Joe Whitworth: From Palace ball boy to first-team goalkeeper

By Anish Dogra 17 Mar 2023
Joe Whitworth Palace

Learn more about the 19-year-old's journey as a boyhood Eagles fan to a debut at Brighton

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It is a proud moment for any player to make their debut, especially after coming through a club's Academy, but for Joe Whitworth the moment was particularly special.

A Crystal Palace supporter all his life and a former ball boy at Selhurst Park, the 19-year-old goalkeeper started for his boyhood club against arch-rivals Brighton & Hove Albion on Wednesday. 

At 19 years and 15 days old, he is Palace’s youngest goalkeeper to play in the Premier League, and the seventh-youngest in the competition’s history. 

Youngest keepers' debut age in PL history
Player Club Date Age at debut
Neil Finn WHU 01/01/96 17y 3d
Richard Wright IPS 06/05/95 17y 182d
Scott Carson LEE 31/01/04 18y 150d
Stephen Bywater WHU 12/02/00 18y 250d
Ben Alnwick SUN 05/11/05 18y 308d
Paul Robinson LEE 25/10/98 19y 10d
Joe Whitworth CRY 15/03/23 19y 15d
John Ruddy EVE 11/02/06 19y 110d
Espen Baardsen TOT 03/05/97 19y 147d
Chris Kirkland COV 14/10/00 19y 165d

Although Palace lost 1-0, Whitworth produced excellent second-half saves to deny Pervis Estupinan and Alexis Mac Allister to keep his side in the match.

“It was massive for me, being a Palace fan and playing for the senior team," he told Palace's official website. "It was massive for my family. It’s a really proud moment.

“I’ve supported Palace my whole life. My whole family are Palace fans. I started at Palace around Under-13s at the club, worked my way up and got here today.

“I had my family watching in the away end. I’m sure my brother was loving it!"

Whitworth came through the Palace Academy, playing in the Under-18 Premier League at the age of 16 and then making himself the Palace Premier League 2 team's No 1 last season.  

See: All you need to know about Whitworth

Manager Patrick Vieira only told Whitworth on Wednesday morning that he would be making the step up to the big time later in the day, with Vicente Guaita and Sam Johnstone both out injured.

“He looked really calm, really composed, and he made a lot of good decisions” Vieira told the club website. "For a first [senior] game there were a lot of positives. I’m disappointed for him because we couldn’t give him the win, but the future looks really good for him.”

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It remains to be seen whether Guaita will recover from his injury before this Sunday's trip to league leaders Arsenal, so Whitworth could very well be in the line-up again.

“He’s played in a derby, and then he goes to the Emirates!,” said former Palace star Clinton Morrison. "He’s going to have a lot of work to do. But it’s a great experience.

“As a young man, when you dream of becoming a professional, these are the games you want to play in, so go and enjoy it.”

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