FYP's Speroni Week is in full flow and next up Bradley Russell looks at how Julian Speroni has made goalkeeping far more popular, and how one football fan in particular, appreciates Jules' brilliance.
Julian Speroni has had his ups and downs at Crystal Palace but he has come through it all to make his name synonymous with the number one jersey; no mean feat, especially since being a goalkeeper is the hardest job of all. When all those around you are losing your head, you have to remain the calmest. Even then, one mistake and thousands of people are glaring at you- the sole culprit. FYP editor Jim Daly wrote earlier in the week about Speroni’s infamous mistake against Everton which embodied the nadir of the goalkeeper; never had he felt so alone between the goalposts.
I wasn’t there for that game. To tell the truth, at that time I was merely following Crystal Palace rather than outright supporting them but I heard about it and I instantly felt connected to Jules. As a former (failed) goakeeper myself, I know only too well how hard it is to pick yourself up from a mistake, but to do it in the fashion that the Argentine managed takes real guile and class. Jules possesses both in spades.
Palace fans have always had a special affinity with goalkeepers but Speroni has made goalkeeping cool again. The flowing locks were replaced by a grizzled beard yet he has always felt like one of us; through the good times and the bad. What he lacks in aerial presence he has made up for time and time again with some genuinely world-class saves when they are most required. It is not uncommon now to see kids across South London adorn the green jersey after witnessing Speroni’s heroics on a weekly basis. To rise from the ashes in the way the 34-year-old did doesn’t just make him a special player- it makes him a legend.
“Manos de dios” (“hands of God”) is entering his testimonial year and it may be his last at Selhurst Park. Whilst he isn’t a one-club man, it is pretty unique, for someone to bridge the gap between the two eras of Simon Jordan and CPFC2010, especially at a club with a storied past as tumultuous as Palace’s recent history. The Argentinean stopper remained the constant when all those around- from Simon Jordan in the boardroom to Claude Davis on the pitch- were losing their heads. That is why Palace’s recent victory in the playoff final belonged to Jules just as much as the 35,000 who made their way to Wembley. He had earned this. He had scratched and clawed his way to the top with his persistence and hard work. His classy demeanour after the game hinted at a man who is a gentleman off the pitch. And it is role models like Jules that highlight everything that is great about the beautiful game.
Everyone has a favourite Julian Speroni memory. I’ll end with one of mine:
Thanks to the wonders of the London transport system I arrived too late to see Speroni save a penalty against Huddersfield last season. I heard the raucous cheers as I walked up Holmesdale Road with my Arsenal-supporting brother (who was dragged along for the match against his will to see proper football). As we took our seats, a Huddersfield player whipped in a deadly cross that was met by a ferocious header that looked to be nestling in the bottom corner. Speroni, invariably- it seems he was in one of those moods- swooped across the goalmouth and palmed it to one side. My brother rose to his feet and gave him a standing ovation. The fact any football fan, no matter their allegiance, could appreciate the greatness of Speroni says more than I ever could.