In the modern money driven era, true club legends are rare.
Now, before I go any further, let me just pre-warn you that this will be the second time I mix football with Ice Hockey! So, as I was saying, true club legends are rare. Most clubs have had them over the years, some more than others. Man Utd probably have a whole list, Chelsea had John Terry and Frank Lampard, Arsenal had the likes of Henry, Bergkamp, Seaman, while for Liverpool it would be players such as Steven Gerrard, Robbie Fowler to name but a few. I have merely scratched the surface of it, as immediately Alan Shearer for Newcastle pops out at me. The shame of it is, as we move forward, how many more will we get to enjoy? There will be players who are well thought of, players who are loved, but that doesn't necessarily make them true club legends. I am talking about those players who dedicate their lives, their careers, to pretty much one club. They are there for the ups and the downs, they stay because they care, they give it everything because they care. These types of players are few and far between. Just look at West Ham, who have a player like Mark Noble on the books who is like part of the furniture, gives everything for the club and I would be amazed to see him leave. Meanwhile, you also have Marko Arnautovic, who runs round doing the hammers sign with his arms, but has just basically forced a pay rise by pretending to want to move to China. The game is changing, and so are those who play it.
Why am I saying this? Well, the last couple of weeks have got me thinking. I always have a favourite player at the team, that one who I connect with from the stands, who I love to watch more than any other. Through the years the likes of Gareth Southgate, Fan Zhiyi, Tony Popovic, Neil Shipperley, Shaun Derry and Mile Jedinak(I may have mentioned this before) have been some those of those to carry the tag of my 'favourite'. In the current playing side, that torch has passed to Luka Milivojevic. However, there is one man who did hold the role of 'favourite', but has progressed to my 'all time favourite'. That man, is true club legend, Julian Speroni.
In recent years, I have had to come to terms with the fact
that I just don't get to see Jules play anymore, and instead, just have to be satisfied
with knowing he is still here. To be honest, I don't think I could handle
seeing him play for anyone else. In typical Palace fashion however, that has
changed slightly in the last two weeks. Two keeper injuries in one game have
meant that Jules has had to dust off the gloves and get back between the
sticks. I was thrilled to be at Anfield to see his return live, it made the
whole trip worthwhile. What angered me though, was some of the social media
response after the game. People were actively targeting Jules, slating him for
the third goal, saying he needs to retire, washed up, not good enough and so
on. Yes, he made a mistake for the third goal, he will be the first to hold his
hands up. People forget though, that at 39 years of age, he hadn't played a
competitive game since December 2017. He doesn't play for the U23s, he doesn't
even take part in the warm up on match days anymore(last season all three
keepers would do this). All of a sudden,
he was thrust into action, against the league leaders who boast one of the best
attacks in the world currently. The first half, he didn't put a foot wrong.
Second half, yes there was that error, but Liverpool scored three other goals
as well, some from defensive errors, yet Jules took the criticism. How anyone
could even bring themselves to type one word of criticism against Jules, the
man who has given everything to our beloved club and cares so deeply about it,
is just beyond me. Jules did not deserve that, and it hurt to see the criticism
from the media as well. Thankfully, that was not to be how his playing days
with us ended.
So while the last week or so have got me thinking, the events of this weekend are what have kicked me into gear to write this article. Here is where I swing into Ice Hockey for a little bit. As I have mentioned before, I am a New York Rangers fan. My favourite player for the Rangers is goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. When I was at the Garden last year, he didn't actually play, but from reading his bio alone in the programme, I was drawn to him like a moth to a flame. Henrik, like our Jules, is a true team legend. The Rangers are the only NHL franchise he has ever played for, having been there for 13 years. He took his spot as top keeper when he first walked in, and no one has been able to take it from him since. He has always been reliable, that extra bit of quality when it is truly needed. Even this season, as the Rangers are in the middle of a rebuild and so their results are erratic, Henrik has been a star. So many top saves have been the difference between Rangers having a small Play-Off hope, and being completely adrift. He holds so many records, and two weeks ago he moved into sixth spot for all time wins for goaltenders, with 446 career wins for the Rangers.
This weekend, normal NHL season action was on
hold, as hockey went to San Jose for the All Star Weekend. The best players
from the divisions were picked to compete in individual competition on one day,
and then the All Star games on the next day. Henrik was the only Ranger picked
to attend, for what was his fifth All Star series. On the first day, the
goalies competed in the Save Streak competition, where they tried to make as
many one on one saves in a row as possible. Henrik went last, with the target
of 8 to beat. Not only did he beat it to win the competition, but he set a
record of 12 consecutive saves!! The next day, he competed for Metropolitan
Division in the All Star games. In each game, the goalies would play one period
each. Henrik was solid in his period, as Metropolitan beat Atlantic 5-4 to
reach the final. In the final, Henrik played the first period, keeping a
shutout, as Metropolitan stormed into the lead, and eventually won 10-5 to win
the All Star Series. Henrik was not only a winner, but he was the only goalie
to keep a shutout in any of the three games. At 36, Henrik was still winning
and breaking records, while proudly wearing the Rangers badge as he did so.
Afterwards, he spoke so kindly of all the other players who had been involved,
and stated he couldn't wait to get back to the Garden and play for Rangers
again. The man, just like Jules, loves his team. When you watch his interviews,
you can clearly see how much it means to him. He wears every loss like a scar,
and carries such pride for every win earned. He wants to be the best he can be
for Rangers, he wants nothing more than Rangers success. Sounds familiar
doesn't it? Jules is exactly the same. This isn't just a club to him, as in his
own words, it's family.
So what is my point? Well, my point is the Speroni's and the
Lundqvist's of this world should be cherished, because the day will come when
we don't have them anymore. Why moan about a man who has stepped up to the
plate when all other options are gone, and still gave it everything despite the
fact everyone thought his playing days were done? We seem to spend most of our
days moaning about something or other, but legends such as these, they do not
deserve to be on the end of it. Enjoy the fact that we still have them. Make
the most of the fact that we can still see Jules come onto the pitch wearing
the number jersey. It means everything to him when he does, and those of us who
truly care, it means everything to us too. There are times when you just need
to say, sod what the world thinks, I love this guy and that is all that
matters. At Anfield, not one person criticised Jules. At the end of the game,
he came down the other end of the pitch to applaud us, and he was given the
love and respect that he deserves. THAT is how it should be, just as it was
yesterday. Don't moan, instead sing his name with pride. Very soon it will be
too late, and you will be left with nothing but regret. Oh, and contrary to
what I have seen some Palace fan groups say, getting a name printed on a shirt
is not just for kids, it is not embarrassing if adults do it. The day after
Anfield, I purposely wore my red keepers shirt with Speroni on the back,
because I didn't care what the world was saying about him, I am just proud and
honoured to have had him in my life as a fan.
Thankfully, Anfield was not how his playing career ends.
Yesterday he picked up a clean sheet, making some great saves in the process,
especially a double save from an unmarked Nkoudou. If that was to be his last
ever game, then it was the perfect end. Two years ago, when it looked like
Jules would be stuck in the 390s for appearances, fate stepped and he got his
starting place back, enabling him to reach 400(so glad to say I was there).
Now, it has happened again, and having been tied with Nigel Martyn on 111 for
the all time clean sheet record, fate got him back between the sticks and
yesterday he surpassed it to stand alone on 112! Jules has earned it, of that
there is no doubt. So please, in future, remember that while these days things
cost so much, players like Henrik Lundqvist, like Julian Speroni, they are