Dressing rooms are funny places.
Not that many of us have ever ventured into the dark heart of a professional football club.
It is all a bit too much like Vegas. What goes on in a dressing room, stays in a dressing room.
And as far as the rest of us mere mortals are ever concerned, dressing room spirit is always ‘great’.
In 20-odd years reporting on professional football, I can’t remember anyone ever actually saying: ‘You know what, we just don’t get on… He’s a complete tw*t…’
A dressing room always gets on; the lads are always ‘great’ – just as a game is always two halves and said games are to be taken one at a time.
You never look beyond the next game.
All of which is palpable nonsense.
Put 20-something fellas in the same room for ten months or – just to be wholly PC about this – put 20-something women in the same room for ten months – and see how many of them really get on at the end of it. Like really get on.
It always bemuses me that people assume footballers are somehow a breed apart; when they’re just human like the rest of us.
The logic of a ‘dressing room’ can apply just as much to a staff room at a school, a crew room at a fire station or a rest room at a hospital – it’s always about how well or not people gel together, whatever trade they ply.
But – and this is the important bit – no-one but those within those professional ‘dressing rooms’ really knows what goes on; what – and who – make them tick.
Who doesn’t get on with who; where the lines of tension are; who the real characters and leaders are.
Most people would be astonished if they knew of some of the ‘fault lines’ that existed within some of the more famous Canary dressing rooms of the past; who never spoke to whom; who bore a grudge; who would never be seen dead in so-and-so’s company.
By several accounts, the players reaction to Aaron Wilbraham’s first goal for the club in Tuesday night’s 3-2 win at Leicester City suggests that the ex-MK Dons striker is a decent lad within that inner sanctum.
In pointing to the City scorer in front of the travelling Canary support, the message would appear to be pretty simple – Aaron’s a good lad; he’s one of the boys; give him a chance; give him a break. We like him.
Just as we like Leon Barnett; that’s why we’ll help ‘celebrate’ his recent fatherhood with our baby-swaying routine. ‘That’s for you, Leon…’
Both episodes are telling in the sense that they suggest that this particular City dressing room is closer than most.
There will be people who don’t always see eye-to-eye; that’s inevitable. But all the outward signs are of a ‘togetherness’ that bodes well for the final run-in.
No-one is pointing fingers at each other; no-one is playing the big-time Charlie – there is ‘No ‘I’ in Teamwork’ as one of those cheesy, US-style management slogans used to proclaim above the door at Colney.
Thus no-one appeared to hold Wes Hoolahan’s penalty miss against him. he just wasn’t taking the next one; as had long been agreed with the skipper.
What’s interesting now – looking back – is the way in which the luckless Andy Hughes came to symbolise the deep disconnect that can occur between dressing room and supporter.
Because, I suspect, ‘Hughesy’ was one of the better-liked lads in that particular dressing room at that particular time. He would be one that would be described by the boys as ‘a good lad’ – with feeling.
Because he was great with the banter; could crack a gag at the drop of a hat; always had a story to tell. Whatever…
What he did or didn’t do on a football pitch was, in a way, not that important.
Because he was always honest; would hold his hands up in the dressing room afterwards – wore his heart on his sleeve. The boys will always love an honest trier. He was one of them.
And when the fingers started to point in that particularly poisonous period of Norwich’s history, so they would close ranks; look after one of their own and bristle when those outside of that dressing room had a pop…
Roll the clock forward to the spring of 2011 and, clearly, such division have long since been healed.
Everyone is, basically, getting on like a house on fire as the season ticket renewal figures suggest.
Few would question the wisdom – and, indeed, generosity – of the current board; Paul Lambert has little need of Carrow Bridge, he could walk across the Wensum as far as the punters are concerned.
But somewhere at the very heart of Norwich’s current success lies that peculiar and utterly private set of relationships that exist deep within that Canary dressing room.
And on Tuesday night, as the boys helped Wilbraham celebrate his first goal for his new employers, so we all got one, small glimpse behind the dressing room door.
Of just why the Class of 2009-10 and now 2010-11 might be destined for greatness.
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