Soccer-Sitting at the top table with Argentine Speroni

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By Rex Gowar LONDON, Dec 18 (Reuters) - From regular Premier League football to being turned away from his own restaurant which is doing so well at weekends there are no free tables, life is good for Julian Speroni. There are regrets for the Crystal Palace goalkeeper like being overlooked by Argentina's national team but they are outweighed by the benefits of his loyalty to his club in a career in Britain now in its 14th year. Speroni is not with an elite club and had to be patient to get where he is at 35 -- first for his chance to hold down his place in goal at the south London club, then a seven-year wait for promotion to the top flight. "Maybe the opportunity to be in one of the best leagues in the world came a little later than I thought and would have liked but it came and now I'm enjoying it," Speroni told Reuters in an interview. "Obviously, you want these chances to come as early as possible to have even more time to get to play in the best tournaments in the world, the Champions League, a World Cup, a Copa America, that's a dream that at 35 you see fading." He is a long way from thinking about retirement, though, and involvement in a restaurant named Speroni's in Purley, halfway between Palace's Selhurst Park ground and his home in Westerham in Surrey, has broadened his horizons. SCOTTISH START Speroni was 21 with just two first-team matches for modest Buenos Aires outfit Platense under his belt when he joined Dundee in 2001. He and his wife Marina adapted to a new culture and language with the help of other Argentines at the Scottish club. "I never saw going there as an impediment, like to say I won't go because I don't understand the language, because it's cold or because it rains," he said. "At that moment (the move) was to carry on with a dream to reach as high as possible. "In 2004, when we came to England when Crystal Palace bought me, we already felt almost at home and nearly 14 years have already passed since we left Argentina and I can tell you now we feel England is our home." He waited two years at Palace for a regular first-team place before playing a big part in the long fight back into the Premier League when he was widely regarded as the best goalkeeper in the second tier. "The three occasions when I had to renew my contract with Crystal Palace I found no reason to leave, I was comfortable enjoying what I did, playing at a very high standard," he said. SPERONI'S RESTAURANT There was uncertainly about his future when the club went into administration in 2010 but Palace survived and Speroni's ties became stronger. Palace decided to name to their restaurant at the ground after him, the request coming in an email from the club secretary when he was on holiday in his native Buenos Aires. "I replied saying 'are you sure this email is for me?' and she told me yes, in your honour they want to call the restaurant Speroni," he said at the club's training ground eatery after a practice. "Of course, I said. It would be an honour for me," said Speroni, voted the Palace supporters' player of the year a record four times. His restaurant specialises in Italian and Spanish cuisine with an Argentine touch. "I enjoy it, it's fun, a challenge, you have to make decisions, sometimes difficult ones," he said. "I try to go at least once a week, I like to chat with the people who go to eat there. "I have even gone on a Saturday and found there were no tables available." Speroni does not entirely rule out a move away from England but that would need careful consideration with two British-born children, a six-year-old son who has started school and a daughter born last month. "You never know with football what might happen next year my contract ends and (if) an opportunity comes up to go and play in the United States or who knows where and it's good I might have to take it." (Editing by Ed Osmond)