Craig Bellamy – the young star Norwich City knew they had to keep
- Credit: Archant
Breaking rules – and the occasion arm – was all par for the course of Craig Bellamy's upbringing at Norwich, as Michael Bailey found from his autobiography…
For Norwich City fans of a certain era, Craig Bellamy made a real impact. An impact relative to his abundant talent – and disproportionate to his stay.
It was a desperate time at City, overshadowed by glories from an all too recent past and subsequent spectacular fall from grace.
And the perfect time for a skinny Welsh kid in a kit he admits was too big for him, to raise a few Canaries smiles. Bellamy has racked up the clubs over his career, but there was nothing like his experience coming through the ranks – and almost repeatedly being put in his place – at Carrow Road.
Indeed Bellamy's autobiography GoodFella, released this week, leaves you feeling City knew they had a proper player on their hands from the start – and flexed the rules to keep him onside.
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'Once I got involved in a fight outside the Norwich training ground with a triallist,' recalled Bellamy. 'It didn't go too well for that kid. He was a goalkeeper and I broke his arm. I felt embarrassed about it afterwards and Norwich warned me that if anything like that happened again, I was gone.'
What comes to the fore is an angst-ridden youngster too far away from his family and friends in Cardiff, with infrequent trips home making it worse.
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'Things were difficult for a long time because of how I felt,' he added. 'The thing is, part of me wanted to be sacked. I was looking for every excuse…but Norwich knew what I was up to and they didn't half bend the rules for me.
'I was pushing certain things. I walked off the training pitch once. Then I refused to come back out for running. But the people at Norwich were absolutely fantastic. I will always be grateful that they persevered with me.'
His rebellious side even stretched to negotiating over his first professional contract – the one a player is supposed to unquestioningly accept.
In truth, it didn't take long for Bellamy to switch from starlet to starter – with the help of a few familiar Canaries names. Like youth coach Kit Carson: 'He was a big influence on me. He just stood there never saying a word. I was brought up to pass the football.'
And youth team boss Keith Webb: 'He was strict. He was actually a brilliant coach and he was a great help to me in my second year.'
Peter Grant took Bellamy under his wing in Mike Walker's Division One midfield – but it was Bruce Rioch's arrival that ultimately helped Bellamy figure out his path forward.
'It had been hard for Walker,' said Bellamy. 'Players like me were thrown in at the deep end. I benefited from that but he probably didn't…I'll always be grateful to him for giving me my league debut but did I learn anything from him? Not really.'
Bellamy added: 'I liked Rioch. He knew the game. He asked me where I wanted to play and I said up front. I scored seven goals in the first eight league games and never played central midfield again.'
Bellamy went on to break City's derby win draught at Portman Road and open his scoring account for Wales. He was still only 19, and one of the hottest properties outside the Premier League. Injury ravaged the rest of Bellamy's time at Carrow Road – and no sooner was he fit than he was being sold; the money offered too great for City to refuse.
All Bellamy wanted was his destination to be Newcastle. He was told of their interest, while Norwich acknowledged a £3.5m bid from Wimbledon didn't suit anyone.
Then came a £6m bid from Coventry, the token offer of a new contract from City and Bellamy's desperation for Magpies boss Bobby Robson to come through for him: 'Bryan Hamilton (the City boss) said it was too much money for them to turn down,' said Bellamy. 'They were making me look like the bad guy. I told him I didn't want to go to Coventry. I was almost pleading by then. I asked him if we could wait to see if the Newcastle bid materialised.'
So Bellamy waited – while his move to Gordon Strachan's Coventry continued, with the odd surprise of its own.
'It was all in motion already. I felt like I was being rail-roaded into something. Then things got messy. As I was meeting Strachan (at Dunston Hall), Jon (Bellamy's financial adviser) walked in with John Fashanu. I was open-mouthed. I'd never met him before. I had no idea what he was doing suddenly presenting himself at the negotiations for my transfer.
'Credit to Coventry. They were persuasive. I also felt undermined by the mess with Fashanu. I wanted to save face with Strachan. I was stressed. I was in a state. So I did what everyone told me not to do. I told Stachan I'd sign.'
The following day, Bellamy headed to Coventry to do the deed – only to be called by Robson again. Newcastle's bid was on its way. That conversation made me feel even worse,' recalled Bellamy. 'When I parked at Highfield Road I stood around for a while. I didn't want to go through the doors because I knew there would be no way back.'
Half an hour passed. No call came. So Bellamy signed on at Coventry, met the players, visited the training ground and went to his hotel – his time at Carrow Road at an end.
'When I got to my room, I switched my phone back on. There was a message…it was from Bobby Robson.
''Hello son,' he said. 'Good news. Our bid's in'.'
• Craig Bellamy GoodFella, Trinity Mirror Sport Media £18.99. Hardback and ebook available. Craig Bellamy is donating all his proceeds to the Craig Bellamy Foundation.