It was Alan Smith who first made me captain. I was 22 years old and we’d just been relegated from the Premier League back into Division One.
We didn’t start the season well. And when we lost one of the more senior players to a long-term injury, Alan called me into his office. He said he was going to make me captain.
I was thinking: “I’ve got some 30-year-olds in the dressing room. How am I going to manage that?”
And what was their view of it going to be?
I understood why Alan had chosen me. He’d been my youth and reserve team coach, and had made me captain both times. He knew he could trust me. That I respected him completely, would fight his corner and get his messages across.
I can’t say it was a comfortable experience, but when I think about it now… well, how do we grow as people? You get put into positions where you’re out of your comfort zone and you have to adapt. You have to adjust and give it your best.
“At Palace, we were a team of fighters. Tackles flew in much harder then. You got away with fouls you wouldn’t get away with today”
I don’t think you’re born with the capacity to become a captain or leader.
As a young player, you probably become captain of your school or Sunday team because you’re the best player. As you get a bit older, it’s because you’re the most sensible, so you’re less likely to do something ridiculous.
Then, slowly, you start to have some experiences of leading that give you something to draw on. People recognise that, actually, you’re doing this quite well, so we’ll give you a bit more responsibility in another area. And all these experiences move you forward.
So I’m not sure what other qualities I had outside of being a good player and being sensible when I was younger. But bits were added on as I progressed through my career. I came through the highs and the lows. Learned how to react to them in a way that made the most of my personal qualities.
I played for different captains who all had different strengths. Because, in the end, you’ve got to be true to your own personality and authentic in what your beliefs are.