So... whatever happened to my Norwich City heroes?

The legend that is Robert Fleck. Picture: Archant

The legend that is Robert Fleck. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

When your favourite player leaves, it hurts, but not for long. It was much more painful back in the day, when players stayed around a lot longer, says Steve Downes in a special feature written for the latest Pink Un Magazine...

Mr Unique. Mr Bryan Gunn. Picture: Action Images

Mr Unique. Mr Bryan Gunn. Picture: Action Images - Credit: Action Images

Whatever happened to all the heroes? All the (Craig) Shakespearoes...

I'll spare you the Stranglers impression as it's a serious question.

When I was in my most diehard days, I had a pantheon of potential Norwich City heroes to choose from: Bryan Gunn, Mark Bowen, Ian Crook, Ruel Fox, Robert Fleck, and so on. They earned my adulation because they were brilliant. But, just as importantly, they stuck around for a long while.

They were about for long enough for us to develop that depth of adoration that can only come with longevity: the evolution from hero to legend.

'Disco' Dale Gordon. Picture: Archant

'Disco' Dale Gordon. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

I felt that I knew Gunn, Bowen and Fleck, who were my top three. I knew their playing styles and their personalities. And they seemed to love the club as much as I did - none of the shallow badge-kissing of today's generation of here-today, gone-tomorrow stars. I like to think of it in relationship terms (yes, this is in danger of getting a bit weird).

Today's heroes, like Pritchard, Pinto, Maddison and Oliveira, are passionate affairs that end too quickly.

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When they leave - or have left - the separation hurts, but only briefly: the relationship was shallow. And there'll soon be someone else.

Fans' relationship with Fleck, Bowen et al was deep, built on years of shared experience. When they left, it hurt, and the hurt endured. It's symptomatic of the society in which we live. But more of that later.

Brilliant City full-back Mark Bowen. Picture: Archant

Brilliant City full-back Mark Bowen. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

First, here's some evidence to back up my contention that the true heroes are disappearing from football.

At the beginning of the 1990-91 season, Norwich City could have fielded a starting X1 who eventually made 3,422 appearances between them for the Canaries:

Bryan Gunn (477 appearances)

Mark Bowen (399)

Ian Crook, midfield maestro. Picture: Archant

Ian Crook, midfield maestro. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

Ian Butterworth (293)

John Polston (263)

Ian Culverhouse (369)

Dale Gordon (261)

The new Pink Un magazine is out NOW!

The new Pink Un magazine is out NOW! - Credit: Archant

Ian Crook (418)

Jeremy Goss (238)

David Phillips (186)

Ruel Fox (219)

Robert Fleck (299)

Sorry, I need to pause for a moment - I'm welling up... what a team. What. A. Team.

The names stir so many memories of great goals, wonderful matches and tremendous performances.

By contrast – and this is a random pick from this season's fixtures – the City starting X1 against Sheffield United on January 20 had a total of 609 Norwich appearances between them:

Angus Gunn - 33

Grant Hanley - 18

Christoph Zimmermann - 32

Timm Klose - 69

Ivo Pinto - 79

Alex Tettey - 165

Harrison Reed - 26

Jamal Lewis - 7

James Maddison - 35

Nelson Oliveira - 55

Josh Murphy - 90

It's worth bearing in mind that the current rules on substitutes skew the figures.

Murphy's numbers include 49 appearances from the bench, Oliveira's 19.

Current players have seven chances of being a substitute and three opportunities to be used. The 1990 vintage played part of their careers in the days of one sub, then from 1987 the rules allowed two.

The Sheffield United 609 is, therefore, inflated. And the gulf between 1990 and now is widened.

It's just as well that the shirt designs change so often - it gives fans a chance to put a new name on their back as their heroes wear out the hinges on the Carrow Road exit.

So, what are the chances of Jamal Lewis emulating Mark Bowen and reaching 399 Norwich City appearances?

No, one or half of one good season will be enough to see him off to the Premier League.

Likewise James Maddison. If he makes it to 100 City appearances, I'll wear Ipswich Town underpants outside my trousers and sashay up and down Gentleman's Walk.

The classic example is Jacob Murphy. He performed in fits and starts for Norwich for less than one full season, but it was enough for Newcastle to splurge £12.5m to take him away.

Had Murphy been a rising star in the late 1980s, I fancy it'd have been very different. Ruel Fox and Dale Gordon came through the youth ranks like Murphy, but we saw them for a total of almost 500 matches before they moved on.

The pay gap was much smaller back then, there wasn't really the concept of a Big Four or Big Five clubs, and there wasn't the constant scrutiny and analysis that has come with Sky Sports.

Players were happy to stay where their families were settled.

Because we don't get to know them and really admire them, we have far less patience with today's players.

Wes Hoolahan might get a groan when he loses the ball, but it's quickly forgotten because of our memories of his great moments.

In the space of a year, Norwich's squad and back room staff have been almost totally replaced.

It doesn't give us fans much to connect with. And that means danger - for it could create supporters who imitate players by passing through.

Society is all about short attention span. Social media, gaming and fast-edit TV are accompanied by reality TV 'stars' who soar and burn out in the blink of an eye.

Norwich City could end up like Liverpool Street Station, with everybody passing through on the way to somewhere else.

Why would young fans bother to hang about? The big clubs have superstars who stick around, so why not follow them?

This feature and many more is in the latest edition of the Pink Un Magazine, out now, priced at £3.99.