Due to work and other commitments, there have been just over twenty four hours between the news breaking about the departure of the Palace’s Number 1 and me having a chance to sit down and gather my thoughts.
It says it all that in that short time there’s been so many tributes on websites, social media and online forums that there really is little else to add – other than my personal memories.
Jules is a legend.
Us fans can discuss and dispute the most trivial and minuscule of matters about our beloved football club – but I can’t imagine anyone disagreeing with the Argentine’s status: 15 years, over 400 games, a record amount of clean sheets, promotion, administration, an unquestioned level of human decency, and a mountain of memories.
For me, the longevity of his stay is highlighted in my own life. I was a 14 year old school boy – with hair as floppy and flowing as Speroni’s was back then – when he signed from Dundee, who already held him in the highest regard. Fifteen years on, I’m now the most experienced class-based teacher in my school. Unrecognisably, we have all changed as people during his reign at the Palace: in outlook, in maturity, in morals and in appearance (both Jules and my hair cuts have substantially shortened – and facial hair lengthened for a start). Positively, Palace have changed, and uncontrollably, the world has changed. From boy, to student, to man, Speroni has been my hero and our rock. Reflecting privately, so I don’t bore you any more than usual, I’ve struggled to comprehend the changes that have happened in my life, while my hero has remained a consistent.
In some ways, perhaps Jules should have left in 2015 after his testimonial. He’s barely played since (thanks Pardew) while Alex McCarthy, Wayne Hennessey, and Steve Mandanda have bumbled along ahead of him. Has he complained? Not a chance. He’s as commendable off the pitch as he is on it. To suggest he could have moved on misses the point. Jules, playing or not, is part of Palace: he beats through the heartbeat of South London as much as Palace pumps through his blood.
There are too many memories to pick out just one and I couldn’t possibly find time to name them all. Easily, I could rattle off countless defining moments. The big ones have all flashed through our social media often enough to not need to be repeated again yet we shall never forget them .
I want to draw out a few of my favourite lesser talked about moments.
Palace had just survived relegation in the most dramatic of circumstances, Paddy McCarthy was sprinting down the pitch in jubilant emotion, the Selhurst faithful were going wild, the locals were menacingly marching down the Hillsborough turf and Clint Hill was having a ruck in his boxers. What was Speroni doing? Crouching down and consoling the opposition.
We often talk about Jules as part of the promotion season, or the survival squad, or the administration team, but for me, his most impressive season was one that ultimately ended in defeat. Neil Warnock replaced Peter Taylor in November and we’d flown up the table. Come the end of the season, Palace boasted the tightest defence in the division. However, and here’s the amazing bit, in my opinion, we weren’t even any good at the back as a unit – but we had our brick wall: Jules. In the play offs, we were a Ben Watson penalty away from Wembley but Speroni’s Player of the Season Award was never even debated.
Speroni is best summed up by the 1-1 draw at home to Queens Park Rangers that season. In the early days under Warnock, it was our 9th game in a row without victory. Palace were hopeless throughout and never looked like scoring. However, we did look likely to leak at the other end – until they met Jules. He saved four one-on-ones as he personally kept the score down to one. In the last minute, Clinton Morrison equalised with his 100th goal for the club which set up a run of 15 matches unbeaten and fired us up the league! However, the day was all about one man. Typically, the BBC match report didn’t even mention him!
Of course, as we all know, Speroni wasn’t always a Palace legend. He started with a little mis-hap involving Kevin Campbell and Everton, and it took him nearly three years to win back his place. It’s completely fitting of Palace that Speroni is the underdog, Speroni was laughed at by the school playground that I grew up in, Speroni was written off but Speroni didn’t give up. He fought on. He came back stronger. He became a legend – and more!
Back in 2005, Gabor Kiraly was unquestionably our first choice keeper. Jules had been given his chance and dropped it. Away from the stresses of our battle against relegation, Speroni had to make do with appearances in the league cup. Staring in goal, Jules inspired us to a victory away at Charlton. It was telling that the moment the referee blew his whistle and confirmed the win, our jogging-bottomed star from Hungary sprinted onto the pitch to celebrate with Speroni, his rival for the shirt.
A year later, and it was once again the League Cup that gave Speroni a chance to shine. This time, he put in a man of the match display against the European Champions, Liverpool, as Jules continued to win the Palace faithful over.
After Peter Taylor had sold off Kiraly in 2007, poor Jules had to watch as dreadful keepers like Scott Flinders and Iain Turner were selected ahead of him. I remember meeting him in the club shop before a game, where he was signing autographs. I remember telling him that I wanted him to have a chance. As always, he was a true professional and spoke of hoping but not demanding a go between the sticks. Thankfully, he was eventually given some game time at Barnsley in late April 2007 – in a 0-2 defeat. However, never one to give up, Speroni kept clean sheets in the final two league games of the season against promotion chasing Derby County and Colchester United. After waiting patiently for three years to win the number one jersey, Jules would ultimately keep it for the next eight years – and it should have been at least one more after that!
For character and performance, Jules is a true inspiration. Like so many of us, I dream that he’ll return to the club in some capacity one day – not far from now – but above all, I hope he and his family are happy in whatever turn their lives next take. Forever, he has our gratitude and appreciation as an undisputed Palace LEGEND.
Do-do-do, Julian Speroni.