Stephen Curnow returns with the latest in the 'A strange case of...' series, this time looking at one-time City record signing Paul Blades. Who? Exactly. It's 'Blade non-runner'.
Norwich City have a chequered history when it comes to record signings.
From Drazen Muzinic, subsequently derided as possibly being a milkman rather than a footballer, to Ricky van Wolfswinkel, who cost us £8.5 million per goal.
However, if you look through the chronology more carefully, between Robert Fleck and Darren Beckford you will find Paul Blades, signed from Derby County in 1990 for a then-record fee of £700,000.
Fleck became a bona-fide club legend, Beckford’s successes were a bit more sporadic, but as promising young goal-getters, both fitted the bill for the sort of player that supporters like to see their club spend the big bucks on. But spunking the family silver on a rather prosaic Derby County right back such as Blades never really set the pulses racing.
Norwich didn’t really seem to need him either. In 1990, they had finished 10th in Division 1, and only four teams had conceded fewer goals. That City’s left back, Mark Bowen, was also the league top scorer with seven goals probably tells you where the real shortcomings lay. For some reason, perhaps because of the departure of Andy Linighan, Dave Stringer saw it differently and sought to shore up the defence. The other two major signings that summer, John Polston and Colin Woodthorpe, were defenders too.
Furthermore, Dave Stringer and his predecessor Ken Brown had a good track record in spotting a bargain. The spine of their team, Gunn, Culverhouse, Bowen, Crook and Fleck, had all been picked up from other clubs where they weren’t getting much of a look in. Strangely, Blades cost nearly as much as all of them put together, so his signing certainly heralded a big deal for us at the time.
Blades did have some decent credentials. He’d made his Derby debut aged 17, and had gone on to make over 150 appearances during his time at the Baseball Ground. During his time there, they rose from Division 3 to a 5th place finish in the top flight, Blades being part of an excellent team spearheaded by a young Dean Saunders and reinforced by an old Peter Shilton.
Blades’ Norwich debut came in a 3-2 opening-day win at home to Sunderland. Ruel Fox’s late winner sparing the blushes of surrendering a two-goal lead to a newly-promoted side that never looked likely to take their coat off in the top flight.
Norwich then lost their next four games, so Culverhouse was recalled at the expense of Polston and Blades was deployed at centre-half instead. But being monstered by John Fashanu in a 4-0 home defeat in December marked Blades’ final involvement of his first term. By the end of his first season at Norwich, Blades had played just 21 times and the team had limped to a 15th place finish with a considerably worse defensive record than the season before.
Blades’ second season at Norwich wasn’t much better. He only missed one game up until the New Year but didn’t get a look in again after a home defeat to Oldham. City struggled on to finish 18th, just three points clear of the drop. There was the consolation of an FA Cup run but Blades didn’t contribute beyond the 3rd round. By the time the semi-final itself came around, Blades was well back in the queue. The other members of his cohort, Polston and Woodthorpe, had stolen a march on him and both started at Hillsborough.
Blades predictably departed at the end of that season in a cut-price deal that took him to Wolves.
Sir Jack Hayward was just settling into the hot seat that would eventually relieve him of £70m of his hard-earned, so the £315k he spent on Blades was nothing more than small change. But again Blades proved to be poor value-for-money in that his final game for Wolves marked the end of an expensive but unsuccessful promotion bid, Wolves being beaten by a more frugal Bolton Wanderers who went on to win promotion at Wembley. Blades subsequently brought the curtain down on his career with spells at Rotherham United and Hednesford Town.
Blades was a decent and respectable professional, but he wasn’t entirely cut out for the star billing that his transfer to Norwich temporarily thrust upon him. He may have been more suited to the footballing rank-and, file and sadly for him his time at Norwich served only to return him there.
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