It’s easy to look back on Canary heroes from the past. To reminisce and share memories of those great, good and very good who have worn our famous shirt with pride and honour. And there have been many, names and deeds dripping from the tongue like molten gold.
However, lest we get too carried away with these honey rich moments of yore we should consider Newton’s third law of motion and how it can be applied to both this wonderful, exhilarating and passionate game that we follow and the club we all love. Yes, its physics as football. Newton stated that, for every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction. And in this context he was right. For, however many names and memories we rightly venerate, there are also those that we, with equal passion, have reason to ridicule, curse and have every reason to bad mouth. For however much light we can create with our memories and footballing pleasures, there has to be an opposite.
Light and darkness, day and night, staying true to the force or going over to the dark side. All of those and more exist here for, as much as we love our Canary heroes, we also have reason to loathe the villains, those for whom the very mention of their name, let alone a visit to Carrow Road as a member of the opposition draws the antipathy out of us like snake venom being sucked from a fresh wound.
For every hero there has to be a villain. A shadow. A deed, a memory, a player that we’d rather forgot but cannot. We give our reasons for those that we venerate just as we can for those we wish to denigrate. And, for just about every shining Canary light from the past there has, inevitably, to be some shadow.
With Saturday’s game against Aston Villa now taking on such epic proportions, such potential scale and magnitude you really begin to think it should be directed by Peter Jackson, where better to start than the baddest of all bad guys, the one who was once revered as a god by one and all but who now for many is – for all that he gave us – turned and broken beyond all repair; a man whose final act at the ground where he was once worshipped might be to contribute to the club’s return to the purgatory from whence he once brought them.
For some on Saturday the very sight of Lambert taking to his place in the opposing dug out will be the sort of yellow and green rag to a bull provocation that will, without question, suit our former Manager to the ground.
Remember the reaction he got when he made his first return to Colchester since he left them to take the helm at Norwich? He had hatred and provocation coming his way from all sides that day – even nature turned against him with dark skies and pouring rain greeting the Norwich team as they arrived at the Weston Homes Community Stadium.
You almost expected to see the four horsemen of the apocalypse thunder their way across those hellish skies before kick-off, clad, as one, in Colchester United shirts. A tempest then, plus the fury of the U’s fans and that of their Chairman, a man scorned and bent on revenge against the man and team who had dated to cuckold his nearest and dearest away from planet Essex. For Cowling and Colchester therefore, the glory. For Lambert and his yellow and green army the scorn and outrage plus the inevitable retreat home. This was a match low on subtlety and high in theatre. Yet, despite all that, Paul Lambert, the subject of all that collective derision took to the stage like the headline act he was, milking the bile like Maximus Decimus Meridius, thus further deifying himself in the eyes of the Norwich faithful, whilst, simultaneously, manipulating the pique of the Colchester to hither-to unknown levels of despair.
Following his confident, confrontational entry into the wolves’ lair, the result was never in doubt. Norwich, their resolve already strong and resolute, feasted from that confidence and, let’s be honest, the Clough-like arrogance of their Manager and tore into their opponents, the eventual 5-0 scoreline doing scant justice to the Canaries superiority on the day. We all loved Paul Lambert – and, it seemed, he loved us as well, his quotes from just under a year ago when questioned about his future indicating that man and club were set to carry on working miracles for some time to come.
“Never once have I not felt wanted here,” Lambert said on Sky Sports News. “I have got a really great rapport with the fans here as everybody knows and it’s a special thing I think with the fans and myself.”
The man was irascible. But he was ours. And he was fast becoming a Canary legend as his swift elevation to the clubs Hall of Fame at the end of last season seemed to prove. Yet ten days later he was the new Manager of Aston Villa. The man who we loved became the one we loved to hate, the worst villain of them all – the one who defects.
With the one time Messiah due in town again this weekend it is, perhaps, fortuitous, that we have already entertained him and his new set of believers at Carrow Road this season. That League Cup tie in December has drawn some of the sting out of the pending fixture and, maybe with it, some of Lambert’s determination to play the role of the pantomime baddie again. He has already returned to the scene of his earlier triumphs, returning with the spoils and the reward of elimination to Bradford City in the next round.
He’s been there, done that, worn the T-shirt. But so have we. The reaction of most fans back then to him was reserved at best, sporadic at worse. The team’s the thing. We can only assume that will be the case on Saturday with all the excitement, emphasis and energy devoted to getting us the three points rather than trying to score points from the previous Manager. Because, believe me, he will enjoy being the recipient of the bating a lot more than anyone doing it will.
Hurt at that defection of one who was once loved is one thing. Sheer hatred for one who has physically harmed one of your own is another.
Kevin Muscat was, and is, a mediocre football player. His near decade long soiree in English football took in the sights and sounds of Crystal Palace, Wolves, Rangers and Millwall – all clubs who many Norwich fans, one way or another, will have little love for. Muscat’s playing brief at all of those clubs was as simple as his game – to cause havoc and confusion. And, whilst I am quite certain that the havoc and confusion that would have ensued in the stadia of football clubs all over the country would have reached epidemic proportions had he ever, once, shown signs of being able to play the game, he preferred the art of destruction to that of design, carnage to creativity. His behaviour and treatment of fellow professionals, ones cut from the same cloth as ourselves is the reason he and his memory sit within the darkest recesses of many Norwich fans.
His first visit to Carrow Road was on December 14th 1996. Norwich, settling into life under Mike Walker for a second time were, despite a spell of six games without a win, still comfortably sat on the top ten of Division One, promotion hopefuls with a host of promising young players in their ranks – Danny Mills, Darren Eadie, Andy Johnson, Daryl Sutch and Keith O’Neill, all of whom featured that day. And, in truth, it was a game that Norwich should have won. The Canaries had two perfectly legitimate looking goals ruled out before Neil Adams had finally made one count late on, his equaliser meaning the game ended in a 1-1 draw. Yet the talking point after the game was not that of the injustice of the result and the disallowed goals, but the behaviour of Muscat whose actions seemed to infect his team mates, ensuring that a game that started competitively ended as an ugly example of much of what is bad in the game.
With both teams looking for a winner, Muscat, inexplicably and for no reason other than he could, slammed, full on, into Darren Eadie – then, as now, one of the most inoffensive men in football. Eadie, unsurprisingly, was sent flying – Muscat might have been the irresistible force but Eadie was far from the immovable object, the challenge sending him crashing to the ground. Why had he done it and in full view of the referee? Who can tell. Fortunately, justice was swift in coming. Referee Kevin Lynch showed Muscat the red card, but, rather than his actions provoking a show of collective disgust from his team mates, it led to a collective brawl that saw every man on the pitch save Palace defender David Tuttle, at one another’s throats.
The outrage from the Norwich team was understandable. Eadie, a young player and an exceptional talent, had been taken out, pure and simple; it had been a well executed hit that the Mafia would have been proud of. Yet, despite that very obvious fact, Muscat’s red card had provoked his team mates into a blur of fury, with Ray Houghton – yes, THAT Ray Houghton – the calm, considered and talented Palace midfielder of one time Liverpool vintage joining Muscat in premature ejection by not only accusing Eadie of diving, but, once Eadie was up, trying to put him back on the floor again.
Yet Houghton was the warm-up act and swiftly disregarded. The memories of Canary fans however, as far as Muscat was concerned, would not be so easily wiped clean.
Three years later, Muscat was back at Carrow Road, this time with Wolves. He was not afforded a warm Norfolk welcome and this seemed entirely justified when his violent lunge at Craig Bellamy meant another of Norwich’s exciting young talents was taken out of the game, needing ten stitches in an open wound, one that meant he missed six games as a result of Muscat’s cowardly deed. Yet, despite Bellamy’s visible injury, the reaction of both the Norwich players and the crowd, Muscat went unpunished and was able to skulk his way around the pitch until the end of the game, one that Wolves earnt a point from in a 2-2 draw – despite being two down with less than ten minutes to play – thanks to a late brace from their own boy wonder, Robbie Keane.
There are those who think that Paul Lambert is a candidate for public enemy number one as far as Norwich City fans are concerned. I disagree, indeed, far from it. For, despite the manner of his departure last summer, Lambert did many good things whilst he was at the club, things that deserve, however begrudgingly, respect if not admiration. Yes, his defection to Villa hurt, of course it did. But emotional hurt is one thing and can be assuaged. The pain and hurt that was physically contributed from the boot and body of Kevin Muscat is a far greater mis-deed, one that will never be forgiven or forgotten by many Norwich fans – nor Craig Bellamy whose career he might have finished for good before it had even started.
In the pantheon of Canary baddies therefore, Lambert may be a relatively new member, his time spent there could yet be temporary. But Muscat’s time in that same purgatory will be eternal.
What of some of the other candidates for a place?
Andy Johnson certainly ruled out any chance of a move to Norwich – then or ever – in the 2004/05 season when his repeated efforts to illegally earn a penalty in the Canaries 3-3 draw at Crystal Palace on April 16th 2005 earnt their unjust reward at the third time of asking. After another non-tussle with Jason Shackell he again tumbled to the ground, his carefully choreographed routine so cleverly planned that the anguished look on his face and outstretched arms were in place almost before Shackell had come anywhere near him. His first two attempts to gain a spot kick had met with disinterest from referee Rob Styles, the Norwich fans giving Johnson their own thoughts on the matter behind one of the goals by bobbing, in a synchronous manner up and down in the manner of a swimmer entering the water. It was that comical – both Johnson’s efforts to get into a position to dive as well as his exaggerated plummets when the opportunity came. And they came to nothing as, with barely five minutes left, with Norwich leading 3-2, he gave it yet another go, Shackell, again, his co-star in the whole pantomime. Cue more bobbing from the Norwich support followed by cries of disbelief as, this time, Styles fell for it, giving the penalty which Johnson himself gratefully dispatched past Robert Green.
Cheats prosper obviously. Unlike their victims. The two points that Johnson robbed Norwich of that afternoon would, had they held on, kept them in the Premier League at the end of that season. You can, of course, never blame relegation on just one decisive moment; it is the efforts of the whole campaign that define it at the denouement. Yet that single fact remains true – had Johnson not, finally, won his battle with Keith Styles, had Styles not finally yielded, it would have been West Brom and not Norwich that would have been relegated that season. Johnson certainly became the focus of collective Canary ire after that game which he revelled in, scoring in both of his team’s games against Norwich the following campaign.
If fans can get upset with members of the opposition then so can the players. With regard to Kevin Muscat for example, none other than our own, our very own Iwan Roberts admitted in his book “All I Want For Christmas” that he deliberately stamped on Muscat in a game in revenge for the latter’s tackle on Craig Bellamy, words that cost him a fine and suspension, whilst Jeremy Goss, like Darren Eadie, a perfect gentleman, once admitted to the red mist dominating his vision in a game against Swindon Town in 1994. The object of Gossy’s annoyance was Swindon midfielder John Moncur who, after knocking Ian Crook to the ground in a heavy challenge had Goss squaring up to him, the ex-City favourite later admitting, “…he is standing over Chippy, shouting and screaming at him. I wasn’t having that. I went over and battered Moncur back, ran over and knocked him onto the floor. I was ready to kill him, he’d crocked Chippy, Chippy is on the floor injured. So I knocked him over. I wanted to kill him because of what he’d done to my teammate…” So much for Moncur expecting an uneventful afternoon in Norwich.
As far as Ipswich Town players are concerned, you can take your pick – which of them, after all, wasn’t a cause of deep personal offence and annoyance, all they had to do to qualify was to wear that accursed blue shirt. Yet one stood out for me. It’s the snarling, twisted face of John Wark, leading in with his studs and elbows in just about every game I can think of against us, but, no more so than the game on March 20th 1995 when, after his usual rumbustious start against anything and anyone in a yellow shirt, he chose to rugby tackle Darren Eadie in the middle of the pitch, walking away from the challenge with his usual sneer, oblivious – or maybe not, and loving it – to the layers of derision pouring off the terraces towards him. The sheer joy that followed therefore, when Paul Durkin showed him a red card is one I will not forget easily, nor will a friend of mine who will regularly remind me of how I lost control myself at that moment, screaming “Justice! Justice! Justice!” at Wark as he trudged away, the delight of the day magnified by Norwich’s eventual 3-0 win.
Joey Barton, on the other hand, offends just about everyone. He managed to tick the name “Norwich City” off his list last season after he had attempted to head-butt Bradley Johnson. Prior to that moment we had all known that Barton was a footballing figure that you loved to hate, but he made it all the more easy for us that afternoon by providing a reason why. It’s unlikely he’ll ever play at Carrow Road again, but, should that happen in the near future, his petulance at that game – and afterwards – when he petulantly suggested he might sue the referee after his inevitable dismissal in that game, means that a warm welcome is the very last thing he’ll receive at Carrow Road.
Villains all, and the aforementioned Wark the comical kind, the pantomime type, the player you choose to be offended by simply because he is an opposing one who just happens to play for your greatest rivals. Others, like Johnson, garnished more attention from the wider footballing world, his reputation as being someone who was often rather too keen to fall down in opposing teams penalty areas one that spread far beyond the confines of our footballing lives, his antics accompanying him throughout his career that now sees him at QPR – where, at the end of this season he will experience another kind of ‘going down’, one that he may not enjoy quite so much.
And, nearly a decade after his antics helped send us down that really rather pleases me. As ye sow Andy, as ye sow…
Who are your footballing super villains?