BY STEFAN FROST
Dean Davenport is a Crystal Palace thoroughbred. Not only has he supported the club all his life, he has spent the last 17 years coaching for the South Londoners, earning his stripes on the way to becoming first-team manager of the women’s team.
His first taste of coaching came when his daughter Jade joined the female set-up at the age of eight. Her manager quickly noticed that Davenport had played in the non-league circuit for Croydon Athletic and Whyteleafe. Seeking expert advice, he asked for Davenport to assist with coaching.
Davenport took charge of his daughter’s team soon after. For the first time he got to wear the Crystal Palace crest in a professional capacity – something which he still takes pride in today.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling to wear the badge,” Davenport, 47, said. “My brother played for Palace for 10 years and I used to watch him. My youngest boy went to Burnley away recently and my family have season tickets at Selhurst.”
Davenport coached his daughter’s team all the way up to U18 level. They enjoyed a fair bit of success which ended with Davenport being offered the first team position.
He was able to integrate some of his academy players into the senior set up.
“I’ve learned a lot during my coaching journey but it always goes back to my time as a player and what I gained from managers I played under,” Croydon-born Davenport told the South London Press. “The game has evolved a lot but I’ve added my own edge to it. I’m still learning today, which is the most pleasing bit about it.”
Central to Davenport’s coaching philosophy is also his assertion that women’s football should be viewed on the same level as the men’s game.
“I don’t see a difference,” said Davenport. “Everyone has to be treated equally and I did that as a coach from day one.”
Davenport has had to juggle his football career with his driving job delivering pharmaceuticals to hospitals and pharmacies.
“I have a family as well and rarely see them in the evenings,” he said. “My day consists of waking up at five o’clock in the morning and finish at five in the evening. I then get changed in my car and head over to training. It’s tough, but it’s something that I love doing.”
Davenport is not the only one making sacrifices to fuel his love of football. Palace Women are part-time, meaning many of the players hold jobs alongside their football careers.
The Eagles have an analysis session on Monday, a day off on Tuesday then train from Wednesday to Friday.
“When I first joined the women’s team there was a huge split from the men’s team,” Davenport said. “Simon Jordan owned Palace back then and there wasn’t really any connection with the main club. We just used the badge, wore the kits and the girls paid subs like a typical Sunday League team.
“When we got a proper staff and a new chairman involved, we started to get closer to the men’s side. We are now in the new academy training ground and having that connection with the main club is amazing.”
Eight of the 12 sides in the Championship are now full-time organisations. Palace are third in the table and unbeaten in their last six games.
“When you see the level at which we are competing against full-time teams, you realise how highly we’re performing right now, but it’s going to be hard to keep up with the rest,” said Davenport. “Hopefully we will become full time in the near future. We’ve spoken about this with Steve Parish and his board.”
Palace are only five points adrift of leaders Liverpool. And their next game on December 19 against Lewes will give them a chance to solidify their promotion push.
Palace’s last match was a 3-1 loss to WSL outfit Reading in the League Cup.
“It’s good to test yourself against WSL teams as they’re inevitably more prepared,” said Davenport. “They have more analysis time, contact time and gym time. These are all things we can’t match until we become fully professional. But it’s great to play against those sides as it shows you where you are as a club.
“This is the best group of players I’ve coached and that boils down to the work of my staff, our summer recruitment and the new philosophy we’ve put in place. The togetherness is evident.”
When asked about the possibility of managing for another 17 years, Davenport laughs.
“I doubt I’d ever go anywhere else as I’ve got a really strong connection with Palace,” he said. “It’s something I’ve been brought up with and something that will stick with me. Palace is my club.”
PICTURE: KEITH GILLARD
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