Fleming set for testimonial match
CHRIS LAKEY Craig Fleming steps out at for what is certain to be a highly-emotional evening at Carrow Road tonight - for a moment he never dreamed would come true.
Craig Fleming steps out at for what is certain to be a highly-emotional evening at Carrow Road tonight - for a moment he never dreamed would come true.
The Halifax-born Fleming is sometimes disarmingly honest, so it was no real surprise when he admitted he never envisaged spending 10 years of his career at Norwich City.
Partly responsible for the fact that he is now part of the furniture was Joe Royle, an ex-Canary who had been one of his managers at Oldham, who, a decade ago, were offered £600,000 to allow Fleming to move to Norfolk.
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“I spoke to Royley before I signed just to check out the club and see what he thought of it because obviously he'd had me at Oldham and he'd played here as well, and he was the first one who said, 'if you sign you'll end up staying there and living there', recalled Fleming.
“I thought 'no chance', but he's proved to be right, which when you look around the place, how many ex-players have stayed here - for players with young families you can't beat the place to be honest with you.
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“First and foremost it's a good football club, in my opinion - and I may be a little bit biased, but I think you won't find a better football club in the whole league, outside the Premiership and probably the bottom half of the Premiership as well. It's the facilities, the fans, the ground, the training ground, how we're looked after. Then you look at the area and stuff and bringing kids up in this is perfect, that's why most young families settle here quite easily.”
So what about the highs and lows?
“The highs - the promotion year and playing every game in it that was the one, but there have been a few to be fair,” he said. “The Millennium Stadium game, the build-up was fantastic - the two Wolves games and the game itself was an amazing occasion. Bits of the Premiership, obviously the Manchester United game at home was a highlight.
“I think on average I'm just short of 40 games a season so I've been quite fortunate really, I've broken a couple of cheekbones and noses and stuff like that, a few stitches, but touch wood I've been quite lucky.
“Unhappy times - it's difficult when a team is struggling, there's always flak flying around so the year after the play-off final wasn't a particularly happy one, and last year wasn't a particularly nice one to play in, but all in all it's been great times.”
They continue tonight when, with family and friends and wife Nicola watching, he walks out on to the Carrow Road pitch with children Katie and William.
“I am looking forward to it a lot, it should be a great occasion, not just for me but also family and friends,” he said. “I'm not one for tears normally but it will be an emotional night for sure.”
But come 7.45pm when the whistle blows, Fleming was get down to business, just as he has done for the last 10 years.
“It's not the kind of testimonial game where you are going to get old players coming out and me playing left wing and scoring a penalty and stuff. It's going to be a proper pre-season friendly for both sides,” he insists.
What lies ahead is unknown, for Fleming the player and Norwich the team.
As for the team, Fleming says: “We have certainly got to improve on last year that's for sure, to do that we have got to get more consistency, win more away games, and if we do that then it's the play-offs or above.
“The year we won and the year we went into the play-offs, we were a hard team to play against, a real difficult, gritty side to play against, which is what you need to be successful in this league. Last year I think at times we were easy to play against.”
It's typically forthright, Fleming, as he is when discussing his own role.
“Obvious I am not kidding myself, I'm 34 knocking on 35 so time is running away, but I still feel quite fit and still feel I can play at this level for a while. Whether it's here or somewhere else I don't know, but I'm not ready to hang up my boots.”
FLEMING FACT FILE
t Born: Halifax, October 6, 1971.
t Age: 34
t Married with two children
t Halifax: trainee; March 21, 1990 to August 15, 1991; 66 starts, 3 sub appearances, 0 goals
t Oldham: transfer fee £80,000; August 15, 1991 to August 1, 1997; 185 starts, 7 sub appearances, 1 goal
t Norwich City: transfer fee £600,000; August 1, 1997 - present; 357 starts, 13 sub appearances, 12 goals
t Total: 608 starts, 23 sub appearances, 13 goals
t 2003-04: Norwich City Player of the Season