Stephen Curnow was watching 'reality'-TV with his wife, an unremarkable event, unworthy of remark, that is until a former Norwich striker turned relegation machine rocks up. Here is the strange case of Ashley Ward
It’s very rare anything interesting happens when my wife is watching TV.
Rare in the sense that it has never happened. But there was this one time when we were watching this bunch of dolled-up women having a full-on fight at some rancorous garden party. These ladies are footballer’s wives it seems. Wes Brown’s wife is in there, Mrs David Bardsley looks ready to throw a few jabs. Due to the high-pitch cacophony, whether or not they are arguing over whose husband had the most bang-average career is not immediately clear. It’s a bit like Vera Duckworth vs Bet Lynch, but with better hair and jewellery.
Then strides in a familiar face, albeit one that shows a few signs of recent refurbishment, but debonair nonetheless. It seems that the husband of one of these coiffured ear-splitting ladies is former Norwich striker Ashley Ward.
This is the life that Ashley Ward lives these days.
He has business interests in property development and interior design. He, his wife and four daughters star in a successful reality TV show about the opulence of Cheshire that the youngsters seem to like. He lives in a 10 bedroom house, Warford Hall if you please, that the Queen wouldn’t turn her nose up at. Just to give you some idea, they advise the Rooneys on how to pimp their cribs.
Amid all of those “now plays for Wroxham/Fakenham/Diss,” those running pubs or even those living as a woman in the USA, Ashley Ward must be one of the more interesting entries on Flown From the Nest.
Way before all of this nonsense, Ward came through the ranks at Manchester City, but had to drop down through Leicester (then in the second tier) and Crewe (then in the fourth) before his career really got going. His form for Crewe earned him a move to Norwich, then comfortably off in the Premier League.
Such a journey would be unlikely in the modern day, with bigger clubs unwilling to part with their young talent until umpteen loan spells have proven them to be unquestionably crap, and it’s hard to imagine too many fourth-tier strikers being given a chance of regular football in the Premier League now.
But John Deehan knew a thing or two about decent strikers, and when Ward arrived at Carrow Road in December 1994, he went straight into the starting eleven for the visit of Chelsea, a team that we regularly turned over back then. Partnering Mark Robins up front, he scored twice in the opening 45 minutes, the first a tidy finish from Darren Eadie’s cross, the second a good old-fashioned striker’s “Nugent” as he poked Robins’ shot over the line even though it was going in anyway. This particular game is also well-remembered for 19-year-old Jamie Cureton’s remarkable 13-second goalscoring substitute cameo, a record which stood until the Danish Prince Bendtner beat it in 2007.
Ward scored again in his second game away at Crystal Palace, but his form, and that of his team-mates, disintegrated into our first relegation in eight years, confirmed at Leeds on the penultimate day despite Ward scoring again. He finished the season as City’s top scorer, albeit with a relatively modest eight goals.
City started the following season promisingly, top of the table until Martin O’Neill jumped ship to Leicester and took them up instead. Ward had scored 13 times by March 1996, another creditable effort. Sadly, anyone who was playing well was rendered vulnerable to Robert Chase’s mid-season cull. Having lost our manager, the chairman decided we’d clearly be better off without our captain, Jon Newsome, and top scorer, Ward, as well and he was packed off to Derby County. The humorous aside of him having named his newborn daughter “Darby” a few days before did little to quell the dissent in the ranks and Chase was to be gone by the end of the season. Nevertheless, I’m sure it’s a story that’s given young Darby Ward many years of hilarity to share with her pals in the horsey set.
Ward’s subsequent moves took him to Barnsley, Blackburn and Bradford and he was relegated with all three, meaning that only Nathan Blake, Norwich’s Seb Bassong and Herman Hreidarsson have been shown the Premier League door more times than he. Following an injury-hit spell at Sheffield United in 2005 he retired, or moved on to better things depending on how you look at it.
The strangest thing then happens while we are watching this aforementioned garbage on TV. Ward is at another garden party on what seems to be an endless circuit for him. He is talking to a “property developer” who I imagine is really a gangster, a trafficker or a thief, but he’s evidently very good at something.
Talk turns to football. Ward’s face lights up, as much as it can through the botox, and you feel that he’s actually heading for more comfortable territory. He mentions the clubs he played for, and he includes Norwich seeing as you ask. Ward might be talking to one of the few people in Cheshire who has more money than him, or who has a prettier wife or more TVs in his bathrooms, but even in this most pompous of gatherings, he’s head and shoulders above and they both know it. The other guy has never scored a last-minute winner, and no wide-eyed kid has ever asked him for his autograph. He’s never been a professional footballer.
It seems that being footballer is still actually rather awesome, even among middle-aged millionaires in Cheshire.
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