Interview: Crystal Palace’s Cherelle Khassal

The Women’s Championship might be one league but as the season was paused three mini leagues were formed. Led by Aston Villa at the top of the league, they have a small gap over Sheffield United and Durham. London Bees and London City Lionesses sit comfortably mid-table with Leicester City. Beneath them are a quintet of clubs who have been having an inconsistent season but still picking up points along the way.

One of those clubs, Crystal Palace, were ready to use the last quarter of the season to build some momentum and join those clubs safely in mid-table but that was obviously interrupted. I have been fortunate to catch up with forward, Cherelle Khassal, to find out where it all began for her, how she’s found her first debut Championship season and how she’s staying occupied during the lockdown.

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I was born in Waterford, Ireland and I currently playing for Crystal Palace. I’m a wide midfield player playing either on the left or right, I like to play the number 9 sometimes too. I also own a business called Empire Digital – Where we design website, e-commerce website and everything digital. “Modern Digital Working”. I am now living in Portsmouth and have been for many years now, I love Portsmouth and the community!

Who was your biggest footballing inspiration while growing up?
My Mum and dad was my biggest inspiration, always told me to enjoy everything I do and always put 100% into this. They were there for me every training sessions and every game!

Photo: Tara Hook

Could you tell me about your experience at youth football?
I actually started football really late, I didn’t start kicking a ball until I was 13, I was always an Irish dancer before this. The first club I played for was back home in the Republic of Ireland for Villa in Waterford. It was a boys team and a team my brother was also playing at. I then moved to the Isle of Wight as my dad’s businesses was always working away so we moved to the UK. I then started playing for Portsmouth Under 14, 16 and then Hampshire Under 16 and Under 18’s.

I have previous played for a few different teams around the world, Arsenal Academy, I then moved to the United States and played for LA Strikers and Santa Clarita Blue Heat in the WSL league. When I came back to the UK I moved to Brighton & Hove Albion and then a spell at fellow Sussex teams Lewes and Chichester City.

I am now playing for Crystal Palace in the FA Women’s Championship and I’m currently loving my football. I have been fortunate to represent my country, Republic of Ireland, at Under 17, Under 19 and Senior level.

Photo: James Boyes

During Aaron Smith’s tenure in 2018/19 season Chichester City spent much of the season at the top of the National League South. How did you and the squad feel when you were pipped by Coventry United for promotion?
With this season I was out from January with a knee injury so I had done lots of rehab and strengthening work with the physio which at the time was Gary Sadler. I wasn’t really involved with this as the physio was out of training hours, so I couldn’t really comment on that season. However, I know the girls were very disappointed with this outcome. Chichester has come a very long way from when I started playing for them. In our first season winning the league and gaining promotion to the FA Women’s National League South. Now with a new manager, new coaches, they have stayed up in the league and I’m sure big things to come from the team next season.

Photo: Sheena Booker

You are currently playing at Crystal Palace, what is it about the club that you love?
I love the passion we as a team play with, the fans are incredible, home and away, they really do love Crystal Palace Men’s and Women’s. It’s great to be playing and putting the Palace jersey on and play with pride! The flags, the noise they are with us 100% in the low times and the high times. Incredible club!

Photo: Tara Hook

How have you found making the step up from National League to Championship?
It’s great to play in a higher league with some great players. I have also stepped up my game and always learning. I have loved this season playing again high tempo training, just everything has been great on and off the pitch. Some games we should have won/played together more but that’s football, we are a new squad were gelled together as a team. Sadly this has all come to a premature pause but once we are back we’ll have a point to prove to other teams that we should be winning those games.

What has been your highlight of the season so far?
There’s been a few highlights this season, Making my debut for Crystal Palace is always a nice feeling. But the one that sticks out for me is the game against Charlton we was 1-0 down and we was at home, we were on top of the game and in the final third it was coming for us but in the last ten minutes, Anabelle Johnson crossed the ball in from the right and I headed home to make this 1-1. If you know my I am not the tallest out there so to score with my head was a great feeling. Plus getting the player of the match award makes it all the better!

Photo: Tara Hook

How do you balance your football and your day job?
So this is a great question. Footballers at my level are semi-pro and part-time, so with my business some days this can be really difficult as I travel to visit clients around the United Kingdom and if it is training days I have to cut my days short in order to get there. This can lead to very long days for me with our training camp being in Bromley. With training not finishing until 10pm I don’t get home until around 11:30pm depending on the roads coming back. This can be quite demanding as the following day I will have to catch up on work and make sure that I meet client’s deadlines. I’m still young and I believe that you have to put the energy and time into things you love doing and have a desire for.

All women players that play football for the love of the game and the high demand at work we always think about WHY we do this? For me, it is because I want to help grow the game for the next generation. Women’s football has come a very long way and it’s great to see so many young girls now playing the game.

With all of the Covid-19 issues, how have you been staying fit, safe and most importantly entertained?
We have been given an exercise plan by the club to complete every day and update an App once completed. It’s great to keep active and they are not the same things all the time. Plus we have had some Zoom group work out sessions.

My partner and I have a puppy called Koko so she is keeping us entertained and walks. We have been going back to board games, racing on the TV just different things to keep us positive and keep us going. It’s safe to say that this is a big hit in regards to how much we take for granted, know once all of this is finished we will be making sure we don’t do that again!

Photo: Tara Hook

I see that you are looking to support small businesses during this difficult time. Could you tell me a little bit about that and how people interested could get in contact with you?
Yeah sure, so my business is called Empire Digital, we are based in Portsmouth. We are helping small businesses through these difficult times with our Digital Lifeline package. We are helping small business that are not currently online, or are online but need help getting clients/sales to their business in this very difficult period.

I have a link that will take you straight to our website page that gives you more understanding of how we want to help. https://www.empire-digital.co.uk/digital-lifelines

There is a contact form where you can fill out and this will go to the member of the Empire Team, we want to help as many businesses as we can to make sure when we come out of this situation they are set up already and getting the clients/support they need. Sticking together, helping the small businesses that some time gets overlooked we want to help you.