This interview first appeared in the Crystal Palace v West Bromwich Albion matchday programme – 3rd October 2015.
He may catch the train home after matches, but Brede Hangeland’s involvement in recent weeks has kept the Eagles’ fine early season form on the rails. Injuries have given him a platform to show that he’s still a crucial member of the squad, and his solid performances have allowed the Eagles to continue full steam ahead.
It’s not like Brede Hangeland to make a fuss about anything, but he’s bemused at the commotion made over his choice of transportation home following the League Cup demolition of Charlton Athletic last week.
Had he not been wearing a Palace tracksuit then he would have looked like any other commuter across the country that evening, waiting patiently for a probably-delayed service on a cold, uncomfortable bench quietly listening to music on his headphones. But this is a Premier League footballer – shouldn’t he be driving home in his Ferrari with music banging out of a subwoofer?
If you have to ask that question, then you don’t know Brede Hangeland. He is as far removed from the stereotypical footballer the tabloid press want to portray, and the same can be said for the rest of his teammates and the majority of players up and down the land. Normally they’re not the ones whose exploits sell newspapers, so it was a surprise to see Brede’s train trip gain column inches.
The Norwegian defender deserves the headlines for his eye-catching displays over recent weeks as he plays understudy to Damien Delaney and Scott Dann in the heart of the Palace defence, helping clinch a first clean sheet of the season last weekend at Watford with a typical Hangeland display that matches his personality off the pitch – no nonsense, professional and hard-working.
But now he possesses possibly the most famous Oyster card in south London, he laughs at the attention it has brought him but questions the society we live in that has made this normal behaviour abnormal.
“There might be something wrong in football if it’s a rarity to see players getting the train back from games!” he said. “To be fair there are plenty of the lads who do that at Palace – we’re a down-to-earth bunch and I’m not doing it to be different, it’s just the fact that it’s the quickest way to get home! Getting the train home is a natural thing; I don’t see it to be a problem.”
Seeing a Palace player take the train or tube home after a game is not like spotting a giraffe gallivanting down Holmesdale Road, or even a Millwall fan in The Den these days, it’s a pretty common sight. Hangeland jokes about his journeys when he says: “you can leave the ground earlier if you’ve won, if you’ve lost it’s probably better to have a long shower!” but he admits that the seemingly long-lost rapport with supporters needs to be rectified.
“It’s important to have a good connection with the fans and when you meet them to have a chat.” he explains. “Fans should be able to approach players like human beings – that’s what we are and we don’t want to be anything else. I’m just a normal guy who happens to do this for a living.
“Parts of the footballer image are correct but not all of it. We are people like everyone else and some live up to that image of being disconnected from normal people, but luckily the majority of footballers are just normal too. It’s nice when that part of it comes across a little bit, not just the fast cars, the money and all that stuff.
“I enjoy the good things in life; I like good meals and things like that but I’d like to think a reasonably normal guy. I just happen to play football for a living, it doesn’t mean I have to change in any way and this is the way I’ve always been.”
Hangeland has also always been a very good central defender, and his recent renaissance in the Eagles’ backline has earned plenty of rave reviews. His rock-solid displays against Tottenham Hotspur and Watford proved that the decision to tie the 34-year-old down to another year-long contract in the summer was a shrewd move.
The perfect team player, Hangeland admits that his advancing years mean he’s unlikely and unable to play as much as he did in his pomp at Fulham a few years ago, but boasting a professionalism that is second to none means he readily accepts that fact.
“Everyone wants to play and that’s the same for me,” he continues. “My view is probably slightly different than some younger players because I understand the importance of the
depth in the squad and if I don’t play then I’m not going to rock the boat. My stance is always the same, I’m a team player and I want to help them if I can play, and if I can’t then I’ll still find a way to help.
“I’m aware of the fact that I’m getting older and I’m not as good as I was a few years back so that’s not a massive problem for me. If I’m needed, I’ll be ready and I’m fine with that.
“It was always my wish to stay at Palace; throughout the course of my career I can recognise when things are on the up and moving in the right direction and that has definitely been the case since Alan Pardew has come in. I was keen to be a part of that and obviously I’m happy to be at such a good club at a late stage in my career. I think he values my contribution and was keen for me to stay so it wasn’t a difficult thing to sort out.
“I’ve always had a very simple philosophy with football and that’s to work as hard as I can on the training ground. I think the gaffer has asked for players who work hard for the team, and I think I fit into that bracket so it’s a good match.”
A combination of that hard work put in at Beckenham and a determination to stay as fit as possible has paid dividends in recent weeks. A bystander for the start of the league season, Hangeland’s performances in tough assignments against Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur have possibly been among his best in a red and blue shirt.
Injuries to Damien Delaney and Scott Dann have seen his body pushed to the limit. Hangeland played all but 30 minutes of the three games last week against Spurs, Charlton and Watford, but he passed with flying colours as he continued to repel everything the Hornets attack threw at him right up until the final whistle.
A first clean sheet was claimed despite Joel Ward and Delaney’s absences and Wayne Hennessey playing his first Premier League game of 2015/16. Modest as always, Hangeland is quick to divert the praise for that maiden blank towards the coaching staff.
“When you have lots of changes it can be a challenge but having said that it’s credit to the manager and the coaching staff who drill into us how they want us to play,” Hangeland explained.
“People can come into the team and play because they’re well aware of the style of play and the tactics we’re looking for so I think that’s worked really well considering we’ve had a few injuries and changes.
“Three games in a row has been a challenge when I haven’t been playing that much, but I think we’ve worked hard on the training ground and I think that’s proven by myself and Martin Kelly who has also come in and done a good job, so we must be doing something right.
“As a defender you always try and get a clean sheet and we haven’t done that too many times this season. That was our first one and if you aim for that then it gives you a good platform to try and get a win.”
Wins are something that Hangeland has gradually become used to during his time at Selhurst, although the road to this point has been long and winding. A free transfer arrival from Fulham in June 2014, the defender was signed by Tony Pulis, endured a tough start under Neil Warnock before eventually going on to experience the current highs with Pardew.
He was signed to provide experience for a relegation fight, something he was well-versed in at Craven Cottage before going on to help Roy Hodgson’s side reach mid-table security and a spot in a Europa League final.
“Palace reminds me of when I joined Fulham”, he said “we were in a bad position but over the course of a couple of years we grew to be a really strong Premier League side and there are signs that is happening here as well. I’ve been in football for so long and all I want is to be a part of something that’s moving in the right direction and I think that’s definitely the case here.”
Fulham is his past, Palace is his present, so what of the future? “That’s a tough decision and one that is coming closer and closer the older I get,” he reveals. “I haven’t made any decision on what I’m going to do when I finish but football is what I’ve done for the past 15 years so it might be sensible to stay connected in some way so hopefully I’ll be able to do that.”
Whatever comes next, in years to come he’ll have a stellar career to reflect back on and plenty of stories to tell, be that on a training pitch or just on a train platform