Crystal PalaceSport

Exclusive: James Tomkins on Crystal Palace career, Mamadou Sakho and future career plans after exit


Crystal Palace defender James Tomkins ended his eight-year career with the South London club on Sunday.

Last week, the 35-year-old was told his contract would not be renewed by the Eagles and the centre-back made his farewell bow in SE25 after manager Oliver Glasner brought him on as an 88th-minute substitute in their 5-0 demolition of Champions League-bound Aston Villa at the weekend.

The result saw Palace finish in 10th and was their sixth win in their last seven Premier League matches, part of an impressive run of form under Glasner, who only joined the club in February.

Former West Ham, England and Great Britain player Tomkins sat down with the South London Press at the end of last week at Palace’s Beckenham traing ground to look back at his career.

“I’m actually a little bit gutted that the season is finishing now because we’re in good form at the minute,” said Tomkins, breaking into his trademark beaming smile.

“The lads have taken to the manager’s style of play and adapted to that quickly. The players need to take massive credit, but the manager as well – because he’s come here with a philosophy and it seems to have been perfect for us and what we needed.

“Liverpool away (in April) was a turning point for the season. You can tell stats-wise we’re running a lot, working a lot, even possession-wise, everything. We’re definitely making a good step in a positive direction.

“Next year just looks positive – as long as we can take this form into it.

“There’s no reason to believe that we can’t be challenging for the top of the table instead of having to worry at some point of the year about relegation

“I’ve never felt we were at threat, but you always think that in the back of your mind. But since that Liverpool game, we’ve been phenomenal.

“Every game is winnable, it’s just mad how it looks now. It’s going to be a good year for us next season and I’m glad to be leaving the club at this kind of level where we’re on a high.”

The game on Sunday was Tomkins’ 135th appearance for the Eagles since signing for Eagles boss Alan Pardew from West Ham in June 2016.

After making his competitive debut at Tottenham in August 2016, Tomkins has had many memorable moments, including a few fan favourites, along the way.

“Other than making my debut, and then scoring my first goal against Stoke (in September 2016), it was Brighton, you’ve obviously got to mention that,” said Tomkins about his league goals against the Eagles’ South Coast rivals – a 3-2 win in April 2018 and 1-1 draw at home in February 2023.

Chelsea v Crystal Palace, Premier League, Stamford Bridge, 09 November 2019

“I’ve scored two goals against them. I’ve not scored too many against many clubs, so that’s at least one thing I can say, but there’s a lot of things that have happened since I’ve been at Palace.

“My son was born, who is literally my everything. I remember Raina being pregnant with Milan and I’m celebrating by tapping my stomach, things like that pop up in my head. It’s a big memory and a happy time, but I have got many happy memories here. I’m just really happy and honoured to have played here, a massive club.

“The chairman (Steve Parish) and Dougie (Freedman, sporting director) brought me here and I owe them a massive thank you for that. They gave me an opportunity and they believed in me – because at the time I wasn’t really playing at West Ham. So to come here and give me that chance, I owe them a lot.

“It was very similar moving from West Ham to Palace because it felt like a very family-orientated club, which I liked.

“I came from West Ham after many years there, so it was always going to be hard to move clubs. But to come here was definitely the best option for me. It was a great decision. I’ll never regret it and it’s been a brilliant time.

“And then there is the fans. The way they took to me as soon as I signed was massive. I owe them a lot for that. The fans are still just brilliant. It means everything to me.”

Tomkins was given the captain’s armband on Sunday after replacing Joachim Andersen as a late substitution, with the fans having the opportunity to show their appreciation for him post-match, when he was presented with a framed picture by Parish, before giving a post-match, emotional speech.

And despite making just a handful of appearances, Tomkins has enjoyed his final campaign at the club.

“This season has been nice because it was just about staying fit, being around and if called upon them maybe stepping in so I’m glad that I’ve been thereabouts this season,” said the player, who also captained Palace in their 4-2 EFL Cup win against Plymouth in August.

“I’m going to miss the lads and miss the club. It’s been a great experience and a big part of my life.

“It’s built up for this since I got told [I was being released] really. Even though I was kind of maybe expecting it – you know I’m 35 and haven’t really played too much – but I’ve been fit for most of the year, which has been nice and something I want to continue.

“It’s just a little bit surreal and not really sunk in. Maybe it will when I’m away on holiday, when the lads are in pre-season or at the start of next season – but it’s definitely time for me to go. I leave so many friends behind.”

Crystal Palace’s Chris Richards (left) and James Tomkins during the Premier League match at Selhurst Park, London. Picture date: Sunday May 19, 2024.

Some of the closest of those friends are former centre-back partners Scott Dann, Damien Delaney, Martin Kelly, Mamadou Sakho, Gary Cahill, Marc Guehi, Andersen and Chris Richards amongst others, with one in particular standing out for Tomkins.

“All those names mentioned there – and I’m not just saying it – they’re all very, very, very good players so it’s hard to single anyone out,” said Tomkins. “Marc, Joa (Andersen) and Chris, massive respect to them because they’ve done brilliantly since they’ve been at the club – great, talented players.

“But the times when I was at my best here was probably my partnership with Mamadou Sakho.

“Me and Mama had a great partnership going, so that’s the standout for me. I love Mumy. He was so relaxed and somehow that worked for me. I felt like I was doing a lot of the ‘dirtier’ stuff, giving it to him and then he’s the one that fed great balls into the strikers, into the midfield. We had a nice balance and were both aggressive.

“In the changing room he was a good character, Mama had some good speeches before games.”

Any we can print here?

“No, no, not really,” laughed Tomkins. “He had that way about him to get the lads pumped up. The lads appreciated that at times because he was a winner – we all are – but it came out in good way with Mama.”

And with the Paris 2024 Olympic Games coming up this season, Tomkins was keen to talk about his own experience of being an Olympian for Team GB at London 2012 and what it could mean for another Palace player to play at a home Olympics this season.

“The Olympics is such a big thing – something I watched as a kid growing up – so to even imagine that there was going to be a football team was madness really,” said Tomkins about his experience playing for Stuart Pearce which saw the GB team reach the quarter-finals and Tomkins make an appearance at Wembley.

“Players like Ryan Giggs and Craig Bellamy, who I really looked up to, when you go into camp with them you’re thinking ‘oh wow, this is big’. We’ve done the walk into the Olympic Stadium [for the opening ceremony] and people like LeBron James – an absolute superstar – Novak Djokovic were around, it was surreal. All of these different cultures, different countries.

“He got past me,” jokes Tomkins about when he went up against Brazilian superstar Neymar in a pre-Olympic friendly. “At the time he was an even bigger name to what he is now, because he was an up-and-coming player but had done so much already.”

Tomkins is keeping his fingers-crossed that Palace team-mate Michael Olise can experience what he did.

Crystal Palace v Aston Villa – Premier League, Selhurst Park 19 May 2024
Picture : Keith Gillard

After being overlooked by the senior squad for this summer’s European Championships, it is likely the attacking midfielder will be selected by France coach Thierry Henry to appear in the mainly U23 squad for the global event in July and August.

“One hundred per cent,” said Tomkins, when asked if Olise should accept any offer of appearing at a home Olympics.

“To be able to represent Great Britain was a massive, massive honour. It’s something to tell the kids and grandkids about. Not many people can say that. I’m just massively proud to have experienced it and to be part of it.

“These experiences can pass you by and you may not get a chance again. So if you’ve got a chance to have an experience like that – a completely new experience – you need to go and experience it. Life’s too short. It’s going to be brilliant [for him].

“He’s such a good player I’m surprised he’s not really in the France squad. I’ve not seen too many talents like him. I’ve been at West Ham and there’s a few players that I could mention there and a few here at Palace, but he’s right up there.”

Despite closing the page on his chapter at Crystal Palace, Tomkins is now going to enjoy the break and then look to get back to work for a new adventure next season.

“I’m going take some time with the family, see some friends and do a bit of golf or something,” he said about his immediate plans.

“In the back of my mind I’m not finishing yet. I do feel like there’s a few years left in me, for sure. It’s just whereabouts. We obviously don’t know yet. I’m just going to stay positive, stay fit in the summer and enjoy it as well.”


Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Everyone at the South London Press thanks you for your continued support.

Former Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has encouraged everyone in the country who can afford to do so to buy a newspaper, and told the Downing Street press briefing:


If you can afford to do so, we would be so grateful if you can make a donation which will allow us to continue to bring stories to you, both in print and online. Or please make cheques payable to “MSI Media Limited” and send by post to South London Press, Unit 112, 160 Bromley Road, Catford, London SE6 2NZ

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.