Fulfilling a Crystal Palace dream

This Is Local London: Fledgling Eagle: Mark Smith, middle, with Palace co-chairman Steve Browett, left, academy manager Gary Issott, right, and two Crystal Girls. Courtesy: Crystal Palace Football Club Fledgling Eagle: Mark Smith, middle, with Palace co-chairman Steve Browett, left, academy manager Gary Issott, right, and two Crystal Girls. Courtesy: Crystal Palace Football Club

Every football fan has those dreams where they score a last-minute title-winning goal for the side they love and write themselves into club folklore forever.

Those dreams rarely ever come true but we all still try and find whatever way we can to help our heroes and Crystal Palace fan Mark Smith has been fortunate enough to be able to do just that.

Having recently sold the manufacturing and engineering business he and his father started from scratch in 1996, Smith had the opportunity to invest some money in the club he has supported for more than three decades.

Last week, it was announced he was doing just that after agreeing a five-year deal with Palace that will see him donate money directly into the Eagles academy - while the money Palace normally offer in the form of sponsorship and advertising packages in return will go to a charity Smith hopes to be able to work with.

"I had no enthusiasm to become a football club owner but I wanted to do something lower down that was beneficial to the club," said the 41-year-old.

"One particular comment on the BBS fans' forum site resonated with me. Supporters will always argue with the way a football club is run but the academy is an acknowledged pleasure with Palace fans.

"In the absence of a multi-billionaire coming in to the football club it is clear that our future rests with the academy.

"It's an easy thing for me to invest in. There's no financial gain for me in the future, this is a donation but I like to use the word investment as I think it will help the club to continue to generate the wonderful footballers of the future.

"I had a meeting with Gary Issott and Ian Holloway before mentioning the donation and to listen first hand to their enthusiasm was very compelling, especially Ian Holloway.

"Gary Issott is very well respected and Ian Holloway has come in now and already picked up on how good that academy is. They are both so enthusiastic about it.

"I have met three of the four owners and they have all been so approachable and open. Jeremy Hosking sent me a really lovely email after I made the donation and I have never even met the guy.

"They are genuine Palace fans who put their money into the club at a very difficult time and I hope this helps them in a small way to alleviate the financial aspects with the running of the club."

Palace has been a big part of Smith's life having has a season ticket since he was seven years old. He has sat in every stand in Selhurst Park and can now be found in Speroni's before a game.

"I had my first season ticket when I was seven in the late 1970s," he said.

"I primarily remember being in the Arthur Wait in the Wright, Bright and Coppell era. More recently, I have been taking my two boys and three nephews to the ground. They are all Palace fans too.

"Palace has been a massive part of my life and I have been sponsoring the odd Palace match for the last eight or nine years inviting customers to various games, the golf days and end of season dinners."

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