by Andrew McSteen
Julian Speroni is in his 15th season at Crystal Palace since joining back in 2004 and the goalkeeper has already gone into the record books, having made over 400 appearances for the club including a record 112 clean sheets.
At the end of season awards at Croydon Boxpark last week, he was presented with the ‘Chairman’s Outstanding Contribution’ Award and, in Parish’s own words “the absolute legend” of the club reflected on his career.
“So many things went through my head from my time here,” said Speroni to the South London Press when he described his feelings from watching a compilation of his time at the club. “It’s been 15 years and it went so quick – it seems like yesterday, 2004 when I signed my first contract with the club.
“I can’t really describe in words what it means to me – everything really; this club, the fans, it’s been an emotional time, it’s not just this award, it’s been an emotional time since my testimonial and even before that.
“I actually knew about the interest from Palace (back in 2004 under Iain Dowie) a few months before the season finished and they were still in the championship back then,” he added.
“I was hoping that they got promoted and it happened happen of course and I was talking with another player who used to play for Palace, Walter del Rio, I asked him about the club and he told me a little bit about the club, the area, about what it means to live around here and then the opportunity came, they decided to sign me and the rest is history.”
That history has seen a close bond develop with the Palace fans, highlighted no clearer than at his testimonial match back in 2015, when 1,000s packed Selhurst Park to cheer on the Argentinian in what many thought could be his last season. But he remains at the club, having extended his contract this season which has seen him appear once in the Premier League and once in the FA Cup.
“I can’t really put it into words what the fans mean to me,” said the 39-year-old. “What they show me every time I meet them is incredible and I don’t think I deserve it. I am just doing my job but the amount of love that I feel coming from them, not just here at awards ceremonies or but every single time I meet a fan it’s just incredible and I can’t thank them enough.
“They have given me 15 years of amazing love and this relationship will keep growing. One day I won’t be here anymore, but I hope they can remember me – if they remember me – I hope they can say ‘that guy represented us like this football club deserves to be represented’.”
While Speroni may be down the pecking order behind Spanish goalkeeper Vicente Guaita and Welsh international Wayne Hennessey, he is enjoying his 15th season with the club which also saw them sign 21-year-old Lucas Perri from Brazil in January.
“Lucas has been great in training and has massive potential,” said Speroni to the South London Press about the loan signing from Sao Paulo of whom Palace have the option of signing permanently at the end of this season.
“I kind of feel a little bit like he is now, how I was when I was a kid because we have that South American background and in training terms we went through similar things. But, again, he’s only young. He needs to work, and he’s willing to work. Who knows? In the future he could be good for the club.
“Lucas speaks Portuguese which is close to Spanish so we can all understand each other, but Wayne is also teaching us Welsh, so it’s a bit of both though – all the goalkeepers have a good bond.
“I’ve been helping Vicente because I know how tough it is when you come to a country where you don’t know the language, you don’t know the culture – it’s tough, really tough. I went through it when I was in Scotland and I know you need that helping hand. But he’s doing really well, he’s learning, slowly, adapting to the English life and learning the language, basic simple stuff which he can use when he is working and in his everyday life.”
While Speroni admitted he was not ready to retire from playing just yet, he did reveal he was keen to take up coaching in the future and along with a vast list of former coaches in the past who he has learnt from, none are better for inspiration than current goalkeeping coach Dean Kiely, and Palace manager, Roy Hodgson.
“I’ve known Dean for a long, long time and actually played against him,” said Speroni about the former Charlton man. “It’s been a great experience, and, for me, he’s been a revelation. He’s a very good coach and we have a special bond between all of us, not just the goalkeepers, but the coach too and we’ve been working really, really well since he took over and we are all really enjoying it.
“The manager is 71 now and his passion for football hasn’t changed at all,” added Speroni. “You can see his passion every single day in training and it’s something that is contagious, and I am glad [to be part of it].
“I’ve been blessed with a lot of people I have worked with in my career and you can always take the positives, but also, when you have people who might not have the same ideas of football you can also learn – through my career I’ve had a bit of everything.
“It’s been a rollercoaster for me but it’s an amazing journey too.”