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Chris Goreham: Norwich City fans showed there is room for sentiment in football

PUBLISHED: 18:00 30 April 2018

Wes Hoolahan says goodbye to the Carrow Road faithful alongside his two children. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

Wes Hoolahan says goodbye to the Carrow Road faithful alongside his two children. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

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Norwich City’s main issue this season has been scoring goals and yet here we are applauding the fact that a bloke who scored one and made one in a hard fought home win definitely won’t be in the side next week.

People like to tell you that there’s no room for sentiment in football but anyone who was at Carrow Road to witness Wes Hoolahan’s fond farewell knows that the opposite is true.

Managers, sporting directors and club owners may be best advised to ensure that heart doesn’t rule head but, for fans who don’t have to worry about carrying the responsibility for results, tactics or the financial bottom line, sentimentality is what it’s all about.

Hoolahan was a crowd favourite at Carrow Road for a decade because he played the game in a way that suggested he understood the argument that footballers are entertainers.

The sense that something was about to happen whenever he collected the ball in the opposition half lasted right up until his final kick at the Barclay end in a Norwich City shirt.

It’s quite a skill to be able to place the ball perfectly so that it goes into the goal after hitting a defender and both posts but it felt like 10 years hard graft had been building up to that party piece against Leeds United.

He could play for City for another decade and I doubt he’d be able to do that again but this was his day.

Not many players stay at the same club long enough to get anywhere near a testimonial in the modern game.

What makes Wes Hoolahan’s Norwich City odyssey all the more remarkable is that it’s even rarer for key attacking players to stay with the Canaries for such a long time.

Without wishing to do down or under estimate the importance of a reliable goalkeeper and a solid defence, it is the forwards who usually attract the headlines, the attention and the too-good-to-turn-down transfer bids.

Hoolahan’s 352nd game for the Canaries at the weekend put him level in 16th place with Daryl Sutch in the club’s list of all-time appearances.

It’s worth noting that not one of the 15 players to have turned out for City more often than the Ireland international is a modern day attacker. Terry Allcock is the one striker above Wes in that list and he stopped playing for the club in 1969.

What usually happens when Norwich City come across a player with the rare ability to get fans off their seats is they get snapped up by a bigger club.

Be it Darren Eadie, Craig Bellamy or, dare I say it, James Maddison, they outgrow Carrow Road all too quickly.

There’s the odd example of a Darren Huckerby or Iwan Roberts who both joined the Canaries having been firmly established as trusty attackers at other clubs but neither had a full 10 years left in the tank when they joined City.

That’s why Norwich City fans were right to get swept up in the emotion of it all at the weekend.

Players like Wes Hoolahan and days like Saturday must be savoured.

The trouble is, after that performance, I’d be tempted to see whether he fancies playing at Sheffield Wednesday on the final day of the season.

It would be a bit awkward though, after all those long goodbyes, a bit like when someone returns to work in the office and back to their old job a couple of months after their leaving do.

Is it ever ok to ask for that present back?

Some things never change

Some defeats are more memorable than others and there are times when that sinking feeling of losing a match is diluted by the fact that the opposition have chosen your side as the hapless stooges in a mesmerising masterclass.

It’s happened only a handful of times in my almost three decades of Canary commitment and most of them have been down to Luis Suarez but news of Arsene Wenger’s impeding departure from Arsenal has brought back memories of two other such occasions.

The first was a pre-season friendly in August 1997. Okay, so it doesn’t sound like the most promising setting for a seminal football lesson especially considering that Carrow Road contained fewer than 11,000 people that night. Wenger was about to embark on his first full season in charge of the Gunners and had set about building his first great Arsenal team that summer with new signings like Marc Overmars, who I had heard of, and French duo Gilles Grimandi and Emmanuel Petit, who I definitely hadn’t. They blew Norwich away 6-2. Ian Wright scored a hat-trick, Grimandi got two and Dennis Bergkamp also popped up with a goal for good measure. It was 4-0 after 28 minutes and Arsenal went on to win the double the following season.

While the Wenger revolution took hold it would be a further seven years before the Canaries would get themselves in decent enough shape to actually be able to play the Gunners in a league fixture. What followed was something akin to what would happen if the Harlem Globetrotters ever got to have a go at flying a Red Arrows plane.

By August 2004 Arsenal had just come off their famous ‘Invincible’ season. That record breaking undefeated run would eventually last 49 matches and the 44th of those was a 4-1 win against Nigel Worthington’s newly promoted Norwich City. Bergkamp was again on target but only after Theirry Henry, Robert Pires and Jose Reyes had already put the game beyond doubt.

To put Arsene Wenger’s 22-year reign into further context, Norwich City played a match at Grimsby on October 1, 1996, the day he officially took over. The Canaries won 4-1 at Blundell Park with a side that featured two players, Bryan Gunn and Neil Adams, who have retired and had a go at managing Norwich during Wenger’s time at Arsenal.

One of them has even had time to raise the current City goalkeeper. That team also featured Robert Fleck, John Polston, Darren Eadie and Keith O’Neill.

It is a squad that looks good on paper so it’s surprising to find that it only finished 13th in the second tier that season.

Wenger will go down as one of the great revolutionaries but he leaves English football with Norwich City exactly where he found them, in the middle of the Championship. Some things never change.

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