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Riihilahti: Palace Years Best of My Life

29 May 2015

Former Eagles midfielder Aki Riihilahti has revealed that he still follows the club's progress closely, despite living back in his home country Finland, and called his time playing in SE25 "the most meaningful years of my life."

The 38-year-old is now CEO of his boyhood club HJK Helsinki, whom he started and ended his playing career with, as well as doing some coaching with their youth side. His commitments in his homeland have not stopped him following Palace religiously though, as he explained after Julian Speroni's Testimonial match on Tuesday.

"I probably watch every second game at least," he said. 

"I try to watch them all, but if my club (HJK) has a match I have to be there for work, but I watch highlights from every Palace game. I try to come two or three times a year as well. 

"I've taken my family here, I've taken my friends here, I even had my bachelor party here! My friends were like, 'what do you want to do?' And I said 'Let's go to Selhurst and watch a football game!' 

"It's my life, I think it's important. I've been blessed as well that the club I work for now is my childhood club and it's going great there, but I still love coming back to Palace and interacting with fans."

Riihilahti, who featured in the second half for the Eagles at the Testimonial, was delighted to pull on the famous red and blue shirt again and loved being back in front of the famous Selhurst faithful.

"The atmosphere here, the people here, it was the best reception you could ever get," he said afterwards. "It is heart warming to be loved by these kinds of people.

"It's Julian's day. He has been a loyal man for the club, so I was honoured to be involved and coming back to Selhurst, pulling on a Crystal Palace shirt, what could be better?

The Finn had plenty of kind words to say about Speroni, who was being honoured for 11 years of loyal service to the Eagles.

"Jules is a great man, a Palace hero," he said. "Even though it was Jules' day, it was really heart-warming for me to be back at Selhurst. This was a big part of my life, I was here for a long time and it felt like the most meaningful years of my life and it stays with me. So it's good to come back.

"I played in Julian's first games here and I was proud to see he stayed at the club through thick and thin. That's what nice, loyal people do. I think he's a big part of the history of this club."

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