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.”


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 tradition...red 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.”


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]


Matt Jansen hopes Crystal Palace survive, but admits they need 'Premier League' quality

Written by Jim Daly

It's been more than 14 years since Matt Jansen played for Crystal Palace, but he still has an affection for the club.

The former flamboyant striker only played 31 times for the Eagles between 1998 and 1999 but joined the club when they were in the Premier League from Division 3 side Carlisle - making a bit leap up the leagues much like Dwight Gayle did this season.

The 20 year old Jansen scored three in eight after making the £1m move, but thinks Palace need more established top flight quality this season if they are to avoid the drop.

"It's a different type of player," he told FYP. "You get time in the Premier League, a lot more time to think. It's fast but it's not in your face fast if you know what I mean.

"Great Championship players aren't necessarily going to give you good Premier League teams really, Palace need some Premier Peague players amongst that. It's the quality, if there is a mistake and a chance created it usually results in a goal whereas in the Championship you have chances to redeem yourself but that's the reality of top flight football I suppose. I really hope they stay up but if not they can hopefully come straight back up."

After making the move down south from Carlisle in 1998 Jansen settled quickly at Selhurst, and puts that down to the confidence of having made a big move.

"I enjoyed it, I thought it was alright, I found it ok," he added. "I think six or seven games I played in the Premier League at the back end and I scored three goals but I was probably just high on adrenaline, flying high with confidence and adrenaline. I had just made a big move and I was just enjoying it and if you enjoy your football the best should come out of you, and I was.

"Unfortunately we did get relegated, we had a good side and nobody knew what was going to happen six months later. Palace is a club with not masses of finances, that's the problem they've had historically. It was going to work with Goldberg but then he threw too much money too soon and was buying just named rather than players that would do the job for him."

Despite a short stint, Jansen has fond memories of Palace and the Selhurst faithful.

"It was a great ground to play at. It was the fans, they get behind the team, they're proper supporters, they're not fickle. They try and get behind the players."

Read much more from Matt Jansen in issue 38 of FYP - out on January 1, 2014!


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.


The Big FYP Interview: Vince Hilaire on Brighton, Zaha & Palace's playoff chances

Written by Jim Daly

In the build-up to the big one against Brighton on Friday, FYP caught up with for Eagles legend Vince Hilaire, scorer of two against the Seagulls in a 3-1 win in the late 70s. He talks Zaha, Bolasie and playoff predictions...

He helped Palace demolish Brighton in the 70s and dazzled fans on the wing, and now Vince Hilaire is backing the Eagles to beat their rivals in the playoffs.

Ian Holloway's men face the Seagulls on Friday night in the semi-final first leg at Selhurst and despite going down 3-0 at the Amex two months ago, Vince is convinced Palace should be confident.

"Palace losing to Brighton 3-0 in March to me is no big deal because those things happen," he told FYP. "The playoffs, particularly in the Championship, are absolutely weird. Anything can happen.

"It wouldn't surprise me if the second leg goes to extra time or penalties because I think they are very evenly matched. When Brighton won 3-0 in March they were hitting form and Palace were at the bottom of their slump. It was bad timing.

"Also I think Palace just shade it when it comes to match winners. Brighton are probably a lot more steady which is unusual with someone like Poyet in charge but I'd rather have those players like Bolasie, Murray and Zaha that can make a difference in an evenly matched game than having average ones. 

"It's all about keeping it tight at the back and I hope Holloway starts with Bolasie because I am a fan of his. Brighton will be favourites so there isn't going to be the over confidence there might have been before.

"Palace showed great character in the Peterborough game after a dip in form, which will help. Hopefully it looks like they've got themselves back together again, every team has a run of bad form, they've had that and can kick on again now.

"If they hadn't won it would have been going into the game on the back of another draw so it's good to get confidence going."

And Vince puts Palace's downturn in form in part down to Wilfried Zaha's transfer to Manchester United in January.

He added: "As far as I'm concerned the downward turn was really after the Wilfried Zaha deal [to Manchester United]. I love Crystal Palace, and I'm sure he does too, but with the best will in the world, if you have a move to United looming on the horizon, I don't care who you are, you cannot be 100% focused on the club that you're basically on loan to.

"Especially when you are young, you can't help but think about what the future holds. You can't do it, you wouldn't be human!

"He was always going to go, and I think Palace should have had contingency plans for another couple of players in the pipeline. Take nothing away from Wilf, I think he will be great at Manchester United but I would have had a contingency plan and get someone who may not have been as good but would have been 100% focused and trying to impress the Palace fans.

"It looks like Wilf has got his mind back on it again though, maybe because it's the playoffs and it will hopefully be three big games and I think you will see the best of why United have bought Zaha. 

"With gifted players you have to take the rough with the smooth and hope they have more good days than bad days. What brought Zaha to the attention of the bigger clubs was that he was doing it week in week out, which is unusual for a wide player as skilful as he is."

But it's another Palace winger that Hilaire is backing to be a game changer in the two playoff semi-finals, despite an inconsistent run of late.

"Bolasie had a great start to the season but has proved my point about wide players, you've just got to hope you have more good days than bad days," said Vince. "With wide players you could be the best in the world - you could have Gareth Bale playing for Palace - but if your team hasn't got the ball you aren't going to notice him. 

"What I noticed when I was playing was if your team was playing badly and you'd get the ball nine times out of 10 moves and lose it three or four times, the fans would still be behind you because the other four or fives times you'd do something amazing. It would be a case of you've not been in the game for 10 minutes so as soon as you get the ball you've got to do something amazing.

"Therefore your heart rules your mind and you might take on one player too many you might try a shot from an outrageous angle because the team is not playing well and you think you've got to step up to the plate.

"But players are the best judges of players, you don't get three in the PFA Team of the Year if they can't play and football will always be a team game, no matter how good you are as an individual, and if a few of you are off the boil the team suffers. And I think Bolasie has suffered as a result of the team's poor form."

Back in the late 70s it was Hilaire who ran Brighton rugged, scoring twice at Selhurst in a 3-1 win, just as the rivalry was hotting up, and he believes it will add spice to what is already going to be two close games.

He said: "The rivalry certainly had an effect on the players when I was playing. When I was at clubs in the north people couldn't get their heads around the rivalry because geographically it doesn't look like one. 

"I was around really when it first reared its head, and it was entirely down to two ex-managers; Terry Venables and Alan Mullery. I listened to an interview with Mullery the other week and he said it was down to Venables and Macon Allison - he failed to mention himself! He was as much the instigator!

"We're talking about the game like fans and it's the team with the most players that understand that will win. I'm looking round at Palace and there's Speroni who's played in a few but otherwise how many are there who know what it means? I look at Brighton's team and they've got even less!

"Brighton will be favourites but I just got a sneaking feeling Zaha will prove why Manchester United signed him. And Murray, its sods law he will get back to scoring ways against his old team. 

"I like him, he leads the play well. He isn't someone who will beat five players but he will score goals. He relies on good service, and that's why you need those players who supply that service, Zaha and Bolasie, on form. And the great thing about Ian Holloway, he has been there and done it when it comes to the playoffs. 

"The one thing I love about about the playoffs even if you don't win at home in the first leg, you've always got a chance, so I wouldn't despair. Anything can happen and Palace are good on the break and will definitely score in both legs. Holloway has been there and done it, Poyet is a good manager but hasn't been in this position before."