Having not played since a 3-2 home defeat home to Arsenal which ended an eight-game unbeaten run back in December 2017, I had began to think that may have been the last time we would see Julian between the Eagles posts.
When I had spoken to him during the week, he was relishing the possibility of playing against the all-conquering Reds. Not an ounce of fear, just a man who couldn’t wait to get back out there and show everybody what he is all about.
I dreamed of Julian keeping a clean sheet, denying all comers and Christian Benteke coming on and scoring the winner after injury, at the club that had shown him the door. My ‘Roy Of The Rovers’ script (ask your dad if you don’t know) was already written.
At half-time it was all going so well. Julian was looking like he’d never been away and Palace led 1-0.
At 2-2, with the game in the balance, my heart sank. James Milner escaped the attentions of Wilfried Zaha and Patrick Van Aanholt. Stretching to meet the ball, he volleyed it into the ground.
The ball squirted up and Julian attempted to control the awkward ball as it flashed across his goal. But before securing it, the ball span off his glove, dropped behind him and Mo Salah did the rest.
Football is a cruel, cruel game. Now he was going to be making headlines this weekend, but not the kind I had dared to imagine. In 15 seasons keeping goal at Crystal Palace this had never happened. Why today, of all days?
Beaten 4-3 following another brave performance, the Eagles had nothing to show for a titanic effort. I was absolutely sick. The Palace faithful sang Julian’s name at the final whistle, showing an unwavering level of support for a man who has always given them everything. He responded as he always does, but he was downcast.
While waiting for the train home I sat reading the fall-out from fans – too old, too long without match practice, shocking and should have retired years ago, were just some of the views offered.
A text message from Julian simply read: “Sorry I let you down.” Typical Julian. I was choked.
He made no excuses. For me it was unexplainable. Not a technical error, not a flaw in his game that has shown itself before.
Handling errors just happen every so often however much you practice and train – even when wearing the world’s most technically advanced goalkeeper gloves!
We go back a very long way. When working for the club I was responsible for bringing him, then 24, to Palace in 2004.
At the time I had begun providing him with gloves. Iain Dowie had asked for a recommendation while the club were hurtling towards the Championship play-offs, I said that this young guy had caught my eye in Scotland.
Another friend of mine – former Celtic and Scotland goalkeeper Robert Douglas, whose father-in-law was Dundee chairman Peter Marr, told me they were having some difficulties and he could be signed for £500,000. A deal was struck.
I didn’t think at that time that I would be writing about him 15 years later as the man who has appeared between the posts for the club more than any other in its 114-year history.
There have been many occasions when the opportunity to leave has arisen. Peter Taylor, after signing Scott Flinders, told him that he should look elsewhere.
Neil Warnock, when at Queens Park Rangers, made a huge effort to convince him that his future was away from Selhurst Park after Palace went into administration.
George Burley informed him shortly into his reign that he had accepted an offer from Middlesbrough and that he would tremendously improve his income by moving to Teesside.
Jules refused them all.
Latterly, in the Premier League era, Julian’s contracts have been 12 months at a time and there have been numerous situations. During one close-season interest from a certain South-Coast club was rebuffed without a second thought – such is his love and respect for the fans.
Goalkeepers are sadly remembered more for their mistakes than their contribution. It’s a hazard of the job. Only the special ones have the ability to cope.
Two games later at Portsmouth and a swerving shot caught his underarm and went in. A 3-1 defeat and he was dubbed “Spilloni” by some of the press.
The fact that Palace fans talk about a mistake that happened 15 years ago is absolute testament to Senõr Speroni and the level of consistency he has displayed.
After three seasons, making just 20 appearances in all competitions he made the position his own, winning the club’s Player Of The Season award three years in a row.
Who can forget his heroics during the 2010 administration period, keeping Palace in the Championship? Who knows what would have happened had we gone down? Would there have been a club at all? Would Steve Parish and the rest of CPFC 2010 have come to the rescue?
Next, Julian would play a huge part in earning promotion to the Premier League. An incredible season kicked off with an uncharacteristic handling mistake (see they do happen now and again) at home to Watford.
The last game of that season would see him playing at Wembley against the very same club. After performing heroics in the semi-final at Brighton – and crucially denying Troy Deeney in extra-time in the final – those fans sang his name again.
Palace’s model of consistency would make it back to the ‘promised land’ almost a decade later. There was unfinished business and the chance to show everybody that he was a top-flight goalkeeper.
The Eagles looked certainties for the drop but Julian found another level again. He produced display after display filled with crucial match-winning saves. He was incredible as the Eagles survived – turning defeats into draws and draws into victories.
Rightly, he was again honoured with the Player Of The Year accolade for a fourth time, a feat that has yet to be matched.
A second season of top performances followed, before a series of successors began to be introduced. Each has had very big shoes, or should that be gloves, to fill. Mr Crystal Palace stepped in after seven defeats last season to face champions Chelsea.
It changed the whole dynamic within the stadium. The roof nearly came off as his name was announced. Palace won and never looked back.
No player in the history of Crystal Palace Football Club has done more to change its fortunes.
From the brink of oblivion to where the club are today, Julian has been the one consistent feature – 400-plus appearances later and still an unquenchable thirst to show he can do it at the top level.
Given the manager responsible for signing him coined the term “bouncebackability”, I would not bet against him still having a part to play in the club’s season just yet.
The nicest man in football often tells me what an absolute privilege it has been to enjoy the career and life he has had in the game. He has time for everyone and nothing is ever too much trouble. A kinder, more honest, decent, humble, human being you could not wish to meet.
Crystal Palace are very lucky to have a man like Julian to call upon. Beneath the surface is a steely, fiercely proud, determined, loyal character, who trains everyday just like he did 15 years ago.
There is no talk of retirement just yet as many suggest and whether it is at Crystal Palace next season or not, turning 40 in May has not dampened his desire to play on as long as possible.
Julian Speroni has always overcome testing times. That’s why, if he takes to the field at Selhurst Park against Tottenham on Sunday, I hope he is afforded a reception that is becoming of a man that has done so much to change the fortunes of our beloved club.
I have been incredibly proud to call him my friend. If there are not too many of these days left, let’s make sure that we remind him once again on Sunday just how special he is.