Joel Ward-He's One Of Our Own

Author: Alastair McIver

Picture: Joel Ward/Twitter

Joel Ward-He's One Of Our Own

Crystal Palace’s Joel Ward tells Alastair McIver how God has given him a platform to fly the flag of faith.

In these shallow days of broken contracts, there aren’t many Premiership footballers who have stayed loyal to one club for almost a decade.

Joel Ward is one of the few.

A firm fan favourite, the 29-year-old has clocked up over 230 appearances for Crystal Palace in his 9 years at the club and is not going anywhere else soon. He is contracted to the club until 2021.

His journey to the Premiership was short, spells at Portsmouth and Bournemouth en-route, but once he arrived at Selhurst Park, he was there to stay.

Highs And Lows

Ward has experienced highs and lows, not least promotion to the Premiership and defeat at the hands of Manchester United in an FA Cup final. Both remain special to him.

“They were two very different moments in my career and I will never forget either of them,” he says. “The euphoria of promotion and playing in the Premier League is incredible, but playing at Wembley in an FA Cup final is a boyhood dream. I don’t take either for granted. I was gutted to lose, of course, but I celebrate the fact that very few people have the opportunity to play at Wembley. I feel very blessed.”

That sense of blessing comes from a solid upbringing in a church-going family, and Ward acknowledges the role that his Christian faith has played in his career in a tough and unforgiving profession.

“My brother, sister and I were brought up in a Bible college. My parents were always incredibly supportive of all of us. They modelled sacrificial love to us, giving us platforms to succeed in whatever we put our minds to,” he says.

Family remains extremely important to Ward, and he and his wife are expecting their first child in March.

“It’s the single best news I’ve ever had! It’s daunting, but I am just treasuring it,” he says.

"I see God's hand putting the pieces of my life into place"

Professional football rewards its best players handsomely, but few would doubt the volatility and pressurised nature which comes with it. For Ward, pressure is something to be managed. 

“Dealing with the pressure of being a professional sportsman during the season is hard, because there’s always the day after, always the emotion after the game, the euphoria, the disappointment. But it’s not going to benefit you to hold on to either. You always need to move on. Whatever happens, park it, and move forward to the next game,” he says.

Ward is quick to acknowledge the role that God has played in his life, particularly during life’s challenges.

 “When I look back, I see God’s hand putting the pieces of my life into place. It wasn’t all rosy at the start. I was moving away from familiar things, my church, my family, stepping away from my parents’ blessings. But decisions come and go, and it’s the commitment you make once the decision has been made that will see you through. God was at the forefront of that and other career decisions I have made, and He remains the anchor when times are hard.”

Flying The Flag In The Sporting World

A strong family ethic, an outdoor mindset during the off-season (he cycles regularly and plays golf to a handicap of 11) and a faith which offers him a Godly perspective, help him cope with life in the spotlight-something he cherishes.

He offers a prayer of thanksgiving before each match he plays, and doesn’t hide it from his team-mates.

 “I’ve always been pretty open about my faith, but I don’t force it or show myself off to people," he says. "I join in with the lads. At the end of the day, you have to be relational, but you know your limits and you know your moral compass. But I join in. Not to do so would not be the gospel, at the end of the day. I feel that I am flying the flag in the sporting world and God has given me a platform.”

Ward uses that platform to encourage others and, whatever comes after his successful playing career, there is little doubt he will have a contribution to make in the game he loves and the life he lives.

“It’s so important to surround yourself with the right people, those who can speak into your life, like-minded people you can go on a journey with," he says.

"It can be so easy to get caught up into what society pushes you into, but being passionate and being yourself is vital. For me, it’s not just about me going on this journey. It’s about who I’m doing life with. Also, it’s about enjoying the different seasons in life, the way we look after ourselves.”

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