recent years before relocating to the Croydon venue for last season’s awards.
In addition to Chairman Steve Parish, the first team coaching staff and the Palace Ladies squad, nearly the entire first team men’s squad – with the exception of James McArthur and the injured duo of James Tomkins and Jeffrey Schlupp – were also present at the event.
Crystal Palace FC 2018/19 Season Awards: Winners
Crystal Palace Player of the Season: Aaron Wan-Bissaka
Crystal Palace Players’ Player of the Season: Aaron Wan-Bissaka
Crystal Palace Goal of the Season: Andros Townsend v Manchester City
Crystal Palace Under-18 Player of the Season: Malachi Boateng
Crystal Palace Under-23 Player of the Season: Kian Flanagan
Crystal Palace Ladies Player of the Season: Ashlee Hincks
Chairman’s Award for Outstanding Contribution: Julian Speroni
PFA Community Champion Award: Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Ciara Watling