Football: Tuttle's southern spur

Andrew Baker talks to the Palace defender aiming to blunt the Blades
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The Independent Online
The play-off final at Wembley is no place for a player with divided loyalties. So David Tuttle, the Crystal Palace central defender, formerly with Sheffield United, was at pains to point out that his heart has always been in the south. "I had three good years in Sheffield," he said after training with Palace in Mitcham last week. "But I always wanted to settle in the south - my family are from Reading and my wife is from Tottenham." Neither place is likely to stir the heart of Palace's south London fans, but at least he proved that the Blade in him has been blunted.

Tuttle has played in the Premiership before - five times with Tottenham Hotspur, his first club, in the league's inaugural season in 1992-93, and on 31 more occasions with the Blades in their doomed campaign the next year. Before now he has turned down pounds 1m offers to return to the top level, preferring the stability of regular first-team football in the First Division. But now, at 25, the stocky defender reckons that the time is right to prove that he can play with the best.

"I feel I've still got a bit to prove," Tuttle said. "I want to play in the Premiership, especially now that players are getting picked for England who previously wouldn't have been in the shake-up. It's a good time to play in the Premiership and I want to be there."

Ironically, the manager who rescued Tuttle's career and did so much to bring him to the brink of the league of nations is heading back down to the Nationwide league. Tuttle was on loan from Spurs to Peterborough United when Dave Bassett bought him for pounds 350,000 in 1993. Subsequently Bassett spent pounds 250,000 to bring the player with him to Palace.

"I've got a lot of respect for Dave Bassett," Tuttle said. "He has done a lot for me. I've learned a lot from him and you will never hear a bad word from me about him. He's a good manager, and it's a shame that he's gone down with Forest."

Tuttle's ambitions with Palace are in the opposite direction, and he has just as much respect for the present regime at Selhurst Park as he has for the man who brought him there. "I'm having a good time at Palace," he said. "Ray Lewington is one of the best coaches in the country, he has a really good way of getting things done. Most of the boys here are still young and still learning and Ray and Steve Coppell bring us all together and make sure we all get on well."

But for all the upbeat attitude - shared by all the Palace players last Thursday, enjoying their moment in the media spotlight - the form book suggests two things. First, that Sheffield United will prevail at Wembley, and secondly, that if they do not and Palace make the final leap, they will bungee straight back down again.

But David Tuttle was having none of this. "People say that the club have been there before and what good has it done us, but I think that sort of attitude is crap," he declared. "Then people fancy Sheffield United to beat us because they've done the double on us in the league but I think that takes a bit of pressure off us. We're in high spirits, we're playing on a neutral ground - and what a ground - and we're going to put those two results behind us and go out and give it 110 per cent." David Tuttle, loyal Palace retainer.