Palace star Wilfried Zaha was greeted to a cheering ovation as he returned to the school where he arrived aged four as a refugee with no English.
“It’s just amazing. A lot has changed but it’s nice to be back, “ said the 26-year-old who was overwhelmed at the response from the special assembly at Whitehorse Manor Juniors in Thornton Heath.
Organised by the Palace for Life Foundation the Palace winger returned to the school alongside the CBBC presenter Ben Shires.
Head teacher Lynne Sampson recalled when Wilf first arrived with his mum at the school as a refugee from the Ivory Coast. He soon settled in with children who are still his friends today, she said.
Wilf explained that he didn’t speak English but that he quickly made a few friends, friends he is still friends with today naming one in particularly who he said “helped me learn English”.
He said of his schooldays: “I loved it. I had a great time when I was here. I used to play football right in that field over there…like the rest of you.”
Zaha was a pupil at Whitehorse from the age of four before he left for Selsdon High School, when he joined the Palace academy aged 12.
Year 10 teacher Michael Stephenson recalled watching the young Wilf in the school football team dribble down the wing and as two players came towards him he did a ‘perorate’ sending both players the wrong way.
He said: “I knew then the difference between him and other players.”
Mr Stephenson described Wilf as an ‘absolute perfectionist’ even when it came to his school work.
He added:“It’s been wonderful watching his career. His name is known throughout the school.”
Wilf said: “It’s been a dream really even when one of the kids asked me what would you do if you didn’t play football? my mind set was just to play football that was all I ever thought about. It was nice to be here before and come back today as a professional footballer which was always always my goal.”