Duncan Edwards pays tribute to the GOAT, while he touches on some of the man's darker moments in a yellow shirt.
Darren Huckerby was gone. Turfed out by the rat-faced git that missed not only his own, but everybody else’s tenure as England manager. A mercurial talent that “got bums off seats” - we always stand in the Barclay so it could be argued that Jason Jarrett, Simon Whaley and Raymond De Waard managed that too - had been unceremoniously dumped without as much as a “cheers pal” from a doting Carrow Road crowd.
It was hurtful to a fan base that worshipped him, it was hurtful to their club, it was a massive fuck you from the bloke entrusted with making us as good as we could be.
He didn’t. An egotistical approach left us feeling distanced; the girl you’d always loved had dumped you for the cocky prick in the office that nobody liked.
It was a deeply unpleasant and unsatisfactory time.
Hucks was irreplaceable. Like Grant Holt later. There isn’t a shelf in Asda labelled talisman.
Yet we had to replace him and the guy that Glenn got was Wes Hoolahan.
Whoolahan might have been more appropriate. Out went the flying machine, the go-to-guy, the bloke who could pick the ball up at halfway and leave defenders looking like push bikes against a Ducati and in came Wes.
I knew, shamefully, little about him other than he wasn’t a ridiculously coiffeured ex-Man City player. And then we watched him. Small, like Eadie, but slow, like Mackay. Woefully one footed and choosing the wrong way more often than a crap sat-nav. Christ. What have we got here?
But there was always this underlying talent. A Potteresque ability to ghost past an opponent. Just the one foot but it was coated in loctite.
Of course, Roeder departed, Gunny came in, relegation looked more and more likely and even a stopper as good as Bryan couldn’t stop that.
We know what happened from there. We signed that Grant Holt, the holy trinity of Wes, Holt and Martin carried all before them and we started on a remarkable upward trajectory that we’re unlikely to experience again.
But that’s rather underplaying the drama and uncertainty that enveloped Wes. Part of a team that surrendered in shambolic fashion against Colchester, a team that saw a club legend jettisoned from his post and that was the catalyst for the hostile kidnap of the manager that orchestrated our most humiliating day.
Even with the yellowest of tints on our spectacles of hindsight, we can’t pretend that it was plain sailing from there. Grant Holt looked about as mobile as a London monument and while he’d reach the height and legendary Norfolk status of Nelson upon his column, it wasn’t apparent that day. Likewise with Wes. Banished to train with the kids and the Doc, Lambert said he’d find it hard to get a game in his team. We can’t ignore that. Essentially he was deemed surplus to requirements by our greatest manager of the last 25 years.
That Wes finds himself here, with 350 appearances, a Barry Butler trophy and the unwavering respect of a club, it’s fans, every manager he’s performed under and every player he has played with, is testament to not just his ability but also his resolve.
Lambert, who got so much right, soon realised he had this all wrong. Both Wes and the Doc became integral parts of a championship winning season. A shift into “the hole” saw Wes become chief conductor, skilfully maximising the effectiveness of the instruments that surrounded him. Gone was the cacophony of Colchester, instead we were treated to a sustained symphonic surge to the title.
It was the year that enamoured us to his incredible ability. The deftness of touch, the defenders dizzied by his quick feet and sharp turns, the goals, the unassuming nonchalance.
For me, it started a love affair that has continued to this day. For a decade managers have come and gone, they’ve decided Wes was a luxury, we’d be more balanced without him but in the end every single one of them has acknowledged that, actually, we pretty much always look a better side with him in it.
You could still argue that point now. As recently as January a fleeting cameo at Stamford Bridge proved that he is still willing to, and can, mix it with the very best.
As his age ticks round towards three dozen it’s hard to reason that another contract could be justified, especially given that Daniel Farke has used him so sparingly. Yet the sentimental sod in me does wonder whether his mere presence around the place, the inspiration he could provide and the wisdom he could pass on might just make the financial impact worth it.
Thankfully, the club employ people who haven’t witnessed the full decade and experienced the joy and bewilderment that he’s provided. Often, Wes was worth the admission fee all on his own. Not bums off seats like the man he replaced but jaws on floors as another sublime touch, a dropped shoulder and a feint saw him escape another cul-de-sac of cloggers.
Since the announcement I expect lots of us have considered whether Wes would make our all-time Canary XI. It’s difficult. I tried to include him but found that I was sacrificing some protection for Ian Crook...on paper that looked like a mistake but I’d wager that, like every other manager, I’d soon realise that my team was far better with a Wes than without him.
I’ll miss him terribly.
As a footnote, there are so many “peak Wes” moments to look back on but he was phenomenal at Wembley, the biggest stage of them all, it will always be my favourite memory and possibly my favourite footballing day. Thanks, Wes.