Australia Day Archive: Tony Popovic on his Crystal Palace memories

Written by Jack Pierce

To celebrate Australia Day we have dug an interview with Palace legend Tony Popovic out of the archives. This was published in FYP Fanzine Issue 54 back in February 2020.

It’s 11am on a November Friday morning and I’ve arranged to meet Tony Popovic. No need for an umbrella or rain mac though as I’m in Perth, Western Australia, and trying to find shade where I can to escape the blazing sun and temperatures pushing 40 degrees.

As I’m greeted by Gareth, Perth Glory’s incredibly helpful Communications Manager whose arranged the meeting, at their training ground, I’m told the session ended earlier than anticipated due to the heat so we hop in the car to the club‘s offices, which also house the club’s indoor training facility - useful on a day like this.

I’m asked to wait downstairs and before I know it, “Popa” wanders down the stairs with his hand out introducing himself. He might have stopped playing ten years ago but this is a guy who clearly takes great care of himself and hardly differs in appearance to the centre half Palace fans said goodbye to 13 and a half years earlier. A few quick questions about my trip later and we’re on to Palace almost immediately.

Asked how he ended up at Palace, Popovic was quick to state the biggest influence in his decision to join Palace was Steve Bruce’s appointment as manager. A name recognised around the world after his achievements with Manchester United, Bruce was given the nod about the Australian centre half by Ian Crook, a former team mate of Bruce’s at Norwich City in the 1980s. Crook had played with Popovic at Sanfrecce Hiroshima a few years before, was aware of the defender’s wish to challenge himself in Europe and was more than happy to vouch that the Australian could do more than just a job for Palace.

A move to Werder Bremen had been close for Popovic a season or two earlier but an unfortunately timed injury put pay to that opportunity. A move to Palace certainly wasn’t considered a consolation prize and Popovic was delighted to have the chance to play in England and for a manager he rated highly as a defender. Although he could have asked for the advice of previous Aussie internationals who’d previously played in red and blue, Carl Veart, Craig Foster and Craig Moore among them, Popovic made the decision without consultation.

Fee and personal terms agreed, Popovic was still a madcap few weeks from being confirmed a Palace player. In order to receive the appropriate work permit to play in England, Australians were required to have played 75% of full internationals within the previous two years. Popovic applied for his work permit knowing he’d featured in 73% of such matches in that time frame and it likely that his initial application would be rejected. He remained confident the appeal would be successful and Palace were happy to wait as long as they got their man eventually. All well and good you might think but not when you throw into the mix a very heavily pregnant wife carrying their first child.

Waiting patiently for his appeal hearing to be heard as well as news of the impending new arrival, when his phone went Popovic couldn’t be sure whether he was about to be given life changing news about his career or family life. It was news from the appeal and the good news that the Aussie had hoped for. No time to think too much about the impending move though as a call from his sister-in-law came almost immediately and it was time to dash to the hospital and welcome his first child into the world.

Popovic and family moved to South London a few weeks later and the defender found himself in the starting eleven almost immediately. His first few months at Palace were a whirlwind as he had joined a team heading to the top of the Championship playing some very pleasing football. Messrs Morrison and Freedman took a lot of the plaudits but Popovic was keen to make mention of Jovan Kirovski and the influence had at that time.

While many Palace fans still can’t forgive Bruce for leaving in the manner he did, Popovic maintains sympathy for his former boss and intimated because of the team’s good start to the season, transfer promises made at the start of the season hadn’t been met. The full story or not, Popovic still speaks well of Bruce.

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Such warmth wasn’t offered to Trevor Francis. “Tough” was the answer to how the season and a half under Francis were for the players. I got the sense there wasn’t much more to say or, at least, would be said so quickly moved on.

Popovic smiled broadly when asked about Steve Kember – “a lovely guy and a true Palace legend” – but the writing was on the wall after the 5-0 thumping at Wigan and the players knew full well he wouldn’t be back at the training ground the following Monday after that. Iain Dowie’s appointment brought a totally different approach and took players out of a comfort zone that was hindering the team’s progression. The malaise built up during the Francis era had not gone but it didn’t hang around long after Dowie’s arrival.

The change in emphasis was welcomed by Popovic but he recalled that there was no mention whatsoever of a promotion charge and Dowie and the squad already had half an eye on the following season when it was considered a proper challenge could be mounted. Results picked up and wins like the 1-0 win at home against Gillingham, with ten men and after they had missed both a penalty and the ordered re-take, provided a sense that things were changing for the better, but still no mention of a promotion push. That changed one night at Millmoor.

A very hard-fought 2-1 win against a tough Rotherham team on a quagmire of a pitch combined with defeats for those above saw Palace sit just four points off the final play off positions. The likes of Popovic and Michael Hughes felt the time was right to make it clear to the rest of the players know the play offs were within reach and momentum the squad were feeling wasn’t all that common.

We all know how that season finished but when talking about the superb run to the play offs, Popovic reminded himself of the final day of the league season. Coventry, who’d been on the beach since March, had appointed Peter Reid in the run up to the game ahead of the following season and a match that it had been felt would be rather simple task became much harder.

“All of a sudden, players were playing for their places in August”, Popovic laughs and as the final whistle was blown at Highfield Road, the players thought they’d blown the chance only for the roar from the colourful away end to tell the players Brian Deane had saved the day.

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The semi-final against Sunderland was hard fought and he remembers walking up with Darren Powell for the infamous corner knowing full well that it was the team’s last chance. Thankfully it worked out the way it did and before he knew it, Popovic was arranging flights and tickets for family and friends so they could attend what was going to be the biggest day in his club career.

He remembers the game as if it was yesterday. Smiling broadly, Popovic recalls Palace’s domination, the relevant comfort throughout the game and the fact he celebrated for a week with loved ones afterwards.

With time short and an afternoon session for Popovic to plan, we glossed over the 2004/05 season and so avoided the moral dilemma of whether I should ask about that goal at Fratton Park. Conversation about his final season at Palace focused on the end of the campaign and his biggest regret he has about his time at Palace.

“I wish we’d taken the 1-0 defeat against Watford… instead we chased… we left ourselves without any chance in second leg”.

Within the club, it was known that the play off semi-final first leg was likely to be Popovic’s last appearance at Selhurst but given the result, it was hardly appropriate for him to be adorned and spend time waving to fans he still has so much time for. Asked if he regretted that ending to his Palace playing career, Popovic shook his head – “That’s football”.

After hanging up his boots after spells in the Middle East and back in Australia, Popovic entered into coaching at Sydney FC. It wasn’t too long before he’d find himself back in SE25 – this time as Dougie Freedman’s Assistant Coach. He speaks very fondly of Dougie with the sort of joy that would indicate the two have a good friendship as well as a close professional partnership. Popovic’s happiness when recalling his time coaching at Palace was clear, particularly when asked about one player.

“Wilf was terrifically gifted… so skilful… fantastic feet”, boasted Popovic who then went on to say how much he loves to see one of his former pupils doing so well.

The spell as Assistant Coach came to an end when he was approached by A-League expansion club, Western Sydney Wanderers, to take over as Head Coach. It was an opportunity to good to turn down but remains grateful Palace provided no resistance after the approach had been received. He took to the new duties brilliantly.

In Wanderers’ first ever season, they finished top of A-League, and the following season went on to orchestrate the greatest achievement by any Australian club side to date - winning the Asian Champions League. A competition dominated by powerhouses of South Korea and the Middle East – with significantly greater budgets than Australian clubs – it’s very likely that Wanderers’ achievement in 2014 remains the sole Australian success for at least another generation.

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On the back of taking to the role of club figurehead so well at Wanderers, there was little surprise to see Popovic’s name linked the Selhurst manager vacancy after the departures of Tony Pulis and Neil Warnock. However, Popovic explained that is was the first of those two vacancies, caused by Pulis’ season-eve resignation that created the most in depth discussion with Palace powers that be. The club wanted a quick appointment but Popovic was located in China ahead of a crucial Asian Champions League quarter final and reluctant to leave the team on the eve of such a significant match for Wanderers and Australian club football.

Another factor was, with only days left before the transfer window closed, both the club and Popovic were concerned how required transfer dealings would be concluded with such a quick turnaround. In retrospect, the fact that Messrs McArthur and Zaha were brought to the club in those crucial days highlights just how precious time was at that stage.

When Warnock left, just three months later, conversations were had again between Popovic and the club but not to the extent of August’s discussions despite the chairman of Wanderers publicly stating that the club would not stand in their manager’s way should the Palace job be offered. Popovic, clearly a perceptive character, suggested that the deal to bring Alan Pardew in from Newcastle was clearly Palace’s preference from the start and conversations with him no more than a contingency.

Popovic has since tested himself outside of Australia by taking the manager’s job at Karabükspor in Turkey. That spell only lasted two and a half months and nine games as a result of madcap board politics but Popovic speaks fondly of the challenge. He made it clear that the experience has not put him off testing himself abroad again and if an opportunity presented itself in Asia, the Middle East or Europe, he’d certainly consider it.

For now, “Popa” is very content at Perth Glory. In 2019, he led the club to their first A-League Premier Plate but unfortunately the Grand Final was lost to Sydney FC on penalties. During my visit, in November, Glory hadn’t started the new season especially well and the successes of the previous season looked a long way away. Positively, performances either side of Christmas have seen six wins on the bounce and Glory cementing themselves in the berths for the end of season play offs.

It was great to meet a figure still so fondly thought of by Palace fans so far away from home and as my time with Tony drew to a close, I asked for a summary of his time at Palace. His answer brought a huge smile to my face.

“The best”.

N.B. Interview held in November 2019 and published in February 2020. Tony Popovic left Perth Glory by mutual consent in September 2020 to take over at Greek club, Xanthi.


Luke Dreher Exclusive: 'I went from being someone everyone talked about to being forgotten'

Written by Tom Maslona
FYP editor Tom Maslona sits down with Palace academy product Luke Dreher to talk injuries, breaking into the first team and what the future holds.


Think of the most popular Palace players of recent times: Wilfried Zaha, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Jason Puncheon. The three of them have one thing in common: they are all home grown. The Premier League is big business and the money swirling around the game can make it difficult for fans to relate to players. Resentment can fester so supporters cling to what they know. Local boys who have come up through the ranks at the club are naturally afforded a special place in fans’ hearts.

In the final game of last season, Luke Dreher came on as a late substitute and made an immediate impact almost scoring a late goal. The chant, ‘He’s one of our own’ may have been temporarily retired with Puncheon’s departure in the summer but it may need to be resurrected if Dreher continues to progress.
I met the 20-year-old in London last month to chat about football, his past and the future. Successive Palace managers have been impressed by his ability but Luke is an impressive young man too: polite, bright and visibly enthusiastic. He’s certainly one to watch out for.

FYP: Tell me about your childhood, how did you develop a love of sport and football?

Luke Dreher: Sport is all I can remember. I’ve got a brother who is a year older than me so we were always quite competitive. My dad used to run a football team called Epsom Eagles and I was in the side from the age of 6 or so. I used to play in my brother’s side which makes quite a big difference at that age. To be honest, my brother was the better player then. We’d be out in the garden every evening kicking each other to pieces.

So your Dad ran the team. What was that like?

LD: There were a few Daddy’s boy comments but he spent most of the warm ups trying to split me and my brother up because we’d be fighting. I guess it was comforting as it’s quite daunting at that age playing for an older team but there really wasn’t any favouritism. If I was having a bad game, he’d drag me off. No question. My brother was the centre midfielder then. He was the main guy in the team. Because I was quite small then, I played on the wing as I was quick and tricky.

My Dad was never pushy; he was just honest. If I did well, he’d congratulate me but that worked the other way too. He’d played at a lower level when he was growing up so he knew what he was talking about.

When did you realise that you were good? Not just better than your brother but good enough to catch the eye of pro clubs?

We’d enter tournaments and win them and there would always be scouts watching. I was so young that you wouldn’t pay them much attention. It was a bigger deal winning the tournament than having anyone watching. I ended up going to Palace when I was 8 so I was very young.

Picked up at 8? At that age, do you understand the significance of what’s happening or is Palace just another team?

At that age, I wasn’t thinking too far down the line. I did the rounds with clubs like Fulham and Chelsea and had a look at their development centres. Funnily enough, you end up seeing all of the same kids at the different centres but, at the age of 8, you can’t foresee how it could progress into something more. It all seems so far away.

You said you did the circuit of other clubs. What made you pick out Palace?

Palace were really keen. I only had one or two sessions before they told my Dad that they wanted me to join the Under 9s team. We gravitated towards them because of their enthusiasm really. There was a guy there then called David Muir and he was a prominent figure in running the younger teams. None of the lads from that first side are there any more. It’s funny but I’ve got all of the pictures of the teams that I played in and you see so many boys coming in but they fall away.

So at what point does your attitude change and the dog eat dog attitude takes over and you want to make sure that you don’t fall away yourself?

I can’t talk about other boys but I was about 14 or 15 when I started thinking about how much I wanted this. The one thing all of the coaches said to me growing up was that I needed to become a bit more selfish and develop confidence. I think that they wanted me to realise that it is a dog eat dog world. It could have been that they thought I was too nice and perhaps they thought that I didn’t understand that it is a cut-throat environment. Ultimately, it’s a team sport but all of us are fighting to get an individual professional contract.

How do you find that balance as a youngster between the need to focus on your studies in case things don’t work out with the knowledge that all you want to do is become a professional footballer?

Deep down, whatever the coaches may have thought, I believed that I had the chance to progress so that gave me the confidence to focus on the football side. I was fairly lucky because I was quite gifted at school but I’d be going to training three or four evenings a week so, often, whilst I was there, my mum would be on the computer doing my homework for me. No wonder I got such good grades! My parents were happy for me to have football as my main focus although they wanted me to get good results still.

So at that point, when you were 14, Wilf had got into the first team as had Nathaniel Clyne and Sean Scannell. How much does their emergence make you believe that you’re at a club where you could get a chance?

Yeah, it does. They were a few years older but the age difference wasn’t that huge. Sometimes we’d get the chance to go and watch them train and whilst we were completely in awe of them and they were like superstars to us, they did give us youngsters someone to look up to.

So you’re fairly tall. Did you have a growth spurt or were you like that as a kid?

I went through the growth spurt when I was 15 or so. The club were aware that it was going to happen because my Dad is tall so Gary (Issott) used to ask him what age he was when he shot up so that he could gauge it. I’m 6’3” now and I’m still going. It did change the way that I was perceived. I was no longer the tricky winger and I used to get a few jokes about sticking me in goal. It’s weird when you go from being the smallest in the side to looking over everyone. It does change your style of play. I became quite gangly and leggy so I wasn’t quite so sharp and quick. I ended up in a more central role after that.

Did it feel inevitable to you that you’d get your scholarship at 16 or did you have anxiety over it?

They usually sort out the scholarships at the end of the year but they did mine early which gave me a bit of security. It showed that the club believed in me. People like Gary always have shown confidence in me.

You’d been there for eight years building up to that. It must feel like quite a long process but the two years as a scholar must be completely different. Does your attitude change? Does it become all about securing that professional contract?

It definitely becomes more real. You leave school and all of your mates behind. It makes you realise how privileged you are but football, at that point, becomes the only thing on your mind. It’s a lot more intense considering I’d just been at school. I’d get home from training at 3 or 4 o’clock, have something to eat, make sure I slept well, and it all starts again the next day.

How did you cope with leaving school? How did your mates respond? Was there any envy on both of your parts? They obviously had a lot more freedom than you.

There was definitely a recognition that I had to make a sacrifice. To be fair to my friends, they’ve always been very supportive and were never pushy in terms of trying to get me out. I don’t drink or go out when they do. I hear all of their stories about nights out and part of me wishes that I was there but I have to look at the bigger picture.

I remember being at the Man United game in 2016 when you were on the bench. How did it come about that you progressed so quickly?

It all happened very quickly. It was my first year full-time as a scholar. At the start of the season, I was in and out of the Under 18 side and then, fast forward a few months, I was on the bench at Old Trafford. I got asked to train one day because they needed someone to make up the numbers and I think I impressed Alan Pardew. I knew I was there just to make up the numbers but I was determined that I was going to try to take an opportunity to impress.

I’m more mature now and am used to training with them but, back then, it was quite intimidating. There’s a big enough step up from the Under 18s to the Under 23s whereas I went straight from the 18s to first team training which is even tougher. In a sense, my immaturity helped me because I don’t think I had the understanding of how big it all was. Luckily, the manager saw something in me which he liked and, from then on, he kept encouraging me. That was massive for me when you consider what an experienced manager Alan Pardew is.

On the Peter Crouch podcast, he said that when he went to Liverpool, Steven Gerrard would fizz passes into new signings straight away just to test them out and he’d make judgements on players immediately. Was there an element of that with you?

Yeah, that happened with me too. The main culprit for that was Damien Delaney. He’d smash passes into you and he’d also have a go at you if you hit a bad pass just to see how you responded mentally. I thought I coped with it ok. It’s not just a case of wanting to impress the manager but you want to gain the respect of your team mates too. You come in as a bit of an outsider because you’ve never trained with these players before but once they start talking to you, it gives you a sign that they have accepted you.

READ MORE: Julian Speroni exclusive: Palace cult hero on his love for the club and his future

Who would you say took you under their wing and looked after you? Was there anyone?

It was a pretty good bunch. People like Scott Dann and James McArthur were good for me and Kevin Keen was a huge support. He’d been at Liverpool and had coached Steven Gerrard so it meant a lot that he took the time to help. Keith Millen was really good too. He was a massive help and was the main coach who interacted regularly with the players.

I think it’s fairly well known that Alan Pardew was a big fan of yours. How did that relationship develop?

He wanted me to train with the first team every day. I’d only just come out of school so it was tough for me physically but he was constantly talking to me, encouraging me and telling me who to try and watch and learn from in training. We had Flamini at the club then and the manager would remind me how much he’d achieved in his career and urge me to watch the small, professional, things that he did every day. Yohan Cabaye was unbelievable to train with too. Pardew was a massive fan of his so he’d play me alongside him so that I could learn from him. It was a privilege to train with him.

So how did you feel at Old Trafford? Did you feel that you deserved to be there?

I remember sitting on the bench and I couldn’t believe it. I suppose it’s natural to doubt yourself until you’ve had the chance to prove it. It gave me confidence but I had to pinch myself when I was sitting there watching the game thinking that I could be brought on at any minute.

How difficult is it as a youngster to process the fact that you’d been given that opportunity just for experience and not be disappointed when you’re not then on the bench for the following matches?

I wasn’t getting too far ahead of myself. It drove me on to do better in training. I was so young that I was happy to be there rather than expecting anything to come my way. And then, suddenly, this career which has progressed so smoothly takes a significant downturn.

I heard so many people in the game as I was growing up talking about the ups and downs of football but I’d got to that age and there hadn’t been any negatives at all so I wondered what they were talking about. But I picked up a big injury which kept me out for a while. I hadn’t gone through anything like that. I was told that it was a 6-8 week injury but I think where I’d gone through the growth spurt, my body hadn’t quite kept up. I kept developing niggling injuries.

It was difficult. I went from being the person that everyone was talking about to feeling quite forgotten. I was doing my rehab with the first team and Connor Wickham was out at the same time and he really helped me to stay focused and keep positive. People see that you’ve got an injury but they can’t see the mental toll that takes so Connor was someone who could relate and that helped. We developed a good friendship.

One of the other developments at that time was the change of manager. Some more experienced players might have been happy to see Pardew go but that must have been a wrench for you?

It really was. I knew that he liked me and believed in me and he gave me so much confidence. He’d often take me into his office and talk to me about youngsters that he had worked with at other clubs and he made it clear that he wanted me to be the next one to come through. It was a big disappointment when he went and I’d never experienced losing a manager before.

To be fair, Sam Allardyce came in and he seemed to be quite keen on me too but then he left and Frank de Boer was only the manager for a short period of time. It’s difficult for a youngster because you come through the age group sides and you’re used to having the same manager all the time and developing a consistent relationship so it was something new to deal with.

Did you worry with the injury that you may not come back at the same level?

Definitely . Especially as I kept getting setbacks. If I’m honest, at one stage I wondered whether I’d come back full stop. That was the most difficult time. I kept coming in to training and all the players would go out together and I’d be stuck inside doing rehab and I felt that I was falling further and further behind them. There were quite a few tears. Palace were great; they were supportive. Even when I stopped being talked about, they would involve me in things. My parents helped too but that experience will stand me in good stead later on in my career if I get difficult times. It was so lonely. I’d go in and do an hour’s rehab and then would get home at about 11 or 12 o’clock and then I’d have so much time to think.

How hard is it once the physios tell you that you’re fit to trust your body again?

I was like a dog being let off a leash. The physios were constantly trying to rein me back in but it was such an overwhelming feeling of relief. Psychologically, once I was out on the training pitch, I was able to forget about the injuries and let go. The trickiest part was the rehab when you wonder if you’ll ever get back again.

Managers are under so much pressure in the Premier League which can make them more reluctant to play youngsters and take chances. Has Aaron Wan-Bissaka helped the young kids at the club to believe that it can be done?

The manager has shown trust in me. He’s had me training with the first team every day. I’ve known Dave Reddington a long time too and he’s always been really positive as well but Aaron having such a big impact obviously helped massively. He was a year older than me and I got used to seeing him every day and then, suddenly, he was not only in the first team but more than holding his own. It showed me, and all of the other youngsters, that it’s possible if you get given an opportunity.

Roy Hodgson is significantly older than you. He’s managed Liverpool, Inter Milan and England. How is that relationship? How has he gone about making you feel wanted?

He’s been really good to me. He’s been at the club for a couple of years but he hadn’t seen me play until about 3 or 4 months ago but, even so, whilst I was injured he’d come and speak to me and tell me that he’d heard that I had done well and that he was looking forward to seeing me play. He didn’t have to do that. I’d been injured for some time and he had so many other things to worry about so it meant a lot that he took the time to talk to me. Once I got fit, he brought me in to train with the first team full time and said that he’d been impressed with me.

You’d trained with the first team before your injury. Did you think you coped better this time around?

I think that I was better mentally. I was more mature and could deal with things better. I might have missed a lot of football development over the past two years but I’ve grown up as a person and I definitely didn’t feel as intimidated. They felt like a bunch of normal guys to me now whereas I was in awe of some of them before. I feel more confident in myself.

READ MORE: The King of Palace: Gabor Kiraly on why he still remembers Palace fondly

So compare the Luke that sat on the bench against Bournemouth at the end of last season with the Luke who sat on the bench at Man United?

The couple of years I’d had out made me feel more grateful and took some of the pressure off. I wasn’t nervous at all during the Bournemouth game. I was enjoying it whereas when I look back to that day at United, I was shaking. It was a massive difference. All of my family were there but it genuinely felt like another game to me. I can’t lie; I’ve felt more nervous before Under 23 games. My friends have asked me how that can be the case. It helped that it was an end of season game but I set out to enjoy it. I thought of all the sacrifices that I’ve made and the negative feelings I had with the injury and I was determined to make the most of it.

It must have been a strange feeling for you. You must have been one of the few players who didn’t want the season to end.

Definitely. I had just got to full fitness and was feeling really good about myself so I was quite disappointed that it did end there. The other way of looking at it is that it’s a lovely way to finish and keep me positive over the summer. It gave me a taster and I want more of it so it’s given me more motivation. I’ve had a couple of weeks break but I can’t deny that it’s always in the back of my mind that I might be close.

I read somewhere that Richard Shaw compared you to Bryan Robson in terms of the way you play. Does Bryan Robson mean anything to you? He was a hell of a player.

I’m not too familiar with him. Richard throws all of these names about and I haven’t heard of many of them. People have told me that I should be pleased and that it’s a compliment. My idol was Steven Gerrard. I think I’m an all-round midfielder and that I can tackle and pass, win headers and I also try to chip in with a few goals.

I saw your goal against Farnborough a couple of years ago (it can be seen on Luke’s Twitter account). That was a hell of a goal. Was that typical of you?

I’d like it to be! Sometimes the manager will play me a bit deeper as a number 4 to try and dictate things but there are times where I’ve been played further up the field so I can get forward and try to chip in with a few goals.

If you could write your name anywhere on Roy Hodgson’s team sheet, where would it be?

I’d put myself as one of the two in front of the holding midfielder so that I have the licence to get forward but also have to take responsibility defensively too. I like to be in the game. I’ve got long legs and can get about the pitch. It’s a big year ahead and I’m really looking forward to it. Like we’ve said, people like Aaron have shown me what could be. I’m hoping I’ll get a look in during the pre-season games as there will be a few players on international duty. It’s a massive time for me as there will be opportunities and I need to make sure that I take them.

Is it hard to make sure that you don’t get ahead of yourself?

The trick is to treat every game the same and stay level headed. If I can do that then hopefully I can impress the manager.

Let's end with a bit of quickfire!

Ronaldo or Messi? Messi

Pep or Klopp? Pep

Premier League or Champions League? Champions League

Score a hat-trick and lose or play badly and win but get dropped for the next game? Oh, score a hat trick and lose. I can’t get dropped!

Arm around the shoulder or throwing tea cups? Arm around the shoulder

Take a penalty in a shoot-out or watch a team mate have it? Take a penalty

Hit the post from 25 yards or a big sliding tackle in front of the Holmesdale? I’ll take the big sliding tackle!


Speroni: I want to finish my career at Crystal Palace

Written by FYP Fanzine

Five Year Plan has been a thing since 2003 so there was only one man we wanted to interview in our 50th issue as we look back over 14 years of FYP; Julian Maria Speroni. And we were in luck as the man himself kindly agreed to sit down with us to look back over his own 13 years at Selhurst Park.

It’s only December but already Julian Speroni has had an eventful season. He has had to work his way back into the Crystal Palace team twice, but waiting patiently for a chance is something that he has experience of. FYP has been invited into the Argentinean Eagles cult hero’s kitchen and, after making us a pot of very strong Argentinean coffee, talk turns to dealing with not playing every week.

“It's tough, really tough, when you’re not playing,” says Speroni, sipping on a maté, the drink of choice for anyone from South American, especially footballers. “But I've seen so many players complain and complain that they are not playing and get upset, but then when they have the chance they can't take it because they are not ready for it,” he says.

“Because they haven't trained properly, they haven't done the right things, they're always in a mood. So when I have been not playing I’ve thought ‘OK, football changes and the chance eventually will come for one reason or another and, when it does, I need to make sure that I will be able to take that chance’. 

“At one point I was No.3, when Peter Taylor was manager. He had Gabor [Kiraly], he signed Scott Flinders, and so I became No.3. But he didn't even watch me train when he took over. He told me I could leave but I said 'with due respect you haven't even seen me train yet so if you give me the chance then I want to show you what I can do'. 

“And he said ‘I know what kind of professional you are, people have told me how you train, how you are around the place, so if you want to stay and train with us I'm happy with that'. And that's what I did. I would stay behind with Dougie Freedman doing shooting sessions. I knew that an opportunity would come, and I knew I had to be read. Eventually when he gave me the opportunity to play again then I took it and I became his No.1. So that shows you how things can change in football.

“If you have a problem with it you go and talk to the manager and then try to work things out, but once you step on that pitch training you leave all that aside and need to make sure that you do all you can; on the pitch, in the gym, all the recovery stuff, everything. Because you never know. You may have the opportunity this coming weekend and if you're not ready you're going to waste it. And all your complaining and all your moaning about it is going to go through the window because you just had the opportunity and you didn't take it.”

And Speroni has, multiple times. First under Taylor not long and then again this season after being again discarded by Alan Pardew back in 2015. For a keeper of his quality there were inevitably going to be offers coming in, but there were reasons he decided not to move on from Palace.

“It did cross my mind, yes,” he adds. “But I just knew I had to have another run in the team, I knew at some point it was going to happen. Don't ask me why. I said to Steve Parish that I want to finish my career playing for this club. I don't know if it's going to be possible, because we are growing and growing and growing, and I don't know how long I'll be able to stay here, but my dream is to finish my career playing for Palace. 

“I don't think I'm going to lose my fitness too much, but there's going to be a time where you can't really recover from game to game and that's when goalkeepers notice they are getting older. There's going to be a point where I won't be able to play three games a week and as a No.1 you need that consistency, you need to be playing regularly. With the craziness of the Premier League it doesn't allow that sometimes. Not just us but other clubs are going through exactly the same thing that we went through before, with managerial changes and you don't know what's coming, you don't know if he's going to like you or not. As a professional, what can you do? When that time comes if I had to take another role within the squad then I'll be happy to, but I don't think the time is now.”

For a man that has suffered his fair share of knockbacks throughout his career, Speroni remains remarkably philosophical and level-headed. Maybe it’s something to do with being older and more experienced than many of his peers. In fact, he is both the oldest and longest current serving player in the Premier League, facts he was not aware of. “Oh really? I didn’t know that,” he says, surprised. “That makes me feel...old!” he laughs.

But not old enough to start giving up. The 38-year-old’s age does get brought up a fair amount when people talk about Roy Hodgson’s goalkeeping options (sometimes, indeed, by the manager himself) and that’s a frustration for the man who still outcompetes many of his team-mates in training. “When you're young they think 'ahh is he ok? Is he experienced enough to do it?' Then you have to prove yourself that you can do it. Then it’s 'oh can he maintain that level of consistency for a few years?’. Then when you've done that you start to get older and they say 'oh can he still do it now he's getting older?' That's the pressure that I feel, like I have to prove that I can still do it year after year. 

“But it's the nature of the game. Especially when you don't play as often and you get maybe a cup game or the odd game. It’s that one game where you need to perform, because that's the only chance you have. And it's horrible, really, because if you don't do well in that game then you're not going to play for many months."

But it’s not only the playing that is gruelling for a professional. The training is more gruelling still. “I think you get more knocks and injuries through training than games actually. Because in the game you might have to dive twice and that's it. In training we catch the ball probably 200+ times, we dive up to 50 times sometimes, you really batter your body. And when you're not playing you do more training because they have to look after the one that is playing, so whoever is not has to do more."

However, even when he has been out of the team, the Palace faithful and his relationship with the club has been a huge factor dissuading Jules from leaving.

“The only reason for me to move at some point would have been money, maybe go for better money but I thought well what's the point? I'm happy here, I have a decent contract, my family is happy. I didn't see any reason really why to go. My relationship with everybody at the club; with the fans and everything is good, so why would I change all that? I didn't plan to be here 13 years but it just happened.” 

That special relationship with the fans doesn’t come easily to all players but Speroni has had it at two clubs: Palace and Dundee. Indeed, he was inducted into The Dee Hall Of Fame despite playing there just two years. "Crazy!" says Jules. "Especially when you see the other names in the Hall of Fame, like Claudio Caniggia; he is a superstar." 

And then there was his testimonial at Palace, where 2,000 fans travelled down from Scotland to show their support, as well as the home crowd. “It was a brilliant night. It was all I wanted really, a big celebration of my time here. I had my family there, ex-team mates, all my colleagues there and close friends. It was just an amazing night. I couldn't ask for any more. I remember looking up at my family in the box and my son Thiago was there, my daughter was just a baby at the time, and my mum was there as well. Seeing all the faces that shared bits of my time at both clubs."

So how does one man manage to have such a strong, mutual connection with the fans at two clubs?

“I don't know!” he replies. “I can make a mistake, I can have a bad game but I always give everything. I won't hold anything back. They can judge me for my performances but nobody can ever say he wasn't trying or he wasn't in the mood today. If I had to break my nose, I'd break my nose for the team. If I had to break my finger, I would…and I have! I’ve had two broken noses, two broken fingers. I do everything I can to make sure that ball doesn't cross the line. I'm employed by the club, the club deserves me to do everything I can, because that's what they pay me for.” 

If I had to break my nose, I'd break my nose for the team. If I had to break my finger, I would…and I have!

Those efforts have brought with it legendary status at Selhurst Park amongst the supporters, but is that a boost or a hindrance, to carry the expectations and support of so many people onto the pitch each week? “I wouldn't say pressure, no. I would say the opposite. It's just a great feeling, because I know what I do. I'm not going to let them down. We all make mistakes, it's impossible not to when you play at this level, because the opposition will pressure you to make that mistake, so it's natural that you will. 

“I’m not scared of that, because they know what I do when I step on that pitch. I give them everything I have, that's what they want. They don't expect people to be perfect, the fans don't want perfection, they want people committed, people that are going to give everything for the club.”

It’s only a few weeks since the Everton game at Selhurst where Oumar Niasse made himself public enemy number one and Julian was involved in a mix-up with Scott Dann that led to the Toffees’ second goal. Ironically it was 13 years before, against the same team, that the then young Argentinean learned quickly about the differences between football in South America and England.

“I grew up in Argentina; we never kick the ball [long],” Speroni says. “We play. All the time as kids. Yeah, we wanted to win, that’s something you have in you, in your nature, but there is a time where that shouldn't be the most important thing in my opinion, you should let the kids express themselves and make mistakes. Because that's the way you learn, especially at a young age. 

“That's the way I grew up - playing football - but then when I came to this country all that disappeared completely because I tried it once and it didn't go right...and then it cost me my place!

“You learn from those things. That situation actually made me stronger. Mistakes are part of the game. If nobody made a mistake every game would be 0-0 probably. So after that, I didn't try it ever again. I love playing but I understand that you can't do it all the time. It's all about decisions, you can make a decision and if the end result is good then it was the right decision but if you end up conceding a goal then it was the wrong decision. It's fine margins.”

There are plenty of young fans at Selhurst who want to be the next Speroni, including nine-year-old Thiago Speroni who has decided he wants his dad to train him into becoming a goalkeeper. “It's a bit weird for me, he's doing ok,” Speroni Snr laughs. “I just want him to enjoy what he does, I support him 100% whatever he wants to do. He is very sporty and he likes to play. He'll watch something on TV - golf or tennis - and he'll want to play. He was doing golf and he was pretty good actually. He has that hand-eye co-ordination but now he wants to play in goal and he asked me to train him.”

But Thiago isn’t the only Speroni fan, there are scores of young Palace supporters who look up to Julian, just like he did to Boca Juniors No.1 Carlos Navarro Montoya all those years ago in Buenos Aires. “I don't know how to feel about that. I don't see myself on that level really. Sometimes we do coaching sessions for young kids, and I love that - being able to train and maybe give tips - but it's hard for me to see these kids want to be like me when they grow up, but I know it happens. 

“There were even young Dundee fans who came to my testimonial who had never even seen me play! Young Palace fans see me playing every week like I did with my hero Montoya in Argentina, they must feel the same way when they watch me play, it's nice.”

FYP asks Julian if he knows how many players he has played with in his 13-and-a-half years at Selhurst. “I have no idea,” he says, scratching his beard. “Someone told me a few years ago and they put it on a picture of my face. It was me with all names of the players I played with, but I've played with even more now. There were some names on the picture that I thought ‘…who is that?!"

That’s understandable given how many players have come and gone since he signed for the club, but how does the current Palace squad compare to some he has played with in the past? There are some fans, FYP included, who think it might be our best ever. “Yeah it could be,” says Speroni. “It’s a nice group of players, it's a very good talented squad. 

“It's hard to measure, though, because we've had top players in the past: AJ, Dougie. Nicola Ventola - he was an unbelievable player, and so talented, but injuries meant he never played enough for us. Gonzalo Sorondo - he was an unbelievable defender. Tony Popovic. I mean we had so many good players but, obviously, because of what the Premier League is now it looks like a massively better squad now, but I think in the past we also had good, good teams, with good squads. Maybe not as a 25 but we had good players.”

And it’s not just plenty of players he has worked with, in his time at Selhurst. Speroni has played under 11 full time managers (17 if you include caretakers although that does include Keith Millen three times). Julian’s favourite? “Neil Warnock. I just enjoyed working with him. Every time I played I just felt fired up. You can talk about tactics, you can like the tactics of one manager or maybe dislike the tactics of another but that's football, we all have different opinions about that, but in terms of man management I think he was great. 

“He made you feel wanted, he made you feel like you were doing a good job when you were doing a good job. If you were doing a bad job then he let you know that you were doing a bad job, and that's good you know. What you get with him is him and that's what you see on camera. I loved working with him.

“I remember when he was manager in the Championship we had five subs at the time and he never put a goalkeeper on the bench. I remember Clint Hill going in goal once when I got injured at Southampton…and he did better than me I think! I came back out with stitches over my eye and Neil went ‘nah you wait, he's doing great’. Clint was good in goal…well, technically not good, but if he had to put his head in the way of danger he would do it and that's important for a goalkeeper. 

“You can't be scared of the ball. Players in the wall that turn away from the ball…it's 10 yards away! That makes me mad! Of course you are scared of getting a boot in the head but you just do it, you can't just not do it. 

“I had an exposed fracture in my finger once playing Reading, where I caught the ball and the striker tried to take it off my hands. He kicked me just as I was moving the ball and caught me right in the finger. I thought I had dislocated it and tried to put it back in place and I thought 'ooh that hurt’. I carried on and looked down and my glove was just dripping with blood and I thought something's not right here.The bone was sticking out. It was horrible. But you are exposed to those things. It's part of the game you need to be able to forget about it.”

Do you have to be crazy to be a goalkeeper then? “Yeah I think so,”>Speroni laughs. “That's why I'm trying to convince my son not to be a goalkeeper!”

FYP putsSperonion the spot and asks him for his favourite Palace games. “There are three,” he says instantly. “The 2013 play-off semi finals and the final. Those three because that’s where everything changed for us as a football club. Those three games. We went into the Premier League and that made everything happen, so they were three very important matches. 

Palace fans don't expect people to be perfect, the fans don't want perfection, they want people committed, people that are going to give everything for the club

“There is also Hillsborough in 2010. It was one of the most important games I played for the club. And you think ‘oh you've been in the Premier League’ yeah yeah, but that was one of the most important games I played for Palace. Paul Hart was really good, he did a brilliant job for us. We were in a situation where you don't want to be. We went into administration and then we got 10 points deducted. After that it looked like somebody switched the light off and we couldn't win a game. And it became a relegation battle. 

“We could have just disappeared as a club and it was horrible, not only just for ourselves but also for everybody working at the club, the staff, and the fans. It was just a horrible moment. Those games you don't enjoy but you just get on with it. Thinking back it's not really something you want to celebrate it's just ‘ok we did it but let's have a better season next time’.”

Speaking of which, Palace fans are already looking to next season and hoping it will be better than the current one after a disastrous start to this campaign. That is, if Palace stay up, something Julian is more than confident of. “I think at the moment it's not hard to keep confidence up, because we know how well we are playing,” he says, confidently. “I know that sounds stupid because we are not getting the results and if you ask people probably 90% would say they’d rather play bad and win but I think in the long run playing the way we are playing at the moment we will get the results. 

“That's the feeling of the whole squad. We know what we are doing and we are quite confident we can get out of this. If we were playing bad then I'd be worried, but I'm not.”

Fans are seeing the team starting to respond to Roy Hodgson’s methods, which when he was appointed were put down to him being a proper old school manager that liked to run his players into the ground in training. “Well what's old school and what's new school?,” quizzes Speroni when asked about this. “Yes we run a lot, but go and ask Guardiola or Pochettino how hard they work. I know for a fact how hard they work. That's not old fashioned, that's how you should be. Working really hard every single day. There’s no other way. Because if you are not working hard, the opposition will, and you will fall behind.”

And that's the last thing Speroni wants to see for the club that he has come to call home. 
“This club means everything to me. It’s my life. It's a family," he says. "I go to the club every other weekend when we play at home, I see those faces I've been seeing for the last 13 years or so and it's a small family. We know each other, we all care for this club. 

"Some players can stay for six months, leave and not really grasp what the club is really about. But after 13 years I think I have a good idea of what this club is about and I just love it. People probably don't believe me, but I'm a Palace fan, which I’ve said before.

"When we lose a game, I come home and my wife can tell you how I am when we lose! It's been my life. I've played almost all of my career here and I have such good memories, good times, bad times, but it's been amazing and I enjoy every minute. I wouldn't be here if I didn't. The day I don't enjoy playing anymore I will go home. 

"I keep myself fit, I go for training every day and I'm quite tough on myself, I always compare myself with the other lads; I need to make sure that I'll be able to compete at the best level. If one day I come for training and I feel that the other players are quicker or stronger and that I'm falling behind then I'll say 'that's it’, and I'll call it a day because that's not the way I am. 

"People say ’how long are you going to play?’ I say ‘I don’t know’ because at the moment I feel great. So if I feel great next season I will carry on, if I get to the point where I don't feel good anymore and after all I've done for this club, all this time I've been here, I'd be a fool really if I knew I couldn't do it anymore and I step on that pitch and make a fool of myself. I would never ever do that. 

After all I've done for this club, I'd be a fool really if I knew I couldn't do it anymore and I step on that pitch and make a fool of myself. I would never ever do that

"If I know I can do a good job for the club then I'll do it but the day I feel I'm not capable anymore I'll be the first one to say I'm going. Even if they offer me a new contract, I will say 'sorry it's time for me to go!'”

And then what? 

“I’d love to be involved with the club, anything really. Eventually I'd love to do some coaching, I was going to take my badges last summer, but for some reasons I couldn't do it. They have something called the Fast Track and I was going to sign up for that. Then I was going to do it this coming summer but now I have a baby on the way so I'm not sure if I'll be able to do it. Eventually I will, but I still feel very much a player really so there's no rush.” 

But for now the Premier League’s oldest player has no plans to hang up his gloves just yet. 
“It doesn't matter what you’ve done before. There's a saying 'you're only as good as your last game'. Sadly that's the way it is. When I play I feel people are looking at me thinking 'hmm OK let's see what he can do now'. Yeah OK I've done it in the past but can I still do it? That's the question.”

It’s a question that Speroni continues to answer with aplomb. Despite having been dropped for the home win over Stoke, an injury to Wayne Hennessey in the build up for the West Brom away game meant that the Argentinean was called upon yet again in former boss Pardew’s first game in charge at the Hawthorns. A 0-0 draw took Speroni within one clean sheet of Nigel Martyn’s all time record for the club. Not bad for a man who continues to be unfairly written off by some and who continues not to let it keep him down or prevent him from making comeback after comeback. 

“Can I still perform at the highest level? I'm 100% convinced that I can,” Speroni says. “I wouldn't be here if I didn't. I'd be the first one to walk away when I feel that I'm not capable of performing as Crystal Palace football club deserves. I'll be the first one to go.”


Julian Speroni: I think and feel like a Crystal Palace fan

Written by Robert Sutherland


Julian Speroni continues to rewrite his Palace chapter with every remarkable save and every wonderful performance. He’s a person of great character, wonderful integrity and true passion – a player that supporters have grown to love and a person that managers have continuously placed their trust in.

As #SperoniWeek draws to a close, Robert Sutherland was given the opportunity to meet with Julian over a coffee to discuss his thoughts on the club, the play-off wins against Brighton and Watford, his relationship with the fans and, most importantly, his ponytail.

So here goes...

FYP: How does it feel to be back in this situation that you found yourself in nine years ago, but this time being the number 1?

JS: It feels great. It’s where every player wants to play. When I first signed for Palace I thought I was going to get a run in the Premier League but then Gabor [Kiraly] signed for us and he became No. 1 so I had to wait for my chance. Now, the way we've done it with promotion, it means a lot to me.

Would you say that this team is a better team than the one that you played in last season?

I said that before last season. I thought the team we had last season was one of the best teams we've ever had – even compared to our last Premier League team. The experience and togetherness, it was an amazing squad. Of course, we've lost Wilfried and Glenn to an injury so we need to repair that and bring new players in. But it’s looking good. The team spirit is still there; the togetherness, hard work and mentality is still there. I don’t see why we can’t be one of the best Palace teams at least in the last ten years or more.

What was your abiding memory of the play-off semi-final against Brighton?

Play-offs are always exciting – but doing it against Brighton gave it a really special meaning. It made it double as special; for the players, for the fans, for everybody. It was fantastic, especially after a 0-0 draw at home as everyone thought we would lose – we were the underdogs. They wrote us off. Going there, believing in ourselves and knowing that we could win it – it was amazing.

When did you realise that Brighton were such big rivals?

The first time we played Brighton, the season we went down from the Premier League, I wasn't as aware of how big it was. It was only when they came up again to the Championship a few years ago that I realised how big a game that was.

So the play-off semi must have felt like a really important game?

Well the rivalry builds on you. Every time the fans see you they ask you about it. The circumstances are obviously different in the play-offs but I always try to think about the game. I play the game and not the occasion. That’s what I always try to do.

In the play-off final, when you saved that shot from Troy Deeney, was it instinct? Can you actually remember doing it? It was such a blur...

Yeah, of course I remember it, but it was instinct. It’s one of those saves where you just react – I was moving to my right and then I had to move to my left and I just managed to push it away. I remember thinking that I was actually trying to catch the ball but then I thought I wasn't going to make it. So I just had to push and stretch my hand out. The one against Brighton was very similar; where Ashley Barnes had a header and I just [gestures] pushed it against the bar. It was one of those things where you don’t think – you just react to it.

When you watch it, do you think, ‘wow, that was a really good save!’?

It looks a lot better on TV! [laughs] It always looks better on TV. Perhaps I should give myself more credit! [laughs]

Would you say that those two saves were your most significant ones?

For what it meant for the team, probably yes. They weren't perhaps the hardest saves I had to make but what it meant for the club. The other, third one is the one I made against Sheffield Wednesday where we needed to stay up. Again, it wasn't really because of the save but because of what it meant.

You’ve got a great relationship with Palace fans...

I think I’m a fan. I feel like a fan. Obviously I’m a player but I feel I’m part of the club. I enjoy it so much when we win and I feel sad when we lose.

Do you remember that brilliant banner the HF did?

Yeah. It probably wasn't the best idea to put it up before the game because it made me emotional, they should have done it after the game [laughs] but I can’t thank them enough really. The appreciation they show me; every time I meet fans it’s always amazing, the way they make me feel. There’s only one way I can repay that, by performing on the pitch. They know I can make mistakes and I can play bad, but they’ll know that I always play 110% on the pitch. And I really appreciate it.


Do you have any close friends in this Palace team?

No, to be honest we all get on really well with each other. Obviously, with the goalkeepers and trainers I have a very special relationship because we work together all the time. There’s a special bond between us. It’s a goalkeepers union.

With this team, you found yourself with three different centre-backs, Peter Ramage, Danny Gabbidon and Damien Delaney, all coming in after pre-season or just before the start of the season. Did you find that difficult at all? Was there any adjustment needed?

They adjusted really quickly. You need some time to get to know your teammates. When you've played together a few years it’s probably a bit easier, but they’re experienced players and they knew what to do. They've been fantastic since the moment they arrived.

You've also got Jose Campana on the team now. Is it nice to have someone Spanish speaking on the team?

Oh, it’s great. It means I can practice my Spanish again, as I kind of forgot. [laughs] I’m helping him to settle in England. It’s difficult for him because he’s in a different country – when he goes outside and hears people talk, to him it’s just noise because he doesn't understand. So I’m enjoying that.

You’re starting your centenary...

Centenary?! Imagine it, 100 years at Palace. [laughs]

Oops! I meant ten years at the club next season. Did you imagine you’d be at the club for ten years when you signed?

No, no way! That’s not common. It’s something that players don’t think they can achieve. It’s almost a whole career. When I came here I signed a four year contract and thought that would be the end of my time at the club. I didn't plan it – things just went this way. And to be honest I’m really glad about it because I've had such a fantastic time.

How much longer do you think you’ll be playing?

Well, I feel great. I've just turned 34 but I feel really great. It’s a matter of fitness really; if your fitness starts dropping and you mentally lose the fight, it can be difficult. You have to get up every morning and work hard. But goalkeepers now work until they’re in their 40s – right now I’m in a great place fitness-wise and mentally, so hopefully I have another five or six years left.

And finally, we've had questions about your hair. What led you to cut the ponytail off?

I think in ten years I've had about ten different styles. There wasn't a reason for it – well, I had a family and needed to grow up [laughs] – no, not really. I just did it for a change. I went back home to Argentina and I said to my wife, ‘I’m going over the road, I’ll be back soon.’ I went across the road, came back and she was shocked. ‘What are you doing?!’ [laughs]

She liked it long then? Any thoughts of growing it back?

She did, and maybe, although I think I have a few too many grey hairs for that now. [Laughs]


The King of Palace: Gabor Kiraly on why he still remembers Palace fondly

Written by Akos Kovach

Gábor Király, the Hungarian keeper, only spent three years in SE25 which is definitely not enough time for a player to become a legend at a club. His reflex saves, his antics on the field and his trademark grey jogging bottoms however made him a real cult hero for many fans ensuring that he remains in the Palace folklore forever.

FYP met the big man in his home town, Szombathely near the Austrian border to find out which memories he still keeps about the club and its fans, how he had to adjust his goalkeeping style to the English game, which were his most memorable moments in a Palace shirt (or rather tracksuit bottoms) and what are his plans after retirement if he will ever retire one day.

After spending seven years in the Bundesliga in Germany with Hertha Berlin and also playing Champions League football, Király was already an experienced goalkeeper before coming to England. In Germany he was ranked among the best keepers around alongside Oliver Kahn and the future Arsenal number one, Jens Lehmann. After some extraordinary matches played in the Champions League particularly against Barcelona and Milan, he was linked with a potential move to North London to replace David Seaman but a move did not materialise for various reasons. He remained very motivated though to play in England one day:

“I wanted to come over and play in England as this was the place to be for a footballer: I wanted to feel this whole atmosphere from inside the game and not only to follow matches, discuss about it or just remotely support a team during a game.”

A couple of seasons later an offer had finally been submitted to retain his services by another London club, this time South of the river, which was accepted. He might not have been especially familiar to Palace fans when his signing was first announced by the club in August 2004 but surprisingly this was not the case the other way round:

“I didn’t follow international football as a kid, but funnily enough, Palace was one of the clubs I do remember from that time, the one that embodied English football to me, maybe along with Aston Villa. I don’t know why Palace was this club, I might have watched a game on telly or something, a tiny little detail was just somehow engraved on my memory.”

“Or it was simply the name of the club? Crystal Palace? Possibly. My name is Király (which means king in Hungarian) and this might be a reason behind my affection for castles and palaces as a kid. Such a mysterious name for a football club sounded very special and exciting to me. What this might refer to? Since then I already know the whole story behind the famous building and the related tradition. These factors might have surely played a part in my decision to choose Palace as my team when playing Football Manager at the end of the 90s even before having any particular discussions to move to England.”

After almost ten years since he left, Gábor still has fond memories of Palace as it was his first club in England where he learnt everything about the English way of life, the language, the culture, which has left a strong mark and when asked, he quickly starts listing all the things that spring to his mind about Palace:

“The fans...their warmth…the family atmosphere...simple things, but strong local and blue...Holmesdale Road...Selhurst Park...every little detail! I have very good feelings about Palace. As my kids were too young during my playing days at the club, we returned years later to show them the ground, the surroundings which still mean a lot to me. Emotions which cannot be expressed in words.”

It seems that Palace really suited Király, being a family club and having close connections with the local community, values that are truly important to him. It is quite evident that even though he played for other clubs in England, it is Palace which he will always be associated with.

“I also played for Burnley, Villa and Fulham in England, but I spent three seasons at Palace. Palace is different. I still hold Palace in my heart and I feel connected to this club in many ways.”

“I also experienced something very important at Palace which is one of the most valuable football related memories during my career. I’ll never forget the end of season meet up with the fans at Selhurst Park after my first season during the summer of 2005. The fans approached the players to tell us how they appreciated our performance, commitment and the way we represented the club. I just replied that this was my duty as a player of this football club. They did not agree with me on this. They told me that the players usually stay with the club for two or three years but the fans remain connected to the club for the whole of their life. They thanked me for my performances and for the responsibilities I held as goalkeeper of this club and I understand even now that the only important thing for a supporter is that a player, whoever he is, represents the club in a way that the supporter can be proud. This has stuck with me ever since.”

He confesses that he does not follow football at all apart from his playing career and prefers to spend time with his family as he considers football as his job. Usually he doesn’t watch football on TV either whether it be the Champions League, the World Cup or the Euros. He makes however an exception in Palace’s case:

“I try to follow Palace, at least the results. If there is a Palace match on telly I watch it! Unfortunately I could not watch the FA Cup Final last year, except the last bit when Palace were already playing against ten men, since we had training or a match that day. It was a terrific atmosphere which I could feel through the screen. It was a fantastic opportunity for the club but I can tell that being in the final was a huge achievement which made the fans proud.”

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“Unfortunately my three years at the club just flew by. Since I left the club in 2007, I have returned to Selhurst Park to watch a couple of matches, but still as an active player I could not schedule regular visits every year. At one occasion the kitman, Brian Rogers, he is not at the club now, offered me an official Palace goalkeeper shirt with my name and number 1 printed on the back. I still keep this shirt very preciously.”

Király didn’t start his debut season as a first choice keeper as Iain Dowie put Julián Speroni, another summer signing, in goal for the first six league games. This was not an unknown situation for Király, as when he signed for Hertha back in 1997, he had also found himself on the bench of a newly promoted club. As in Berlin, he saw his chance arrive quickly, after Speroni had some poor displays he replaced the Argentinian and remained in the team for the whole season. This rivalry for the number 1 (in Király’s case number 28) shirt did not undermine the relation between the two:

“I am still in regular contact with Julián (he pronounces his name in the Spanish way as who-lian), we arrived to Palace at the same time, we both see things in a similar way, he is also a family man. We did get on well, complemented each other and worked hard together to help the other in training. We know each other’s thoughts, problems, and also how to help in solving them.”

“We regularly text each other and try to keep in touch. I remember once when I was playing at Fulham we just met for a quick coffee after training and ended up spending more than three hours discussing about all things and also having a lunch after the coffee!”

“I was extremely proud and happy that Palace won the promotion back to the Premier League with him in goal, as he is the last player from our side from ten years ago. He also invited me for his testimonial game, unfortunately I could not fly over due to my commitments with the national team.”

“There was a strong togetherness in this Palace side, an exceptional unity, we were very close to each other between all the players, whether younger, older, British or foreign, without having cliques or the usual trouble making behind the others’ back. I had a good time, I wanted to integrate and I got on with everybody really from Danny Butterfield to AJ, Darren Powell or Ventola. I liked the coaching staff as well, especially the physio, Alex Manos who came back to the club when Dougie was manager. We keep in touch with all of them and still know what the others are up to which makes me happy.”

Despite having played for many years in Germany, Király had to adjust his goalkeeping style to the English game.

“The technique is quite different in England compared to what I experienced elsewhere and the acclimatisation was of crucial importance. My goalkeeping coaches at Palace, Mike Kelly and Tony Burns represented the old school, the traditional style and passed on me the atmosphere, the mentality and the work ethic of the English game which helped us, goalkeepers to better integrate and perform, and myself and Julián both have very good memories from that period.”

“Efficiency and speed were key, the technique was just secondary. I had to get used to the players’ attitude towards goalkeepers in England as well, for instance it is quite usual that players stand between a long range shot and the keeper, trying to block his vision. In Germany the defenders rather ‘invited’ the adverse players to shoot on one side, letting the keeper to have a better view, to find out where the strike will go and to decide where to dive. I had to adapt to these slight differences.”

“I was also told at the beginning that goalkeepers in England can’t use their legs for shot stopping. It is one of my main skills and strengths I developed as you can’t go down for every ball but I accepted that as I wanted to do everything they asked of me in order to integrate. It was hammered into my head, so in some cases instead of saving with my legs I tried to go down to catch the ball in vain. I ended up making a rather unfortunate and calamitous move, and I heard immediately the crowd saying: ‘Look, he’s made a howler again’.”

He also lifts the lid on his habit of standing at the far post for corners which was quite unusual in England: “I developed this technique in order to be on the move at corners, to have enough pace for getting through the traffic in the penalty box, pushing the strikers away to get the ball. The attacking players and defenders are on the move and therefore they can have an advantage over the keeper who is standing in the middle. This technique also has its downside as well, especially if I decide to remain in the middle of the goal and don’t come out to catch the ball. This mainly depends on specific situations, and the positioning should always be constantly varied as the opponents pay a particular attention to the goalkeepers’ moves and positioning.”

It is quite common knowledge now why Király started to play in tracksuit bottoms. He has already explained it in many interviews before, during and after the Euros last summer. Initially he started to wear them because of the hard surfaces, especially in winter. Originally they were black, but once there was no clean pair available, he had to wear a grey pair instead. They won the match, and did not lose in any of the following nine, so he hasn’t looked back since and it became more than a superstition. He played in joggers in his home team, Haladás, in the Hungarian national team, at Hertha in Germany, but this habit was not easy to import to England.

“When I first arrived in England, I was told that goalkeepers cannot wear tracksuit bottoms here, whether it is black or grey. There are traditions, and they are not needed anyway because the weather allows you to play in shorts throughout the whole year. I tried to explain that this was nothing to do with weather conditions and was mainly for feeling more comfy. They ended up convincing me and I started to wear shorts. After a couple of games I switched back to my joggers, as it was simply not me to be playing in shorts.”

One of his former teammates, Clinton Morrison claimed on Irish TV during the Euros last summer that he once tried to hide Gábor’s tracksuit bottoms in the dressing room. He got so cross that Clint did not dare to do this ever again. He also has some funny stories to share about trousers:

“The black players at Palace were so cool that they used to wear sagging jeans back then all the time revealing a big part of their pants. Once I decided to copy them and wore my joggers in training in the same way with my underpants completely outside. After a first laugh, they told me politely to wear them properly as this had nothing to do with me!

He was already the famous ‘pyjama man’ when suddenly he decided to play in shorts again at Stamford Bridge. During that game Kezman scored a goal, the ball slipping through his hands and legs. Some argue that this change was mainly due to an early hot weather hitting London on that day.

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“This was the last time (laughs). No, it was definitely not down to the sunny weather. This whole discussion about shorts versus tracksuit bottoms restarted before our away game at Chelsea, and I said, no problem, I will dress for the occasion, and let this be. I still remember this goal I conceded from Kezman. I had a slight knee problem before the match and didn’t want to knock my knee to the ground. I thought that his shot would bounce and end up in my arms, but unfortunately I didn’t carefully secure the handling and the ball squirmed through. This was a technical error. Since then I have never worn shorts again during a football match. If I play in tracksuit bottoms it gives me a boost of confidence but obviously it is not enough to put grey bottoms on in goal, you have to move your bottom as well! And I can tell you I also made some blunders in tracksuit bottoms like the one against Norwich at home in the Championship.”

He uses about 15 pairs (always one size too big for the comfort) throughout a season for training and matches but since he has his own branded joggers, the supply is not a problem anymore. He is even considering to try to sell his own trackies in the Palace club shop if there would be any interest in them.

Apart from his legendary trademark grey jogging bottoms, he was also renowned for doing strange or funny things during games. Last summer during the Euros, he reminded the Palace faithful of his no look throws, imitation of long goal kicks and passing the ball instead in the other direction or simply throwing the ball between his legs to the closest defender. All Palace fans have their own memories of Gábor’s antics on the field. However he cools this hype down a bit:

“These are absolutely not premeditated moves and come from specific situations. The first that comes to my mind is the roly-poly I did after a difficult save against Spurs at home. My vision was blocked and I thought that I could not parry the shot, it bounced away and finally I could pick the ball by doing a forward roly-poly. The score line was 0-0 at this point, we beat them 3-0, so it shows that doing such stuff is not linked to the result. I have always preferred creative moves since I was kid, and us, footballers, we have to entertain the crowd, so perhaps this is my way to do it.”

“Sometimes this may be seen from outside as crazy or funny, but when I saved Ryan Giggs’ shot with my elbow at Old Trafford, this was not a clowny thing at all, it was due to a twist of the ball at the very last moment resulting in such an unusual save as I didn’t have time to adjust my move and dive for it.”

“When I pulled down van Nistelrooy’s shorts at a corner? I remember this one of course, it was in front of the Holmesdale. I just wanted to check whether his shorts were properly tied, nothing more (laughs). I usually use this as a tool to distract the striker’s attention, this is part of the game. Again, now this can be seen as a funny act but it is simply just a psychological weapon against strikers.”

Making his debut for Palace was not only special for him but was also a historic game: he was the first ever Hungarian keeper to play in the Premier League. He had many memorable games in a Palace shirt, his Man of the Match performance against Manchester United at Old Trafford despite conceding five goals but saving a penalty from Rooney or the Arsenal game at home when he simply shut the door.

“I could say something special or memorable from every game I played for Palace. The one against Liverpool when we won and I managed to save a tricky shot from Gerrard in the closing stages, or one against Millwall (laughs) or our last match of the Premier League season against Charlton (doesn’t laugh).”

The last day of that Premier League season was a real thriller with all three relegation places being decided on the same day. Palace could not finally survive despite a good late run.

“It was a big disappointment to all of us really. We had a good late run indeed, we had two clean sheets against teams that were better than us on paper, we beat Liverpool and drew against Newcastle, then we could not clinch a win against Southampton, despite the fact that I touched Crouch’s penalty and the equaliser in stoppage time was really avoidable. The same happened a week after at Charlton. We came back into the game thanks to Dougie’s beautiful lobbed goal and the penalty converted by AJ but we gave away a late free kick on the left wing, Leigertwood jumped on the back of his man who was with his back to the goal. It was not even a foul really, at least not one deserving a free kick. It was sharply crossed, a very difficult ball, I was thinking, should I come out for the cross or stay in the goal, if I come out and someone flicks it on the near post, it’s a goal. From such a close range, it’s quite difficult to deal with a header. It was a perfectly taken free kick, very sharp and driven, the ball had no arc, Tony Popovic tried to close out the attacking player, but Fortune had pace, an advantage over defenders coming in with a powerful header and it went in.”

“I was utterly disappointed when the match was over. But what happened after the final whistle was just amazing, all the Palace fans were standing and clapping for long minutes. It was astonishing. I’m that kind of guy, win or lose, don’t look back, keep it going, the next match is coming. But this was more than just a match, this was the end of the season, the end of our Premier League adventure and the end of a dream. Something seemed to be broken, but the Palace fans didn’t let it happen, the club employees didn’t let it happen. Yes, we lost. Yes, we got relegated. But we had to keep it going. We will come back. We will bounce back. I still have this rubber wristband in my drawer at home. This spirit, this feeling and motivation push you forward providing you with energy and positive vibes. They didn’t boo you, they didn’t bury you, you just keep it going, because it’s their club, it’s our club, we should carry on, this is the only thing which matters. This is Palace. This is magic.”

“Experiencing this togetherness made it worth being part of the Palace family and playing there. And just as Julián said when he broke the club’s appearance record for a keeper, if you don’t belong to this family, you don’t know this feeling, you can’t understand it. But if you are or were part of this club once, you’ll know what Palace is all about. And I’m really proud to be Palace.”

“The relegation was really hard to take. Especially if you take into account that Andy Johnson was the second best top scorer in the league with 21 goals behind Thierry Henry, and I was the second best keeper based on the ratio of saves per shots on target. Petr Cech was the top of that ranking, but while he had 400 shots on target, I had over 700. I was convinced that we were solid enough to stay up and did not deserve to get relegated.”

The core of the team was kept together under Dowie to ‘bounce back’ and to try to get out of the Championship at the first attempt. The promotion couldn’t be achieved due to a heavy defeat to Watford at home in the playoff semi-final. The manager who signed Király left the club, as well as the club’s talismanic striker, Andy Johnson.

“I was never one manager’s player, I was loyal to the club I had signed for. As the supporters told me, it doesn’t matter who the manager, the keeper or the centre forward are, if they do their best to help the club, the fans will be proud of them. After the relegation West Ham United wanted to sign me, they had just got promoted, but Simon Jordan didn’t let anyone leave the club. In our Premier League season the club did not sign anybody during the January transfer window despite a general opinion of the club’s management, as Jordan considered our side was strong enough to stay up which was realistic indeed based on the quality of the squad. We had a strong defence led by Tony Popovic, with Fitz Hall, Darren Powell, Danny Butterfield, Danny Granville in the ranks, as well as the kids from the academy, like Ben Watson and Tom Soares, who all became important players later but maybe it was just too early for them. I never forget Simon Jordan saying that this time he would do everything for us to go up. The season in the Championship with 46 games was, however, quite demanding both physically and mentally. We finally finished sixth, entered the play off but did not manage to get through and ‘bounce back’. It really marked the end of an era, Dowie stepped down, AJ left, Tony Popovic left, and a couple of new players arrived to replace them.”

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At the beginning of his third and final season in SE25 Peter Taylor kept Király in the team (despite handing the number 1 shirt to Scott Flinders, a new signing from Barnsley) but generally things did not go quite well for him under the new manager, and he was loaned out to several Premier League teams during the season. It was also quite surprising to see four keepers rotating in goal in one season.

“There were some changes in the air. Two new keepers joined the club in the summer, Scott Flinders and Iain Turner. I didn’t get why we would need four goalkeepers? Plus we also had the young David Wilkinson from the academy. Some changes were definitely needed in the squad, it is quite normal to have some fresh blood, but this surely created uncertainty which was further strengthened by the summer departures, and the unity and stability, so characteristic previously, were over. I remember that after our game against Leicester away, I got the hairdryer treatment in the dressing room for conceding a penalty. It was weird. The match ended as a 1-1 draw...”

“My contract was over by the end of season and I was offered a new one on less interesting terms, but wanted to wait a bit and start the pre-season training with Palace. Then Burnley tabled an offer just after the season had ended, and I saw more opportunities there, especially as things were a tad uncertain as I did not clearly see my future at Palace.”

He became the oldest player ever to appear at the Euros and also holds the record of appearances for Hungary, having played 108 times for the national team. He still plays for his hometown club Haladás in the Hungarian first division, where he returned after 18 years spent abroad. Some of Király’s former Palace team mates, Dougie Freedman and Tony Popovic moved into management, while Aki Riihilahti became chairman of his boyhood club, HJK Helsinki. Gábor has other projects after retirement.

“I still played in Germany when I decided to build this sports complex I own back in 2003 with several pitches on the same land where my father started to play football in my home town Szombathely. I tried to use and capitalise on all the experience and know-how I gathered through my footballing career abroad. Just to give an example, I was close to the groundsmen at Palace, because I was interested in how to care, maintain the pitch, to know how to better regenerate the pitch properly. I really wanted to make use of all the knowledge I experienced in realising this project which I managed parallelly to my playing career.

“Since then we also established a football club, we are the Tigers (my favourite animal, nothing to do with Hull City - laughs), playing in the fourth division and would like to go up to the third one day. We have more than 200 players from the age of 5 to senior players at our club. We also run a goalkeeper school, having kids not only from Hungary but from various countries, England, Sweden or Romania. I would like to organise trips for our coaches to visit football clubs, Palace definitely would be one of the first to visit, to show them the background, to study the process what I experienced there, what I learned there.”

“We will now develop a new building which will be quite similar to the main building at the Palace training ground, with dressing rooms downstairs and restaurants, and offices upstairs. This is again a detail I experienced before, and I found it useful to follow. All the kits framed hanging on the wall here, kits I exchanged during my playing days, I have a couple of Palace shirts as well, also the centenary kit, are the symbol of my project: trying to integrate all the experience and know-how gained throughout my playing career, representing quality and knowledge. And if I manage to achieve that, I will be a happy man.”


Iain Moody admits mistake over controversial messages which led to Crystal Palace resignation

Written by Matt Woosnam

Former Crystal Palace sporting director Iain Moody has lifted the lid on the text-gate scandal which ended his spell with the Eagles. He speaks exclusively to FYP's Matt Woosnam.
Iain Moody
The 40-year-old joined Palace in October 2013, when the club was in the midst of searching for a new manager to replace Ian Holloway who left after a 4-1 drubbing at the hands of Fulham. But Moody lasted only 10 months, and he left the club following the leak of alleged sexist, racist and homophobic text messages and emails exchanged between himself and former Cardiff manager Malky Mackay which denied Mackay the opportunity to become Palace manager.

Whilst he offered no excuses for his behaviour, he sought to explain the reasons behind it.

He said: “I think football is an intoxicating environment, both as a fan and as someone who works there.  It’s a very strange world that I had 10 years of without a break. It’s been quite nice in some ways to devote myself to my kids and my wife in the last four or five months.

“In life most people you meet are good people, there are some who aren’t and never will be. I think good people sometimes do bad things. It doesn’t mean that they are no longer good people and I think everyone has got something you can refer to in your own past to say why did I do that?

“I think we can all look back on experiences of reacting to situations in a particular way and thinking ‘god there’s no way I would do that again’, or even as has happened to me, reading back things and not even recognising that it was me who said them, thinking… and I’m not denying it was me, but that’s unrecognisable and it’s not a reflection of where I am and what I stand for, and the education that I have had; and I don’t mean necessarily formal education but upbringing.

“I’m the father of two young kids at the moment and it’s become the most important thing in my life that there is a proper framework or behaviour and expectation for them to be good people. So there’s a distortion. People get distorted then things that people do are interpreted in a distorted way.”

Moody and Mackay are both subject to investigation from the Football Association following the texts. Proceedings remain active, and he was reluctant to discuss the situation but insisted he was keen to help the FA in any way he could.

He resigned from his position at Selhurst Park, and admits he considered it previously when other issues arose, including the allegations that he had obtained the Cardiff City team sheet prior to Palace’s 3-0 victory at the Cardiff City Stadium in April.

“I was conscious throughout my time at Palace that there were various storms that occurred around me,” he added. “I was conscious throughout my time there, it sounds contrite but the owners had been so good to me from the day I came in. The first day I met Steve [Parish] I was conscious that I didn’t want to be a problem. It’s got nothing to do with Palace really. I said to Steve on many occasions ‘I don’t want this ever to be awkward; if you think that the problem of having me here outweighs the benefit of having me here I will just go’. The story should never be about me, all the people who have done my job well in the past, no-one knows who they are."

He asks me if Dan Ashworth walked in would I recognise him, and although I know who he is talking about, I have to concede I do not know what the director of Elite Development for the FA, and former West Bromwich Albion sporting director looks like.

To emphasise his point, he adds: “Yet he is held up as one of the forebears of doing the job well. Nicky Hammond at Reading has been there for ten years and not many people would recognise him. I don’t ever want to be the story, and I was my own worst enemy in that in some ways, and I would act differently if I did it again now.

“There was kind of an understanding that I’ll just go, I’ll just go. Steve throughout [the previous issues] was like ‘no, no, no, I want you to stay, you’re doing a good job, we need you.’ But that was a little bit there and then. I didn’t want Palace… they were looking for a manager at the time, the season had just started, transfer window open, there was a lot of stuff going on and I had become a story and I didn’t want to be a story that impacted on Palace.

“So as soon as I knew what was going to happen in the press I spoke to Steve and said ‘I will just go’. From this day I will just go and I won’t bother you again, and that’s kind of what happened.”

“I was disappointed [to leave Palace]. I had a 10 fantastic months and I loved all the people. There’s brilliant people everywhere at the club, it’s quirky, it needs a bit of work, a bit of love but they’ve got absolutely the right people doing the right things for the right reasons, and it’s not often I can say that.”

Read the full interview in issue 42 of Five Year Plan, out vs Everton on 31 January and available around the ground at Selhurst Park.