Could ex-Chichester schoolboy win a surprise World Cup spot?

Joel Ward in his Pompey days - could he be a surprise name in Roy Hodgson's England squad?  Picture by Allan Hutchings
Joel Ward in his Pompey days - could he be a surprise name in Roy Hodgson's England squad? Picture by Allan Hutchings

JOEL WARD is an outsider to make England’s 2014 World Cup squad – and his former Chichester teacher reckons Roy Hodgson should take him to Brazil.

The Crystal Palace and ex-Pompey full-back, originally from Emsworth, has been in impressive form in the Premier League this season and picked up the Eagles’ young player of the year award on Tuesday night.

Ward went to Bishop Luffa School in Chichester, where sixth-form football coach Neil Topley remembers his talents well and believes his former protege is good enough to go to Brazil.

England manager Roy Hodgson is due to name his squad of 30 next Monday and will need plenty of cover in all areas.

While Hodgson has a number of options for back-up for his first-choice full-backs, the fact Ward is perfectly at home on either side of the defence could count in his favour.

Topley said of the young star: “Joel was very good at football – he was allowed to play a year up for me in the sixth-form football team but he was always the best player on the pitch.

“He’s always been hard-working. If he wasn’t good at something he would always work hard to make it up. I think that’s why he’s where he is now.”

Ward, 24, who only narrowly missed out on Palace’s main player-of-the-season award in what has turned into a successful campaign for the promoted Premier League outfit, was at Bishop Luffa from 2001 to 2006.

He signed his first professional deal in 2008 with Pompey, where he moved up through the ranks as a youth player and played at Championship level before making a £400,000 switch to Crystal Palace in 2012.

Last season Ward helped Palace gain promotion to the Premier League – in particular by making a vital last-ditch clearance in the play-off final win over Watford at Wembley.

This season Ward, who still has many family and friends in Emsworth and Chichester, has played a vital part in helping Palace’s Premier League campaign and was recently ranked as the best tackler in the league, winning 68 per cent of his duels.

His consistent performances have earned him plenty of praise this season and Topley believes an England squad spot is a possibility.

“I’m not surprised to see him linked with a place. If anything did happen to Glen Johnson it’s not ridiculous to say he has a chance of filling that spot,” Topley added.

For now the maths teacher, himself a Palace fan, is just as excited to see Ward representing his favourite team.

He said: “It’s been nice to follow his career. He’s had a great season for us. We still keep in touch. He’s popped in when he can and he’s even held a training session with the sixth-form team, which was great.”