Opinion

Julian Speroni: The Defining Moments

Today will be tough. I know he hasn’t been first choice for four years now but I’m just not ready to say goodbye to Jules.

As a child, I named my guinea pig after the great man. As an “adult” – or as close as we get to being adults as football fans – I’ve spent all morning watching YouTube videos of the legend. One of the great things about the beautiful game, is that in a world where we need to drive on and push forward, football allows us to take stock and look back. To reflect on the special moments. And with Jules, there’s no shortage of them.

The thing is. He was our best player between 2007-2010 by a country mile. Undoubtedly, he was the best keeper in the league and would have been one of the best in the Prem at that time. He won our Player of the Year ahead of Ambrose (who’d just scored his twentieth of the season – the most important goal in the club’s history) in 2010 and there was never even any debate.

By 2009-10, we were so used to him making unbelievable saves that I can’t even remember many specific ones. You just expected him to save them. I wish we had proper footage of that spell. Back in the Championship, there was only one grainy camera on the half way line and with highlights only shown of goals, there’s so little to see as it’s only the Sky games that give us footage to savour.

Jules has given us so many moments but what’s your favourite? Here’s a few of mine:

Palace…1 Everton…3 (Premier League, 2004)

Of course, Speroni’s debut was an impressive performance away at Norwich (where he was surprisingly picked ahead of Gabor Kiraly) but for many fans, this was our first glimpse of the Argentine. We all know what happened next and many fans wouldn’t have minded if that was the last that we saw of him!

Palace…2 Liverpool…1 (League Cup, 2005)

After 15 months without playing, our reserve goalkeeper put in a man of the match performance, the first of many in a Palace shirt, to see off the European Champions.

Barnsley…2 Palace…0, Palace…2 Derby…0, Colchester…0 Palace…2 (Championship, 2007)

It sounds just as ridiculous to state that Colchester were pushing for promotion to the Premier League back then as it does to state that Speroni wasn’t already our first choice keeper, but he wasn’t. He was still waiting for his chance to recover from the Everton mistake. Peter Taylor threw him in for our final three games of the season and gave Speroni his final chance to show he should be South London’s Number 1. Did he take it? I think we all know the answer to that!

Palace…1 QPR…1 (Championship, 2007)

Taylor had been sacked and replaced by Neil Warnock, who made it no secret that he wanted a new, taller keeper. Our start under the controversial Yorkshire man was so dreadful that he was given the freedom by fans and owner to bomb out whoever he wanted – he’d already moved on the fan’s favourite Leon Cort. However, against QPR, Speroni made save, after save, after save. If anyone had any doubts over our 6”1 stopper, he ended them that day. He was magnificent – saving four second half one-on-ones.

Bristol City…1 Palace…1 (Championship, 2008)

A far cry from the relegation fodder that had faced QPR five months previously, promotion pushing Palace headed west with the tightest defence in the league, mainly thanks to Speroni – now recognised as one of the best in the division. Holding onto a slender lead given to us by Lee Hills, Palace faced an onslaught from the Bristol attack. Eventually, the referee awarded them a soft 87th minute penalty and the game was lost – or was it? Speroni not only saved the spot kick, but he got up and dived in the opposite direction to save the rebound. Bristol did score a stoppage time equaliser but Jules still walked away the hero.

Sheffield Wednesday…2 Palace… 2 (Championship, 2010)

I’ve got to include this one, haven’t I? The day was bigger than Speroni, who was, by now, regularly referred to by neutrals as the best in the league. The day was about saving our club. As Jules did week after week. In the match, he made one big save – routine for Jules – where Wednesday could have taken the lead. But it wouldn’t let that happen. Not our legend.

Palace…1 Preston…0 (Championship, 2011)

There’s so little footage of this that I begin to doubt my own memory but in Freedman’s first game as caretaker (a Palace win thanks to debutant Steffen Iversen), Speroni made the best save that I’ve ever seen live. He dived backwards to scoop out a powerful, close range header and stop a certain goal. The whole crowd jumped up and celebrated as if we’d scored.

Derby…0 Palace…1 (Championship, 2013)

It was late March and Palace were pushing for automatic promotion. For non-TV reasons, our game had been moved to the Friday night and Yannick Bolaise had given us a first half lead. Personally, I was with some fellow fans at a beer festival in Crystal Palace, following the game on Twitter. In the final minute, Derby were awarded a penalty, which Speroni spectacularly tipped onto the bar and won us the three points.

Brighton…0 Palace…2 (Championship, 2013, Play-Off Semi Final)

Ashley Barnes could have written himself into the rivalries folklore. But he didn’t. Jules did.

Palace…1 Watford…0 (Championship, 2013, Play-Off Final)

That save from Troy Deeney, right? The TV footage doesn’t do it justice. During extra time, still 0-0, our hearts stopped. It looked a certain goal before Jules did what he does.

Palace…1 Chelsea…0 (Premier League, 2014)

John Terry had put us 1-0 up and Chelsea were fighting to save their title bid. We’d had no win in five, they’d won five on the trot. Eden Hazard twice had chances to equalise but he was met with our brick wall: Speroni. Palace went on to win five in a row and comfortably survive in the Premier League.

Palace…0 Burnley…0 (Premier League, 2014)

Even by our standards, the start of the season had been traumatic. Tony Pulis, who allegedly wanted to drop Jules, had walked out just two days before the season started and we were yet to win in our opening fixtures – as were our opponents. After a terrible Palace performance, Mile Jedinak gave away a last minute penalty and our bad start looked to be turning even worse – until Jules pulled off an outrageous save to turn it away and save the day.

Palace…2 Tottenham…0 (FA Cup, 2019)

Just like at the start of his Palace career, Speroni had to wait patiently at the end of it. Three and a half years had passed since Alan Pardew had dropped him and robbed us all of at least one more year of the legend between the sticks. But did Jules moan? Of course not. When the chance came, it was away at Liverpool and he had a mare. Yet as always with Jules, out of adversity came triumph. He more than redeemed himself a week later against the European Cup finalists, Spurs, keeping a clean sheet after a superb double save. My only regret is that Kieran Trippier’s penalty sailed wide as I’m convinced that Speroni, as usual, had it covered.

Emotional and hung-over, lying in bed on the morning of his final match, those are my memories. So go on then, tell me yours – and the ones that I missed out!

 

 

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