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      Gábor Király on his Palace ‘family’ and Burnley ‘challenge’


      It is a challenge in football, given the game's heightened emotions, to name a player almost universally loved by every fanbase they have represented – but former goalkeeper Gábor Király would be a candidate.

      The Hungarian goalkeeper swiftly became something of a cult hero at Crystal Palace after signing from Hertha Berlin in 2004, going on to make 111 appearances for the Eagles over three seasons.

      Having initially jostled for a starting spot in 2004 with fellow new signing Julián Speroni – himself a Palace legend in the making – Király went on to make 32 appearances in the club's 2004/05 Premier League campaign, and 43 in the Championship the following year.

      His reputation for an already well-enough documented garment of clothing aside, he kept 33 clean sheets for Palace, while also accumulating international caps towards a remarkable final total of 108 – including four at Euro 2016, aged 40.

      When the time came to depart Palace in 2007, however, Király opted for an altogether new experience – the chance to join Burnley at a special moment in their history – where he spent a further two seasons.

      Palace’s clash with Burnley at Turf Moor, therefore, is sure to have at least one extra viewer from Hungary come Saturday afternoon.

      “I'm still always looking out for my ex-clubs. I follow, at a minimum, the results and how they’re playing,” Király – who nowadays serves as President of K1RALYSPORT, an organisation he had founded in his early playing days, before he had even experienced London – admits.

      “I know that Palace are currently in the middle of the table, and Burnley is second-bottom. I watched Palace’s last game against Tottenham.

      “I’m very happy about Roy Hodgson, because he’s amazing. He’s done a great job… and [Sam] Johnstone, the goalkeeper, I like him. He has a lot of energy and power!”

      That is some appraisal from a goalkeeper of Király’s varied experience and quality, particularly one who continues to hold the club so dear to his heart.

      “Palace was my first club in England,” he explains. “Some friends of mine were at the Tottenham game last week, and they told me their first thought was: ‘This club is like a family.’

      “It was their first time watching Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, and they said the truth – exactly what I first thought in 2004: Crystal Palace is a family club.

      “It’s a very big club to me. It was my first English club, and I learned a lot about the Premier League, England, the English people…

      "Even today, I keep in touch with Dougie Freedman, Andy Johnson, Julian Speroni and Jobi McAnuff – a lot of players and ex-players. For our future, it’s very good, because we are in the Crystal Palace family.

      “Of course, the best moments for me were in the Premier League because we played in the top league – but I learned [after relegation] that it doesn't matter which league you play, just that you play for Crystal Palace.

      “This was amazing for me. Every single year or game was important to me because I took a lot of experience away from the games, from the country, from the club, from everywhere.”

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      You have to learn the culture, you have to learn the language, the English people – and how they think...

      Gábor Király

      It speaks to Király’s studiousness that he reflects not just upon his football, but the impact of his times at various clubs on his life, his family and his own remarkable story.

      He observed: “For me and my family, coming to England was a good challenge.

      "We came from Hungary to Germany and from Germany to England, and we had to learn the English language. My kids moved to an English school as well, and that's why for my family, it was an important move.

      “You have to learn the culture, you have to learn the language, the English people – and how they think – and it was very good for me.

      “Then, in 2007, my contract was finished at Crystal Palace and Burnley were turning 125 years-old. There was a big celebration there and the big challenge was to get back into the Premier League. It was a good step for me to have that big challenge, you know.”

      While he spent the latter half of his second season on loan at Bayer Leverkusen, Király and Burnley achieved promotion in 2008/09, with the ‘keeper retaining fond memories of his time at Turf Moor.

      He smiled: “It was a good move for me, so I could learn little bit more about England, about English football, about the different clubs…. and it was good to play a lot of games.

      “In the Championship, sometimes you didn’t know who the opposition team was because you played on Tuesday, Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday!

      “I learned about the pressure at different teams and about different cultures – London has a different culture to Burnley! It was great altogether to learn the tradition of both teams.

      “In my career, I always looked for a challenge – and that’s why I enjoyed playing at Burnley, Fulham and Aston Villa too, because every single club was different and I wanted every experience for my career.”

      Király returned to Germany in 2009 with 1860 Munich, but had one final spell in England with Fulham in 2014/15 before seeing out his career with Haladás in his native country, eventually retiring in 2019.

      “Crystal Palace was my first club in England and it’s the most impressed upon my spirit,” Király said. "Everybody I talk to about my first time in English football hears about Crystal Palace!”

      How does Király expect Saturday’s game to pan out? “At Turf Moor, it’s always difficult to play.

      "I played once for Burnley against Crystal Palace [in September 2007] – it was 1-1 and was very difficult for both teams because both teams like to work hard, you know.

      “Today, in the Premier League, Burnley need the points, especially at home, and I think they will feel a lot of pressure. Crystal Palace have been in the Premier League a long time and they have more experience on how you have to play in this competition.

      “It's difficult [to predict a winner]. I think Crystal Palace is now in the middle of the table and they have less pressure, so they can maybe play a little bit freer, but Burnley has to win this game because they have only just four points and if you want to stay in the Premier League, you have to win a lot of points….

      "But maybe Palace will win!”

      Nowadays, Király is plenty occupied by K1RALYSPORT – but looks forward to the day he can next return to the scene of so many south London triumphs.

      “There’s a lot to do with the daily work with my sports club,” he smiles. “I started to build it 20 years ago because I knew, after football, I’d want to stay in football or close to football.

      “Now, we have our own ground, hotel, rehabilitation centre, conference rooms… so it’s not just a sports club, it’s a sports complex!

      “Now, we have 250 kids training with us, plus 150 kids from nursery, and we work with them from ages five to six until they’re playing for adult teams. As President, I organise the club, everything about the strategy and structure…

      “With my experience from Germany and England, I wanted to put it into my own club to make something a little bit different to Hungarian clubs.

      “I was last in London maybe two years ago. On Hungarian TV, we can watch the Premier League as well, and that's why I'm watching almost every weekend.. but I want to come back to Crystal Palace soon because when I do come back, I’ll come back home.

      “I’d feel like I was home because my family is there. My family lived in London and we liked London – and Crystal Palace always stays in my heart.”