Palace's Connor Wickham praises the influence of his dad ahead of FA Cup final

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When Connor Wickham appears in Saturday's FA Cup final against Manchester United at Wembley, he will be reminded of how much he owes his father for reaching that stage.

The striker is expected to start for Crystal Palace and, beyond the chance of winning his club to a first major trophy, will be inspired by an inherent drive.

Among the crowd at Wembley will be Wickham's father Stefan, a retired British Army warrant officer who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, who has moulded his son in his own image and who remains his greatest influence.

"My dad had that mentality that was drilled into me," said Wickham, 23. "I'm very determined.

"My dad is very punctual, always looks smart, makes sure he's on time, never misses an appointment.

"I'm always on time. (He) makes sure he tells me right from wrong, always gives me his opinion. He's one of the most upfront and honest men you'll ever meet.

"Some of that has rubbed off on me and my brother and my whole family. He's someone I owe a lot of credit to for my career.

"He has not missed a game, apart from when he was in Iraq, and even then he managed to stream the games.

"He served in Iraq twice when I was still in school. I was maybe eight and 14."

The 45-year-old Stefan has since retired, but the impact of the time he spent in service has not been forgotten on Wickham, who since turning professional has bought his parents a house.

"It was difficult, I was young," he said. "It was hard on us when you don't get a phone call for a few days. It's a worrying time.

"My dad has lost a few friends in the wars. We grew up with all the stories of people who have lost limbs. I have been to Tedworth House (a Help for Heroes recovery centre) and seen the facilities.

"I don't think you know what goes on behind the scenes as a soldier unless you have been involved in it.

"I was in a way lucky enough to have grown up in it and it has made me the man I am."

Saturday's fixture comes at the end of Wickham's first season at Palace, following his ?8million transfer from Sunderland, and after promising runs of form were interrupted by injury.

Boss Alan Pardew retains significant faith in him, and perhaps largely because as a targetman he represents an increasingly rare breed. His headed goal to secure their 2-1 semi-final win over Watford did much to justify the manager's faith, and is a moment the striker has not forgotten.

"When I scored, I did not hear the noise of the crowd," he said. "I went deaf for a minute. I did not know what to think. There was so much energy in that goal and it meant so much to the club and the fans.

"To play in a final of my own is huge. It is not something that I think would have happened. It could be a once in a lifetime opportunity and I need to make sure I grab it with both hands.

"I never thought I'd be playing in an FA Cup Final.

"I am 23 and scored a winner at Wembley in a semi-final to give us a chance to put Crystal Palace on the map; (to) make history at this club and win a trophy for the first time.

"We know it is going to be a big occasion for us, but it is not something we cannot handle. The pressure is on United."

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