City's newly crowned 'Player of the Season' Dion Dublin admitted it had been an emotional day at Carrow Road yesterday as the 39-year-old said his farewells to Norfolk as the curtain started to fall on his 20-year professional career.
He now has one last game to play – away at Sheffield Wednesday next Sunday – and after that, a new life beckons as a Sky Sports expert. For now, however, it was a case of saying his farewells and mouthing his thanks to the Carrow Road faithful on one last, lap of honour.
“It was a special day for me individually, but it was a team thing,” said the 39-year-old, granted an echoing round of applause from the moment he stepped onto the pitch for the warm-up ahead of yesterday's 3-0 win over Queen's Park Rangers – a result that duly booked Norwich's place back in the Championship next season.
Fortunately most of this weekend's biggest crowd of the season were in place by the time that club chairman Roger Munby presented the one-time Manchester United, Aston Villa and Celtic star with the Barry Butler Memorial Trophy – 'D Dublin, 2007-2008' joining a host of famous City names on that silver trophy.
“We needed the three points to be safe and it wouldn't be the same feeling now if the boys hadn't gone out and done a professional job and did it,” added Dublin.
He almost signed off in fairy-tale fashion with a stunning, 50-yard volley that came within an inch of catching Rangers keeper Lee Camp off his line. To be fair, stood on his own penalty spot he didn't expect Dublin – having only arrived on the pitch ten minutes earlier – to be having a pop from about 15-yards inside the Rangers half. Nor did 25,500 others. But the power, the precision and the accuracy behind that dipping drive was Dublin to a 'T'.
“50 yards? I think about 55-yards,” laughed Dublin afterwards. “I caught it sweet enough, but obviously not hard enough…”
As for bowing out of his professional playing career with a 'Player of the Season' trophy set for the Stratford mantelpiece, that was a bit special.
“It means a lot,” he said. “A lot of players could have got it, to be honest with you. I would have given it to Marsh [David Marshall] if it was my decision.
“But it's not and it's very nice to get votes from fans. And to finish off being Player of the Year and all that stuff… it means a lot.”
And in a week's time it will all be over. Is it sinking in? “Yes, it is,” he said. “And I'm trying to figure out how to deal with it.
“And it's quite hard because I've never been in this situation before. But it's difficult – but you have to be professional and know how to deal with them. And I think I've done alright. But it's ringing true that it's not going to happen again – I'm not going to walk out over the white line. I've got one more chance to do that.”
No hope of him changing his mind? “Absolutely not – my decision is final and I'm pleased with my decision.”
The fact that for the last 18 months Dublin has been back where it – almost – all started as Dale Gordon famously persuaded the Canaries to have a look at this gangly lad from Leicester made it feel that much more appropriate to finish it all back in Norfolk. Even, of course, if Norwich did famously see not enough in the teenager.
“I does feel right – it does,” said Dublin, his career coming back full circle. “And that was one of the reasons to come back and finish here. Being wanted at 37 is great; being wanted at 39 is even better.
“The fans want me to stay, the players want me to stay – so it's nice to be still wanted. And I feel it's a nice to time to go out of the game. Still being wanted.”
City boss Glenn Roeder afterwards described Dublin's 'Player of the Season' accolade as “a fitting tribute”.
Much has been said and written about those dying days of Nigel Worthington's reign. But few would argue that almost his last major act as Canary manager would prove an inspired on as he persuaded a 37-year-old Dublin to give Norwich a go – to finish his professional career where it had almost started 20 years ago.
“We've been very lucky to have him here these past few years,” said Roeder. “Because you have to have real enthusiasm for football to get out of bed every morning and play at 38 or 39.”
Had that final, 50-yarder flown six inches higher and over Camp's head it would have brought the house down. It was was a timely reminder of just what is walking out of the door this summer and onto the nearest Sky Sports sofa.
“I was a magnificent effort,” said Roeder afterwards. “But it's something that never surprised me because he has lived his life as a footballer in the fast lane – which is the Premiership and international football. And to do that you have to be an extremely quick thinker.
“He sized up the situation in a split second and not only did he size it up correctly, but the most important thing is that he had the technique to deliver – and you're only talking two inches where the keeper can't reach it and it's probably contender for goal of the season.
“It was a shame for him, but Dion Dublin – being the person he is and not being a selfish person – his happiness tonight will be in the fact that he leaves Norwich City tonight still in the Championship and he'd always put that above anything that was a pat on the back for himself personally.
“He's a real team man; a club person. And it's been an honour for me to manage him.”
So where does he find the next Dion Dublin?
“I don't know of another Dion Dublin, to be honest,” said Roeder, now charged with the unenviable task of finding someone of equal character and presence to work within that City dressing room. He was, you sensed, the last of a dying breed.
They don't build them like Dublin any more, was the essence of the City manager's response.
“I heard Sir Alex Ferguson speak last year and they always ask him: 'Do you regret not being able to get an Alan Shearer?' And he said: 'There isn't another Alan Shearer… I look and look and look and all the scouts come back and say they can only find strikers that want to play in that hole; that comfort one; that soft one.
“Not someone that wants to play up against the big centre-halves and take a battering. Which is what Alan Shearer did and is what Dion Dublin has done all his life – taken a battering. He's had bad injuries and yet his love of the game and his mental toughness keeps bringing him back.
“But he's an intelligent man and he knows he's done the right thing – not to carry on for another season.”
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