At 11:32am on Thursday morning, Crystal Palace officially announced that Julian Speroni will be leaving the football club at the end of the 2018/19 season. 15 years, 405 appearances, relegation battles, promotion parties, Premier League progress and a campaign in which the club nearly disappeared altogether, the Argentine has seen the lot and as a supporter, I’m finding it genuinely difficult to put into words what his departure will mean for us.
All set to turn 40 on the 18th May, Julian sounds adamant that he’s got at least another year to run before officially hanging up his gloves, with that desire to stay between the sticks bringing about the end of a love affair which will surely be rekindled as soon as the lovable stopper decides to call time on his playing days.
For the youngest members of our fan-base, Premier League football may be starting to feel like something approaching normality but you only need to go back a decade to see the football club in a completely different light. Struggling financially in the final days of Simon Jordan’s time as chairman, Palace were eventually plunged into administration of January 2010, leaving Speroni and his teammates without pay-packets and playing purely for the love of the shirt on their backs.
Much has been said and written of that squad in the years since their final day heroics at Hillsborough but Speroni’s influence is one which should never be forgotten. An ever-present and highly dependable figure within the group, he willingly shunned interest from clubs with far loftier ambitions immediately after the club was saved by Steve Parish and CPFC2010, committing his future to us in a move which shone a light on a man for whom loyalty comes before anything else.
As luck would have it, despite yet more turbulence in the dugout, the Eagles and Julian found themselves in contention for promotion via the play-offs in 2013, with a two-legged tie against rivals Brighton standing in the way of a showpiece final against Watford at Wembley. Those few weeks are quite rightly often remembered via Wilfried Zaha’s huge contribution but in Speroni, Palace were blessed with a figurative brick wall backing up his defenders. Keeping a clean sheet across all three matches, (300+ minutes of football) saves to thwart Ashley Barnes and Troy Deeney stick out in my mind as defining moments in our quest for promotion to the big time. Put quite simply, without the humble Argentine, the last seven years just wouldn’t have been possible.
Now, as we prepare for our record-breaking seventh straight year in the top tier, Jules is bowing out with the love and admiration of south east London cemented forever more. His place in the side was initially taken by Wayne Hennessey (a source of hot debate) and latterly Vicente Guaita, a man who has taken to life at Selhurst like a duck to water but neither come close to sharing the sort of bond Speroni does with the Selhurst Park faithful.
There are countless calls to name the planned new stand after him, alongside building a statue, both of which seem like stellar ideas to me. He has been there, seen it and done it in a Palace shirt and as such deserves a lasting, visible tribute at the place he’s called “home” since 2004. All too often these days, footballers are viewed as money-hungry mercenaries with no connection to the institutions they represent but in that respect Julian is a true throwback. All he’s ever wanted is to please the people he plays in front of from week to week and for that he’ll always be loved.
“Play for the name on the front of the shirt and they’ll remember the name on the back.” – It’s a quote which drills right to the heart of what Jules will always mean to our football club.
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