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Thank you, Wilf

As Crystal Palace bids farewell to Wilfried Zaha – arguably the best to ever wear the red and blue – we’re taking five minutes to look beyond the football and remind ourselves of some of the work Palace’s long-term talisman has done with Palace for Life.

Having grown up just yards away from Selhurst Park, Wilfried Zaha joined the Crystal Palace Academy at the age of 8 and made his first-team debut at 17, eventually scoring 90 goals in 458 appearances. He is not only a revered legend at Palace but also holds legendary status in his community

As a south Londoner, Zaha knows first-hand the challenges of growing up here, and his visits to various sessions over the years have not only had a profound impact on the young people he’s connected with, but have also left a lasting impression on himself.

So, we’re taking a trip down memory lane to celebrate some of our favourite Wilf memories.

When Wilf went back to school…

In 2019, Wilfried Zaha went back to his primary school, Whitehorse Manor in Thornton Heath, to surprise pupils in their morning assembly. He met some of his old teachers and spoke with the children about the upcoming generation in football.

Zaha was last at the school nearly 20 years ago and was – not surprisingly – the star of the football team. On his return he was given a hero’s welcome, entering the hall to ear-piercing screams and chants of his name.

Speaking after the assembly, he said: “It was amazing seeing so many familiar faces and being back here in general, a lot has changed, but it’s nice to be back.

“When I was last here all I wanted was to be a professional footballer, so to come back here now in this position is just amazing, it feels like a dream.”

When Wilf went back to Kicks…

In October of 2019, Zaha returned to one of the old Premier League Kicks sessions in Croydon he used to attend as a youngster.

On his return to Kicks, Zaha said: “Kicks was a big part of my childhood, it gave me somewhere to play football near my house so when I wasn’t training with Palace I always had somewhere else to go and practice my skills with my friends. It’s good to know it’s continuing and growing and that more young people in Croydon will get that same chance.”

When Wilf dropped into training…

In November 2019, the winger made a surprise stop at one of our Post-16 programme sessions, which gives 16 to 18-year-olds the chance to study at college or university alongside playing football at a competitive level. He spent his time at the local training session at Selhurst Sports Arena sharing advice and answering the young players’ questions.

Zaha said: “It’s always nice to meet aspiring young players, I was really impressed with their positive attitude and to see how hard they were working in training. Education is so important and it’s good that the Foundation is encouraging them to study alongside their football.”

When Wilf went to custody…

In 2020, the Palace icon visited our DIVERT programme. DIVERT is a Metropolitan Police custody intervention programme that works with under-25s who have been arrested and aims to get them back into employment and training.

Wilf reflected on his visit: “I was really impressed with DIVERT, it was good to hear that the club and Foundation are looking out for people when they’re at their lowest point. This kind of work is changing people’s lives and giving them opportunities, they probably never thought they’d get.”

When Wilf got inspired…

On another visit, Wilf and Leeta Rutherford went down to Harris City Academy in Crystal Palace to join one of our Premier League Inspires sessions. The pair had taken time out to visit the school and listen to compelling pitches from 14 and 15-year-old students who came up with social action projects.

Wilf said: “I’m glad to be able to get involved. When I was growing up we didn’t have these programmes covering so many different things so I’m happy the club is pushing to make a change in my community and trying to make a difference, it’s great to see.”

When Wilf got a job as an Uber driver…

In 2022, we launched our most ambitious fundraising campaign to date. It’s called Made in South London and aims to raise £1 million in three years so we can support thousands more young south Londoners.

To help launch Made in South London, Palace for Life Patron Doc Brown managed to convince a number of Palace players to try out their acting skills in a video to launch the campaign.

The latter stages of the video show Doc rushing to get to the game at Selhurst Park, when a mysterious car rolls up. Doc thinks his Uber has arrived in record time, but as the window is wound down, Wilf’s head pops out and he quickly bursts Doc’s bubble in true Wilf style, claiming to Doc that “This ain’t your Uber, bro.”

Our champion.

Wilfried Zaha’s involvement with Palace for Life has been enormous, and this has been recognised over the years with two PFA Community Champion awards, which acknowledges outstanding contributions to south London, won in the 2017/18 and 2019/20 seasons.

Thank you for everything, Wilf.

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