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Faith in Practice

Getting a result

Richard Woodall

A versatile defender/midfielder for Crystal Palace Football Club, Joel Ward won promotion to the Premier League with his team after clearing a shot off the line during the last minute of injury time. Off the pitch he keeps a foot in with the charity Faith and Football.

 

My faith is everything; without it, I don't know if I would be playing for Crystal Palace in the Premier League. I feel blessed that God has given me the opportunity to play football for a living. As it's always been my dream to play in the Premier League, now that I am, I'm enjoying it massively.

My focus is always on performing well every week. When I cross that white line there can't be any distractions in my head; I'm there to do a job and that's my sole focus. If you're a professional, you have to be disciplined, know your role and do the job you're asked to do for the team. Equally, you need to enjoy it - fortunately I love what I do.

I'll train hard every week and do everything I can to prepare myself in the right way so that I give myself the best chance when I play. For me, even though there are thousands of people watching the game, I've been lucky in that I'm not really fazed by the crowd.

Managers come and go in football regularly. We had a change of manager at Crystal Palace earlier this season (when Tony Pulis came to replace Ian Holloway) but it was a change I think needed to be made. Change tends to bring freshness to the place and as a footballer you have to learn to adapt to change. Hopefully we can now do enough to stay in the Premier League. Since being promoted here, I've been lucky to have played against some of the best players in the world - the likes of David Silva, Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge - and it's been incredible. Even though you respect what those kinds of players have done, you do everything you can to stop them and to get a result.

It was quite amazing to get promoted after winning the play-off final against Watford last season. For me it was surreal when I cleared a shot off the line - I still get goose bumps when I talk about that now. When the final whistle went there was such relief because after the game you're so tired physically and mentally, but you're also on such a high you don't know what to do. Coming off the pitch victorious thatday was something I can't describe and I'll never forget. It was a rollercoaster season - lots of things happened in such a short space of time; from me joining the club to being promoted.

I'm 24 at the moment and am still climbing the footballing ladder to be honest, but I don't want to sit and rest on my laurels; I want to reach as high as I can get. There's always been that dream of playing for England but at the moment I'm just doing my best every week and that's all I can concentrate on.

I think the way clubs do things, like initiation ceremonies for a new player who has joined, has evolved a lot. When I signed for Palace, I had to sing a song but that was it. I was brought up on the south coast and so moving to London and transferring from Portsmouth where I had started my career, was a big thing. But everything happens for a reason.

When I was coming up through to the first team at Portsmouth, we had a Christian in the team called Linvoy Primus. He took me under his wing and was a great mentor. As a kid you can be like a rabbit in the headlights but Linvoy helped me enormously in my early years. I still speak to him and we get together and pray about things. It was during my time at Portsmouth that we also held prayer meetings before games. During the whole time I was there the manager respected that.

With what has happened to Portsmouth recently, well, it's never nice to see a club go through what it did and enter administration. The highs and the lows the club experienced were quite extreme. But it was a great club to be at for me to get time on the pitch and learn my trade - and that's something I'm thankful for.

Despite all the highs of football, I've just been aware of how there is so much more to life than football. God is in control and has a plan and a purpose for our lives. His plan for me involved coming to Crystal Palace. I'm looking forward to everything God has in store for me during my time here and for the rest of my career.

As a footballer I find there are regularly chances to talk about my faith. It's not right to be pushy about it though, as that's not the way it's supposed to be. I take the approach that if it's meant to happen, then it will and I don't want to be the person that's forcing something on someone, but I'm always there if people want to ask questions. Sometimes I get banter about me being a Christian, particularly when you're all having a laugh and the jokes are flying around. But having a laugh is something which happens in every job, and it's harmless and good fun.

I've always been strong about what I believe in and have been very open and clear about that. I have great backing from my family and that's been massively important to me - especially with the different things life throws at you. Being part of Hillsong Church in London has also been important for me.

Sometimes you don't always see the influence that, as a footballer, you have on people. Football is a language everyone can speak and you find the majority of people are interested in it. For me, it's important to give something back though, and through the various things I am involved with, like church and the football club, I can do that.

It's great to see the effect that, as a footballer, you can have on the lives of people and particular kids. I find it really exciting to think that throughout the rest of my career, God will use me in ways even I didn't know I could be used.