One of my favourite sayings goes along the lines of, “The more light you give out, the greater the shadow you cast.” I’m not sure of its origins, indeed, it’s probably a derivative of a slightly more well known quote but, despite that, I like it, and, in the simple but furious process that is the workings of my mind, I like it and am prone to mulling it over on both good and bad days.
But enough home-spun philosophy. Well, almost. Because it dawned on me whilst we were all cogitating over our respective All Time NCFC XI’s last month that my little shred of wisdom can easily be applied to football, professional footballers and Norwich City.
Think about it. There we all were, conjuring up the great names and memories of the past, great players and moments in the clubs history accompanied by our own thoughts of why this player should be picked whilst others should be discarded along with arguments for and against the inclusion of some in other peoples line ups. It was an interesting little exercise and an enjoyable one. It was fun. Norwich City fans chewing the fat of the footballing land, reflecting on moments of glory and faces who will never be forgotten, their memories long cherished.
Lots of footballing light!
But there is a darker side to all of that. For, just as we have seen and witnessed the glories of the great and the good at Carrow Road, so we have also been present at the travails of those who, for one reason or another, brought nothing but disappointment and a sense of communal let down at our football club.
Some footballing shadow to give balance to that light.
I will say, straight away, that I am not going to dismiss them all as poor players, professional footballers who, for whatever reasons, made their way into the game without actually being able to play it to some kind of competent level. Far from it. The comedy tale of Ali Dia and Southampton FC bear witness to the very real fact that, if you cannot play the game, then you will be found out – and very quickly indeed. That’s inescapable. You cannot make a living as a professional footballer without some levels of professional competency, levels that few, if any of us, could never aspire to.
We are all footballers in our minds – and damned good ones in some cases – yet, if we were ever, by some benevolent deed able to take part in a First Team training session up at Colney during pre-season, we’d be found out before we even kicked a ball. So, despite the fact I still passionately believe that I could do a decent job as a holding midfielder for the Canaries next season – I’ll admit it may have to be as a squad player now and yes, my legs have started to go a bit, the very real truth of it is that Chris Hughton isn’t going to be calling me anytime soon and Messrs Tettey and Johnson have little to worry about.
So no, I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad footballer. We can, and we will, call them all of the names under the proverbial sun, we can dismiss them, question their right to even exist and damn their name and ineptitude to the end of time but, in reality, they’ll still have more footballing ability than we could ever aspire to have – which is why we’re sat there in the South Stand whilst they’re out there on the pitch. Simples, as that excruciatingly annoying little mammal is over prone to saying.
These are players who will have one thing in common. Not that they were dreadful footballers or couldn’t play the game, because they could. The fact that they were there in the first place bears witness to that. What they did have in common however, was a mixture of myriad other little issues that led to their time at Carrow Road being, at best, disappointing. Maybe it was a simple case of it not being the right move for them at that time. I’ve known that feeling myself. Way, way back, in my corporate days of yore I nailed myself what can only be described as an excellent job in the telecommunications industry. It had everything I wanted. Location, salary, perks and the opportunity to progress. And all with a blue chip company. I had to go through interviews and an assessment centre to get that job, but sailed through both and got an offer that, in all honesty, blew me away.
I felt like Seth Johnson did when he joined Leeds United. It was my move from League One to the Premier League.
I stank that place out. And from day one. I couldn’t relate to my team or get anywhere near the company credos and culture. Whatever I did, it seemed, I did wrong. My team didn’t respect me and my managerial peers didn’t like me. As for my own boss? Well, she couldn’t resist curling her lip in total disdain at the very mention of my name. I hated the job, the people, the place. Couldn’t wait to get out of it and, after barely five months there, jumped ship, ending up back in more humble surroundings at a smaller company, a little poorer financially, but, again, excelling at my role and doing well. I wasn’t a bad Manager, far from it. But both I and my then company made a bad call and we both suffered as a result.
And so it is with professional footballers. They are recruited for all the same reasons – they’ve done well at their current clubs, been noticed, have achieved some success and positive recognition. Someone, somewhere, and, in all probability, more than once has watched them play and given them a glowing reference. It’s only natural therefore that they are going to be in demand and given the chance to demonstrate those qualities at a new club. But, rather more often than perhaps we would like to care, the moves don’t work out. It might be for one overwhelming reason or a combination of many – ongoing fitness issues, problems settling into the area, issues with new team mates or maybe even one figure in particular, not wanting to have moved in the first place or having been forced into the move, or, quite simply, they no longer enjoy the game and the move to another club has tipped the disinterest into regions from where it can never be recovered – as has, for example, been the recent case of Bobby Zamora, who went from Premier League striker and England international with Fulham in 2010 to just seven goals in 34 games, relegation and near footballing, never mind international, obscurity with QPR in the years that followed.
When interviewed about his fall from grace, Zamora was honest enough to blame himself for his ills rather than the game or his club, admitting, “…for so many years football has been your life and it’s all everyone wants to talk about, everywhere you go. I don’t like talking about it. I’m not a massive football fan, really. Quite a lot more players than let on are the same. ‘I don’t watch games on an evening or anything like that. A lot of people find it strange that I don’t like football. I’m not sure what I want to do after I finish playing but if it means watching football then I don’t want to get involved.”
Zamora isn’t, despite what anyone might think, a ‘bad’ player. But his career has gone downhill for reasons outside of that. He scored 83 goals in 136 games for Brighton. That’s not at all shabby. What has contributed to his footballing downfall are more closely related to professional choices he has made and his own standing in the game, especially personally. And he’s admitted it. QPR haven’t got a bad player. Just one who isn’t interested or motivated by the game anymore. A lack of motivation in a footballer can be about as terminal as it gets, career wise, outside of serious injury. David Batty famously admitted to “hating” the game – he did it because he was good at it not because of any deep love for the game. He was an exception. In most cases that loss of motivation, of desire, of ‘wanting it’ is a huge contributor to loss of form, self belief and interest. And the first place it shows is on the field of play. And when upwards of 25,000 people are watching your fall from grace and vocalising their discontent – and justifiably, after all, said player is rewarded handsomely for being there – then that disinterest is likely to recede further and further into the distance – and from where there might be no coming back.
If it sounds like I am making excuses for some of the players who will feature in my pending NCFC XI then you’d be right. I am. And I’ll say it and stress it again. I do not think there is such a thing as a professional footballer who cannot play the game or who has never been able to play the game at a reasonable enough level to make a good living out of it. But I do think they are subject to, and prone, to the same personal and professional weaknesses and failings that we all encounter in life and which affect our lives and abilities on a day to day level. Luckily for us we don’t need to demonstrate ours on a very public stage. But they do.
I am not, therefore, going to call my line up the “Worse Ever” Norwich City XI as was originally the intention. But I will make it one that contains players who, for whatever reasons, saw their time at Carrow Road, as would most of us, as a time of disappointment and letdown, an unfulfilled time, a period best forgotten, for whatever reasons. The shadow I was talking about earlier, albeit in a footballing light. Kevin Keelan, Mark Bowen and Ted MacDougall all burnt with a bright and blinding yellow light. They dazzled. But who are their footballing polar opposites?
I appreciate and realise that others may disagree and note that the players in question had but one thing in common, that they were “crap”. And fair enough, football polarises opinion even between its own and that’s one of the reasons it is so glorious. I welcome your own views and thoughts on the matter and which players are, for you, those that you feel have been the most disappointing and/or frustrating signings that the club have made and for whatever reasons.
All will be revealed in tomorrow’s column…