Julian Speroni travelled to England from Argentina and has remained at Crystal Palace through thick and thin. The Argentine has been through relegation, survived administration, and played under 14 different managers at Crystal Palace since he joined in 2004.
You wouldn’t be surprised if Speroni was pinching himself when you see the journey he has been on from Buenos Aires to the Premier League via Scottish side Dundee. His story is bizarre, that of a Boca Juniors fan who fell in love with the game going to La Bombonera every other week, but ended up in the academy at their rivals River Plate before breaking into the first team at his local side, Club Atletico Platense.
There was a moment there where he once returned to a dressing room full of armed men eager to berate the team for their failings. He made two senior appearances before the Italian Ivano Bonetti – in charge of Dundee at the time, noticed him. An unlikely opportunity for Speroni awaited him in Europe, coming to the UK without speaking a word of English. Dundee had seven Argentinian players in their squad which helped Speroni develop his English very quickly.
Speroni reached a Scottish Cup final in his first full season with Dundee. Speroni almost missed the final as he obtained a broken nose in training just before the game. The Argentine forced himself to play the game, but his side narrowly lost 1-0 to Rangers. He only spent two and a half years at Dens Park but that was enough to impress the Scottish side who recently placed him in the club’s hall of fame.
South London club Crystal Palace prised him away in 2004 for £500,000 when they were newly promoted under Iain Dowie. However, a clip of Speroni’s debut in 2004 against Everton shows that his days at Palace could’ve been short-lived. I’m sure that most Palace fans won’t forget the moment when he received a back-pass from Tony Popovic and failed to trick Kevin Campbell, managing to bring him down in the penalty area. You could say that there was a touch of South American naivety and it paid a big price as the South American took three years to break back into the team.
Speroni only made 15 appearances in his first three seasons. He didn’t appear in a winning side in the Premier League or Football League until December 2006, by which time, Peter Taylor was in charge and he had been offered the chance to move on to get more games. It was starting to become a shock for Speroni, how different the football was in this country compared to Argentina. When Gabor Kiraly left at the end of that campaign, it was time for Speroni to take his chance. Since then, Speroni has become the club’s all-time record appearance maker as a goalkeeper and he is now in his 14th season at the Eagles, winning player of the year on four occasions.
The 2009/10 season were testing times for the Argentine as Crystal Palace had a financial crisis, which saw the possibility of Speroni being sold to raise funds for the administrators. Speroni responded saying that he would like to stay at the club and help them out of their situation. This response gave Crystal Palace fans more than enough reasons to love the Argentine and it consequently cemented him into the the hearts of the Selhurst faithful. The love felt for the Argentine felt even sweeter when he produced a number of important saves in the final game of the season against Sheffield Wednesday. Palace were deducted 10 points because of administration and they had to get at least a draw to stay up. Speroni’s amazing performance kept Palace in the Championship and saved the future of the club financially.
More crowning moments came for the Argentine in his quest with the Eagles and his top moment in a Palace shirt has to be his superb displays in the 2012/13 season that saw Crystal Palace return to the Premier League after eight years out. The Argentine made a number of pivotal saves that were crucial to Palace winning the Championship play-offs and securing a place into the promise land. He made one fingertip save from Ashley Barnes’ effort in the semi-final against Brighton when the score was tied at 0-0. He then rescued Palace again in the final, when he clawed the ball away from Troy Deeney to deny a certain goal.
At the end of the 2014/15 season, Palace fans remembered a special evening at Selhurst Park when there was a testimonial game for the Argentine against Dundee, who he started his European adventure for. The game was to celebrate Speroni’s time in South London and both sets of supporters showed their support and appreciation for him throughout the whole game.
Early January of 2017 saw Speroni break the all-time appearance record for a Palace goalkeeper overtaking John Jackson’s record of 388. However, his recent injury could mean that Speroni may never pull on a Palace shirt again. With over 400 appearances made for Palace, we can safely say that Speroni is one of a kind and the commitment and loyalty shown to the Selhurst faithful will never be forgotten.