Julian Speroni is leaving. Naveed Khan looks at what made him such a true Palace great.
I still remember where I was when we signed Julian Speroni – Karachi in 2004, using the slowest internet I have experienced, “Palace Sign Argentinian Star” was the headline. As I waited for page to open (it took ages), my mind wondered who it could be. A £400,00 goalkeeper from Dundee is not what I was expecting.
Nonplussed by the signing, one thing I did not envisage was that I would be writing about that goalkeeper 15 years later with immense sadness while reflecting on an unquantifiable contribution he has made to the club during his time here.
His journey as Palace’s custodian has not been without hardship; it was not without having to convince every manager he had here (apart from Ian Holloway) that he was the right man to be in goal. It was not without extreme highs or low lows. His journey has been, dare it be said, ‘typically Palace’. It’s been akin to the journey we go on as fans.
His home debut remained a curse over him for his first three seasons here – forgetting the saves he made on his debut against Norwich or the matches following Everton, trying to dribble past Kevin Campbell was an error people went back to for next four games that season. Dropped then by Iain Dowie, he would have to wait until the end of the 2006/7 season to be given a proper run in the side, despite Man of the Match performances when given a chance between that period. And that is what he was up against, in particular under Peter Taylor who had made him fourth choice. Yet, Jules stayed. He believed when many didn’t.
In 2007/8, as the team transitioned from Taylor to Neil Warnock, Speroni came into his own. Save after save, he won the team points as they charged towards the play-offs. In the following, largely nondescript season, he was one of the shining lights. Then came the administration season; not only one of the Hillsborough Heroes, his contributions throughout that season both pre and post the 10-point deduction meant that Palace stayed in the Championship – enabling CPFC2010 to take over the club. Without Jules, it is unimaginable where the club would have gone.
Yet, he had another battle to come; after deciding to remain loyal to Palace when other clubs were keen, George Burley thought he could do better than Jules. Burley got his just desserts. Speroni remained consistent in the time that followed and then those saves in the play-offs in 2013 are exactly why Palace are now able to embark up a seventh successive season in the Premier League.
The saves from Barnes and Deeney were not enough for Tony Pulis who looked to bring in a goalkeeper more to his liking. But so good was Jules on the way to his fourth Play of the Year award that Pulis simply could not drop him.
The following season, under Alan Pardew Palace had, to date, their best points total since returning to the top flight and Speroni was a key part of that. Despite that, the following season Pardew relegated him to third choice with little evidence that either of his preferred choices were better. But, again, he stayed professional and true. He next got a chance under Roy Hodgson against Chelsea where his mere presence seemed to boost a side with zero points and goals from their first seven games. He has been used sporadically since and now the journey has come to an end.
The above is just a recall of what has happened to Palace over the last 15 years; Jules’ own journey had him battling to establish himself, remaining patient, play-offs, administration, last day survival, promotion and surviving relegation from the Premier League. But it still, somehow, doesn’t really capture what he means to Palace and what Palace means to him. It’s like going on holiday, seeing the most beautiful scenery and taking a photo of it. The photo does not capture what you see and feel.
Because Julian didn’t just go through the motions of those Palace events over the last 15 years. He felt them. He felt them how we as fans feel them. It wasn’t what he experienced, it was about how he experienced it. It wasn’t just about the 405 (please become 406) appearances and 112 clean sheets and the records he now owns. It was about how he carried himself throughout.
When he wasn’t playing, he was not complaining. When contract offers were not forthcoming, he was not snapping up the other opportunities that were there but waited for Palace. When he made a save, he made it feel like more than a save; almost as if we were making the save with him. When he made a mistake, it felt like we had all made a mistake – we didn’t dwell, we moved on. For a long time, it was unthinkable that someone else would be between the sticks for Palace.
Away from the pitch, there are many accounts from fans who have spoken about him going beyond. I know from personal experience that a request to send a card to a fan who had terminal cancer was met with a personal visit instead. That is a measure of him as a person; he never did just the minimum.
Emotion is what makes this sport stand out from the crowd. And that is the word which perhaps encapsulates Speroni’s time at Palace best – it’s been emotional. Mostly good, some difficult, but it has been that clichéd rollercoaster – what makes Jules different to all the others is that he’s felt every single bump, high and low with us.
Words like legend and icon get thrown about so often that they somehow feel insufficient for Jules. He is those things; and he is more. He is a legend. He is an icon. Most importantly, he is one of us. Manos De Dios; oh to just hear one more time “In goal, number 1 Julian Speroni”.