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Fan Zhiyi recalls referee altercation and why he cried leaving Palace

20 February 2020

Fan Zhiyi describes his career at Crystal Palace as having "lots of good memories," but for the former China international and club cult hero, two times stand out as low points.

One of these came in what Fan recalls as the almost-comical moment he received his first career red card.

"Sometimes for me, I’m not professional," he told Palace TV. "That’s my wrong."

Palace were facing West Bromwich Albion in an eventual 3-2 defeat at the end of 1998. In an incident he would later receive a one-game ban and £750 fine for, Fan appeared to push referee Terry Heilbron as the pair crossed paths towards the end of the match.

But, the defender says, he wasn't being aggressive to the well-respected official.

"Sometimes you must follow the game, follow the referee, follow English football," Fan says with a smile. "I don’t want to punch him, I just want to touch him, it’s wrong. I went close to him, I just touched his shoulder. So that was the first time I got a red card."

Fan would go on to captain the Eagles and win the 2001 Player of the Year award. He played through administration and turned down moves to both Newcastle United and Liverpool to stay in south London.

"You can cut my salary," he says. "I just want to play for the fans. 

"I want to stay, I want to finish the season, finish my football and go back to China."

So when the club decided to accept an offer from Dundee for the in-demand international, Fan met an unhappy departure.

He reflects: "[Former Chairman, Simon Jordan,] said: ‘Fan, we can’t keep you at Palace.’ 

"I talk to my family, I talk to my friends. It’s a difficult option, I didn’t want to go to Dundee. My kids were born in England, they kept their British passports. I started a new life, new football. Everything started at Palace. I just wanted to finish at Palace.

"I saw a lot of fans just standing there with small bits of paper saying: ‘Fan, don’t go. Don’t go.’ I cried. It's the difference."

You can watch more from Fan as he chats with Palace TV in their Cult Hero series. He covers moving to England, playing for China and much more.

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