When a little Irishman waltzed into Norfolk, few expected him to leave the mark he did on Norwich City Football Club.
Wes Hoolahan requires little introduction in these parts. The magical moments he constructed, coupled with the flair in which he operated, will live long in the memory of supporters.
Make no mistake, Hoolahan is a treasured and special entity, one who dazzled and entertained on the pitch.
Off it, Hoolahan is a more reserved character, camera shy and a complete contrast to his on-pitch persona, one focused on entertainment and showmanship. Interviews aren’t his favourite things, few of his words end up appearing in column inches and TV packages.
Subtle undertones of his true, comedic personality are evident, but he is a figure who has always wished to communicate through actions on the pitch.
Ten years of service in any business is an achievement.
Longevity, commitment and talent were the key to Hoolahan’s brilliance. Whether it be scoring a wonderfully individual goal against Rotherham or maintaining a 100% pass accuracy at Wembley, Hoolahan will bat it away with modesty.
A celebratory fixture was always the perfect method of recognising Hoolahan’s achievements, both personal and as a major protagonist in a team, whilst donning yellow and green. Few can provoke a more emotive response from the Yellow Army.
Every turn had the ability to mesmerise, every pass was deliciously executed, and he possessed the rarest of abilities, to captivate his audience with every piece of technical play he conducted. He was an orchestrator, a man who wanted to make things happen and was consistently Norwich’s chief creator.
So, never has a ‘celebration match’ been more deserved.
Expectation and excitement are palpable regarding the make-up of this fixture.
Hoolahan’s long service is something that’s becoming scarce in contemporary football. Despite that one brief temptation to leave the football club – one that left an unwanted stain – there is an unbelievable bank of memories from which supporters can reminisce and recollect.
‘I’m really looking forward to the game and delighted that Russ and I can play in this celebration match and get a send-off and a chance to say goodbye to the fans.
‘The Club have been great to us and it will be wonderful to get some legends and old players who I’ve played with over the last ten years together. I’m really looking forward to it.’
Few will forget that infamous farewell appearance against Leeds United, something that makes Hoolahan glow upon the mere mention of it.
‘I hope it’ll top the Leeds game.’ Wes said, ‘Hopefully there’ll be a lot more goals and keep the fans entertained. It’ll be a nice way for me and Russ to get a nice send off.
‘In the moment it’s hard to take, obviously you get very emotional and stuff like that but hopefully the fact we’re doing it together means it’s easier to keep the emotions in check.’
This game is all about celebrating two top Canary contributors, not just for their efforts on the pitch but also the prominence of their work in the community. A fixture for charity seems the appropriate way to end a chapter for two Norwich legends.
Wes’s chosen charities are Stepping Stones of Norwich and Temple Street Hospital in Dublin. He’s elected to help the place of his birth but also his current home, a nice hat-tip to his past and also a cause very much in the present.
He has been a major protagonist in the majority of the last ten seasons, but for the Irish international, one stands out more than any other.
‘I think Wembley stands out. Obviously, it was a massive game in front 85,000 people so that stands out.
‘I know the Portsmouth one was great to get promoted but it was a bigger deal to go up through Wembley, so that is a personal highlight for sure.’
When reminding him of his perfect pass completion under the basking May sunshine at this country’s national stadium, he responded in typically modest fashion, an earmark of the man notoriously unselfish on the pitch.
Even now, Wes recalls that day as a collective and not an individual.
‘It was nice, obviously. But to get a clean sheet for Russ and the boys meaning it finished 2-0 showed the brilliant performance for everyone on the pitch. You couldn’t have asked for a better team.’
At present, Hoolahan is a member of the West Brom squad competing at the summit of the division for that elusive dream of returning to the Premier League. He’s a competitor but few in NR1 will cast that light over the Norwich legend.
He was a member of the squad last season under Daniel Farke and, despite not being a regular starter, added meaningful contributions both in games and off the pitch. Few envisaged the emergence of James Maddison, but Hoolahan was a mentor to the young starlet.
‘We could see the foundations being built last year. What Stuart has done, with young players coming through – I trained last year with them – and it was always good, top quality training. You could see it happening, we’ve got a very young squad and they’re capable of going up.’ (He said ‘we’ – Ed).
It’s a game not to be missed, Canaries of old will return to the ground where they produced such unforgettable memories. Underpinning it all will be the opportunity to celebrate the contributions of two City legends, but also the opportunity to watch Wes Hoolahan don a yellow and green shirt for one final time.
The match will take place on Bank Holiday Monday, May 6, at Carrow Road (kick-off 3pm), irrespective of City’s final league position and any play-off involvement.
Tickets and hospitality will go on sale from 9am on Tuesday, December 11, initially for the South Stand and City Stand. Tickets can be purchased via www.canaries.co.uk, by calling 01603 721902 or by visiting the ticket office at Carrow Road or Chapelfield.
General admission tickets will be priced as follows:
Hospitality packages will be available, priced as follows:
Legends Lounge meal and seat – £60 plus VAT
Legends Lounge seat only – £30 plus VAT
Wes and Russ will visit the lounges pre-match.
Connor’s interview with Russ will be up later.