Ward: I’ll take treasured memories of Fratton with me

Joel Ward equalises for Pompey in front of the Fratton end during the south coast derby against Saints back in December
Joel Ward equalises for Pompey in front of the Fratton end during the south coast derby against Saints back in December
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Since December, the picture has been hanging on Joel Ward’s bedroom wall.

The moment he etched himself in Pompey folklore, captured beautifully and retold every time he awakes from his slumber.

For many Pompey fans, the very image of his Fratton Park header in the south coast derby against Southampton will similarly never diminish from their memory.

Now Ward and his treasured photograph are on the move, headed for new pastures.

The 22-year-old’s future has finally been settled, with Crystal Palace winning the six-club race for his services earlier this week.

It ends a 14-year association for the Emsworth youngster who emerged through the Pompey ranks to make 96 first-team appearances and score six goals for his boyhood heroes.

The chance to remain in the Championship and also attract crucial revenue for Pompey was a lure that was never going to be resisted, even for a home-grown player.

It means Ward follows close friends Jason Pearce and Stephen Henderson out of Fratton Park since the season ended. An emotional departure unquestionably for the versatile player whose importance, firstly to Steve Cotterill and then Michael Appleton, saw him feature in 88 of the Blues’ past 92 games.

For Ward, he and the picture may now be heading for London – but the memories of his Fratton reign will remain among fans forever.

He said: ‘This has been a massive decision. Pompey have been a massive part of my life – now I have a new chapter.

‘It has been well documented certain players will have to leave this summer.

‘Everyone knew I could be one of those on the way.

‘When we went on that lap of appreciation against Derby, I realised I could be saying goodbye at Fratton Park.

‘That was memorable for me, especially being local.

‘I have been at Pompey since I was eight years old. I have seen all the ups and downs and what has happened to the club.

‘I was in the stands when the FA Cup was won, I was on the bench at Wembley in 2010, I was in the crowd for the AC Milan match and then I ended up playing week in, week out for the last couple of seasons.

‘Then there were the derby games.

‘To get the equaliser at Fratton Park was for me unbelievable, while it was such a surreal feeling when we levelled so late at St Mary’s.

‘I know the area and the rivalry between the clubs. I know what those fixtures mean to people and I know what they mean to me.

‘I still have the photograph of my goal on my bedroom wall – and it’s going with me when I move to London.

‘I have been very blessed through my career so far and very fortunate to have done what I have and the games I have played.

‘Then there have been the fantastic fans and I have always tried to repay them for their support.

‘I just hope the club can rebuild and get back to where it should be.

‘It’s obviously very sad to be leaving everybody behind but this is a new chapter for me.’

Also vying for Ward’s services were Leeds, Burnley, Ipswich, Sheffield Wednesday and Blackpool – a reflection of how highly regarded he is by Championship clubs.

It seemed to take an eternity for him to decide where his future would lie but Palace was the chosen destination in a £400,000 switch.

The Pompey favourite will now move out of his family home in Emsworth to relocate to London – and he is relishing the future.

He added: ‘I wanted to take my time and assess the options. Thankfully, I have come to a decision and I’m looking forward to starting there.

‘Speaking to them on a regular basis and after meeting Dougie Freedman on numerous occasions, I felt comfortable.

‘He has a vision for the club and is trying to bring in an ethos to create an environment that is going to be successful and that really appealed to me.

‘I have been very blessed. Everyone knows about my faith and I would not be where I am now without it. I am a firm believer in that.

‘Long may that continue – and, of course, I will always follow Pompey’s fortunes closely.’