‘Magic’ – Dean Davenport delighted to see Eagles take flight at Selhurst Park

Crystal Palace Women manager Dean Davenport says there is a buzz around his squad ahead of Sunday’s chance to play at Selhurst Park in the latest show of support from the main club.

The FA Women’s Championship side will host divisional rivals Sunderland this weekend but the fixture will not take place at their usual Hayes Lane home as it will instead be played at the 25,486-seater Premier League venue.

It will be the first time in almost five years the women’s side have been involved in a match at the men’s ground, having lost 2-1 to Charlton in the first round of the FA Cup on December 4, 2016.

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Long-serving boss Davenport was in the dugout for that fixture and while he will again realise a childhood dream, he is more excited for his new-look group to play at Selhurst Park and experience backing from a passionate crowd.

He told the PA news agency: “I am buzzing for it and can’t wait. I told the players before one of our recent training sessions and when it started they were buzzing around because they know what an opportunity it is to play at Selhurst Park.

“For me it is more about them playing there. As a Palace supporter, I love to be in the dugout and did it once before, can’t wait to do it again but it is not about myself and being a fan.

“It is about letting the new girls and the players who haven’t experienced it go and play there. It will be a good game, a tough game against Sunderland but to play at our home stadium will be magic.”

The Women’s Eagles have made good progress despite the coronavirus pandemic, finishing ninth and seventh in their last two campaigns and optimism is rife following a summer of change.

Nine players were signed but perhaps even more importantly Davenport’s team are now able to train at Palace’s new academy site which has been redeveloped during the last two years in a project which cost £20million.

Based across the road from the men’s training ground on Copers Cope Road, it is one of several shows of support by the club, with new director John Textor also sponsoring the shirts of the women’s team with his company FaceBank.

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“This year we have moved over to the new training ground, the academy base, and that is a massive plus because it pulls us even closer to being part of the main club, so I couldn’t ask for much more than what the club do for us,” Davenport insisted.

“The girls, myself, my staff, our general manager, we all feel a massive part of Palace and hopefully the club feels the same way because we wouldn’t be able to do what we do without their support.

“The facilities at the academy are unbelievable and it also helps to attract players. In pre-season when I asked a couple of players to come and have a look, they turned around and said they’ll sign straight away because that is the wow factor it has.

“This is before I have even really spoken to them about what we want to do as a club and what we want to do with them as a management team. Just walking through the gates and seeing what the club have done, it is unbelievable.”

It has provided the women’s side with a lift following a challenging 18 months, with the 2019-20 season curtailed early due to the pandemic while Davenport’s workload as a delivery driver of pharmaceuticals increased as the spread of Covid-19 across the UK took its toll.

The 47-year-old described Zoom as a “godsend” during the early days of lockdown, with the squad able to keep spirits high with regular meetings and bingo nights. Later the players would give something back as 615 footballers at grassroots and junior level were offered advice via video calls made by the group at the beginning of 2021.

A return to normality occurred at the start of this season last month with fans allowed back in and a crowd of more than 800 were in attendance at Hayes Lane to watch a thrilling 4-3 opening-day win over Bristol City.

Davenport has been involved with the club for 17 years – with eight as manager – and feels the future is bright for both the men and women’s sides as Patrick Vieira’s team also embark on a new chapter following a big turnover of players at the Premier League outfit during the summer.

“I have been a Palace fan for 37 years so I know all about the roller coaster,” he said with a laugh.

“Our changes coincide with the men’s even though it wasn’t meant to. We set out a new philosophy at the end of last season and identified players we felt could take the club forward.

“Now the men are doing the same with Patrick. For people looking in from the outside, there does tend to be a new era taking place at Palace, not just with the men and women, but the academy as well. It is exciting, really exciting and hopefully we can all continue to progress.”