Sunday 3 January 2016

Task 54: Shake hands with Crystal Palace legend - goal-keeper Julian Speroni

Of all the tasks in my sixtyat60 challenge, this may seem the most left-field one of the lot. Let's face it, I don't fit the standard profile of a Crystal Palace football supporter. Married to a a lifelong Palace fan, it's fair to say that for the first 35 years of our relationship, I struggled to cope with Andrew's CPFC passion. It's best I don't tell you the words I used to mutter under my breath whenever I heard that Match of the Day theme tune or those football pundits in full flow.  To make things worse, Andrew passed on his Palace allegiance to Michael and Jonathan. At family meals, Lucy and I would roll our eyeballs in girlie solidarity as the three Hunot males entered into yet another conversation about Palace's latest transfer deal or table position. In Lucy's/my defence we managed to put our negative attitudes to one side on Andrew's 60th birthday, when a party of 10 of us raised a glass to him in the Directors Box, visited the Selhurst Park dugout and watched Palace lose to Newcastle 2-0. And I did think the mascots were very cute.

That's how life was for us until May 2013. Then three things happened in quick succession. 

1.  I decided that I'd retire from work in May 2015 when I hit my 60th birthday. 
2.  Andrew received a tempting offer for a Palace season ticket.
3.  Palace got to the Play-off Final - and then won it.

We were sitting in Andrew's office a few days after the play-off final. Andrew was looking at the season ticket offer. 'Shall I buy one?' he was musing - more to himself than me really. All of a sudden it occurred to me that I was being very narrow-minded in my attitude towards the football world. Was it fair to be so critical about something I knew nothing about? Maybe it could be an interest for Andrew and me to share in retirement?  'Why not get two season tickets? Perhaps I could come along with you sometimes' I found myself saying. Andrew picked himself up off the floor...... 

Three months later, Andrew and I were sitting in our newly acquired seats in Block D. Kayla the eagle was flying back and forth from goalpost to goalpost. Pete the Eagle and Alice the Eagle were getting the crowd going around the edge of the pitch. The Crystals were doing their cheerleader thing.  Ian Holloway led the team onto the pitch to play their first game back in the Premiership. The stadium rocked to the sound of the Dave Clark Five and the home crowd went crazy. Blimey, what an amazing atmosphere - I loved it!


For a year I attended a number of home games. I enjoyed the general ambiance but I still didn't really get what supporting Palace is all about. And then on 14 September 2014 Palace played Burnley. It was 0-0 in the 85th minute when Burnley was awarded a penalty. Their fans went wild with anticipation. I found myself feeling sick with despair and hopelessness. We were bound to lose the match now. Scott Arfield took the kick.......and oh my lord, Julian Speroni actually saved it - what a legend!!!!!  Palace fans throughout the stadium, including Andrew and me, were all leaping up and down in utter joy and relief (tragedy eh Burnley fans). 

In that single moment I learnt what it was like to really really care about the game and I've never looked back. That sense of connection comes at a price of course.  My goodness, the highs and lows I go through now when I watch Palace play (take yesterday's game against Chelsea - what a low.....) But the CPFC family suffer and celebrate together, which is a great feeling. Oh and although Lucy was initially a bit put out that her mother was now taking part in transfer deal conversations at home, she's started attending the occasional game (go Lucy).

When I put together my sixtyat60 list, I wanted to be able to acknowledge my newbie Palace commitment in some way. In my book Julian Speroni stands head and shoulders above all others - and so Task 54 had to be to shake him by the hand.  After 12 years of stellar performances for CPFC, he's recently been replaced by Hennessey as first choice goal-keeper, and Andrew and I had to sit tight for a few weeks until he was selected to be on the bench.  

Last Sunday, when Palace was playing Swansea at home, the word was out - Speroni's on the bench today! After the match, the all-knowing doorman at the directors' lounge informed Andrew that Speroni would be making his exit from the building within the hour, so we hovered outside in anticipation like a pair of veteran strikers in the box. Steve Parish (Palace co-owner) came down the steps and everyone bowed (only kidding, but I think some of us wanted to).  Then all of a sudden Speroni appeared at the door. Andrew and I readied ourselves for action.  Andrew moved forward, saw his chance, took a shot, shook Speroni's hand, passed to me, I took aim, and yay......!! I had my Speroni handshake moment!!!  My friend LInda thinks I look like Mrs Overall from Acorn Antiques in the photo and I agree that the resemblance is quite uncanny (macaroons anyone?)

A very big thank you to Julian Speroni for being a true gentleman as well as for being an outstanding goal-keeper for Crystal Palace. I must also thank him for his role in saving Andrew and me from a further 20-30 years of Match of the Day tiffs.  And now, with sincere apologies to any of my girlfriends who think I've taken leave of my senses over the last 3 Paaaaalaaaaace!

I'm doing the sixtyat60challenge to raise funds for Shooting Star Chase children's hospice care in memory of a very special little girl called Thea Redford. 

For further information or to make a donation please visit my JustGiving page at

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