Canary hero Darren Huckerby is, it seems, living the full California dream. The one with the bells and the knobs on.
“I love England, but every morning I drive past valleys and mountains. I made the right decision coming here,” the 32-year-old told the San Jose Mercury recently, as the long-time Barclay hero goes down an absolute storm on the other side of the Pond.
In his seven appearances for the San Jose Quakes, he now has four goals. More remarkably still, two have come with his head. If most players use their left foot for standing on, Huckerby used his head for chatting with.
But two, brave far post headers later and the Englishman is fully justifying his status as the Quakes' best-paid player – and the decision by ex-Town star Frank Yallop to persuade club supremo John Doyle to buy-out Huckerby's MLS registration rights from Toronto FC.
The Canadian club – already home to ex-Canaries Jim Brennan and Carl Robinson – found two more Norwich faces in their midst this weekend as City No2 Lee Clark and first team coach Paul Stephenson flew across the Atlantic to team-up with their ex-St James' Park mentor John Carver as part of their UEFA Pro licence requirements.
It was, however, the arrival of another of Tyneside's old boys – mercurial French winger Laurent Robert – that helped persuade Toronto to release their first claim on Huckerby's signature. In fairness, having Huckerby on one wing and Robert on the other would drive most coaches to distraction.
“He said to me one time: 'I'm a maverick,' ” Quakes general manager Doyle told the Mercury.
“And you can see it in the way he plays. He takes people on and beats them on the dribble. As soon as he gets the ball, you sit up on the edge of your seat because you want to see what he's going to do.”
This weekend and Huckerby grabbed his fourth goal of his brief Quakes career – the winner in a 2-1 win over DC United.
It took San Jose to fourth in the Western Conference – ten points adrift of leaders Houston Dynamo who they meet this weekend. It also extended the Quakes unbeaten streak to eight games. Little wonder that everyone is all smiles in sunny California as the club look a firm bet to figure large in the end-of-season play-offs.
“I think [Huckerby] is really enjoying his football to be honest,” Yallop told the league's official website, MLSNet.com last week. “You look at him off the field and around the building, and especially on it now, he's just flying.”
Huckerby himself doesn't disagree. It was a clearly a big risk heading out Stateside after the Canaries opted not to offer the ever-popular winger a new, one-year deal.
He had other offers to stay in England, but that determination never to play in an opposition shirt at Carrow Road found him heading west this summer.
Somehow, you always figured that California and Huckerby would prove a match made in heaven. Thus far, it is proving exactly that.
“I came over here with an open mind, and I came here to work hard and win games,” said Huckerby, with the Mercury attaching a $330,000 salary figure next to his name – roughly ?3,000 per week to live his long-held California dream. With the sun barely showing its face in Norfolk this summer, it's not a bad way to earn a living as the 10,000 fans at the Buck Shaw Stadium find a new hero in their midst.
“The team has taken to me,” added Huckerby, in his own interview with MLSNet.com. “They've made me one of them straight away, and it feels great.”
He certainly appears to have found a new verbal sparring partner in the Canadian-born Yallop whose long association with Ipswich Town clearly lends itself to the usual, cross-border banter.
“He played for the enemy, but it's not his fault,” Huckerby said. “Frank just wasn't quite good enough for the Norwich team. So he had to settle for the second best.”
Cue Yallop's response. “His Norwich connection ends when he comes across the pond,” he said. “Darren's done great for us, and that's all that matters.”
Even the San Jose reporter was getting the hang of things.
“A few days earlier, Yallop was talking about Huckerby as the forward walked past,” he wrote.
“You wish you could have played for Norwich,” Huckerby said.
“That's bollocks,” Yallop responded. “It's the other way around.”
Huckerby laughed as he ducked into the locker room.
“See?” Yallop said. “It's never-ending with him….”
He was not, the paper reported, about to be found hanging round the tradtional Brit-bars with their all-day breakfasts and warm beer on tap.
“I want to embrace the California lifestyle,” said Huckerby. “I love England, but this is an amazing place…