The latest installment of Palace TV’s “Cult Heroes” interview series features everyone’s favourite Finn Aki Riihilahti, in an interview that is every bit as engaging as you would expect it to be.
Aki is a man who personifies what it means to be a fans’ favourite at Selhurst Park, equally revered for his tireless work-rate in the centre of midfield and his happy-go-lucky attitude away from the pitch, his personality precedes him in the minds of most Palace supporters, having been a pivotal member of the side that tasted play-off glory under the all-action management of Iain Dowie.
Signing for the club in 2001, he took a little while to establish himself as a loved member of the Eagles’ first-team, but it was when paired in midfield with the combative Michael Hughes that he saw his stock rise to previously unseen levels, with his goal in Palace’s 1-1 draw against Arsenal at Selhurst Park proving to be a particular high-point of his stint in SE25.
The interview itself, which is conducted as masterfully as ever by Chris Grierson, sees Aki discussing his current role as the Managing Director of HJK, a football club based in Helsinki, before speaking in fantastic detail about the countless memories he holds of his near five years with us. Reminiscing about Stockport away in 2001, when a Dougie Freedman goal brought us back from the brink of relegation in the final moments, Aki demonstrates just how deeply rooted his love of the club is.
He then goes on to discuss the relative roller-coaster that ran its course under Dowie, where we experienced promotion, relegation and a closely fought battle to regain our top flight status within the space of just under three years, before opening up about the huge frustration he felt at leaving the club thanks to persistent injuries in 2006.
It will come as no surprise to hear that Aki is fantastic value throughout the interview, proving, to anyone who is perhaps too young to remember his effervescent character whilst he was part of the playing staff, that he is still every inch the man we took to our collective hearts in the mid noughties.
Do yourself a favour this evening; set aside 20 minutes or so and watch the interview attached above. You won’t be disappointed, that’s a promise.