I really don’t like the transfer window.
I know I’ve said it before. My apologies. It’s something I feel strongly about and an issue within the game that winds me up like one of those ‘tanks’ readers of a certain age will recall making at school – a cotton reel, a slice of candle, elastic band and a spent match, remember? You’d wind the contraption up and off it would go, twisting and jumping around the place as the tightly wound elastic band unravelled until, with one final convulsive jerk it would stop, only for you to start the whole pointless process up again, watching, agog as it did nothing in particular.
And there’s an analogy here.
All of the effort and industry served into making that little cotton reel tank – getting the parts together, assorted, otherwise singularly useless bits and pieces that, when put together, served a higher purpose reminds me of all the trouble that clubs go to in order to secure the signature of various players over the summer. These are names that may, otherwise, have been quite uninspiring yet when placed in context with a few others suddenly became something rather exciting.
Or disappointing – like the tank. You had visions of a whole squadron of cotton reel warriors, storming the citadels of the living room, laying to waste anything that got in their way, anything or anyone. But, instead, you got something that unravelled itself in a desultory, half paralysed manner. You consequently, soon lost interest in it and went off and found something else to do.
Which reminds me (ha!) of some of those new signings. They’d pitch up, hold the shirt aloft and smile, a promise of exciting things to come. Unparalleled excitement abounding at the prospect of seeing the Canaries latest signing marauding his way up and down the pitch, storming the citadels of opposition defences, laying to waste any team or player that got in their way, anything or anyone. Then, when you realised that it was only Julien Brellier that we’d signed and not, as had been hoped, a T-800 Terminator, thoughts returned to that little childhood tank unravelling itself on the kitchen floor – a cause of so much initial excitement and anticipation that ultimately became useless, unloved and fit only for the dustbin.
Julien Brellier, remember him? Le Juge. He was the midfield enforcer for Hearts just under a decade ago. A dominant, forceful figure in midfield whose very presence there gave those Hearts players in possession of a little flair and pace some licence to roam at will, supporting their front line as they did so, and, for a while, making Hearts very much the ‘third team’ in Scotland, one that won a Cup final and played in Europe. The Hearts fans adored him, so much so that they commissioned a massive French flag with the phrase ‘Le Juge’ emblazoned across it. That flag became a regular sight at Tynecastle as Brellier did what was asked and expected of him; playing the part of the tank, the Terminator in the Jambo’s midfield, a destroyer who compelled things to happen. Something which, in time, was noted by quite a few clubs, notably Rangers, alongside a posse of other clubs, one of which was the Canaries.
Yes, a leading player from the Scottish Premier League was being coveted by both Rangers and Norwich. Sound familiar? OK, the Rangers, in this case, were of the Glasgow variety rather than the Queens Park one, but, as other clubs interest peaked and then fell away, it became clear that Brellier, should he leave Hearts, had a choice of two clubs to join – Glasgow Rangers or ourselves.
It was, we mostly agreed (Norwich fans rarely unanimously agree on anything), a welcome sign of ambition from the club and manager Peter Grant. The previous couple of summers, after all, had seen us scratching around in the bargain basement as usual with the end result of some decidedly underwhelming signings arriving as a result – Andy Hughes and Jason Jarrett arrived in 2005; Robert Green departed a year later, it was all rather uninspiring. Yet here we were now, those lazy, crazy, hazy days of summer 2007 and we were right in there again, competing with Rangers no less for one of the names of Scottish football. It was so exciting that you could almost hyperventilate with the sheer, unexpected drama of it all. It didn’t matter that it all seemed rather too good to be true and that, we were mostly certain of, he would end up signing for Rangers. We were in there ‘having a go’, we were even appearing on the first page of number 312 on the BBC’s Ceefax service.
It was that exciting!
The summer wore on. Brellier was staying at Hearts. He was signing for Rangers. He’d been seen at Castle Mall in Norwich. Talk about tenterhooks. On June 14th it was announced that Brellier was in Glasgow, having talks with Rangers. Hopes and faces fell. We’d lost. The little cotton reel tank span crazily from the tabletop and fell to the floor, laying there inert and useless. It was time to find something else to do. Yet, out of the blue, three weeks later, it was announced that Brellier had signed for Norwich. Bells rang, beacons were lit and there was a mighty hubbub about the City. Peter Grant emerged from hiding to announce that Le Juge had signed a two year contract, adding “Julien will be a great asset to us. He plays the game at a high tempo and likes to get close to the opposition – and he knows when to fill in to free other players to get forward.” Such excitement. Luke Chadwick was going to have free rein to terrorise opposing team’s defences.
We collectively salivated at the very thought of it.
Brellier’s arrival began to generate the type of hysteria that you more commonly associate with, oh, I don’t know, that of a Royal baby? There were even moves put into place to purchase the giant flag sporting his name from the Hearts fans. Canary fans saw him in a Norwich shirt and began to hum the Terminator films theme tune. This was going to be rather good. And, when it emerged that Brellier had previously been at Inter Milan, anticipation went off the scale. The fact that he never made any appearances for Il Nerazzurri during his three years at the club didn’t matter – or didn’t occur – to people. Norwich were signing former Inter Milan players.
We enjoyed and shared the dream for a while. And why not? At a time when the club really wasn’t doing anything at all to otherwise spark the emotions and excitement of its supporters, good or bad, we shuffled out of the prevailing mediocrity around Carrow Road and thought of the good times that lay ahead, symbolised by this exciting signing. The reality, of course – and maybe some of us, deep down, knew this from the start – was to be very different.
Maybe we should have been forewarned during the rest of the close season? Brellier arrived with some niggling and ongoing injury concerns. Word got around that Rangers had decided not to sign him for those very reasons. His form and presence, as a result, in the pre-season games was patchy, he drifted in and, mostly, out of games and that marauding presence we had all been expecting in the middle of the pitch wasn’t there. What was there was a player who seemed unfit, unable to communicate with his teammates and, at times, apparently uncertain as to whether he even wanted to be there in the first place.
Never mind. Pre-season games mean nothing. They’re just a means for players to get up to match fitness, that’s all. Thus we consoled ourselves. The problem was, Brellier didn’t seem anything like match fit, neither physically or mentally.
He was deemed fit enough, however, to take his place in Grant’s side for the first game of the season, a tricky looking trip to Preston, a team that had missed out on the play-offs by just one point the previous season. Le Juge slotted into the centre of midfield alongside Darel Russell, his brief, no doubt, to nullify any attacking threat from Preston at its conception. And they had some useful players. Simon Whaley for example, a winger of some promise and no little pace – just the sort of player we needed infact (!) No matter. Brellier would sort him out. But he didn’t. Preston dominated and should have won. We nicked a 0-0 draw and came home grateful for that. Brellier had been substituted – still, and very obviously, not match fit. The problem was he was substituted again in the next league match (he wasn’t even considered for the intervening League Cup game against Barnet) at home to Southampton. And again at Hull. Then at home to Cardiff. Prior to that game, he’d appeared in the League Cup tie at Rochdale – an ideal chance, surely, to make his mark against such lowly opposition? But no. Indeed, you could probably have put any of the City side that played against Rochdale in the 1962 final on in his place and they’d make more of an impression. For Brellier was woeful, anonymous. By now, Grant had seen enough and Le Juge was relegated to Le Bench for the home game to Crystal Palace, one that saw the Canaries other exciting summer purchase open (and close) his goal account for the club, one David Strihavka: remember him?
Brellier was back for the trip to Charlton. But gave away a penalty. And was duly substituted. Again. With only a few minutes to go. Clearly, Grant was trying to make a point. But, whatever it was, it didn’t seem to be having any effect on the player.
He didn’t finish the next game either, a typically robust one at Wolves. Norwich lost 2-0 and Brellier, clearly frustrated at his stop-stop career at Norwich so far was red carded. For violent conduct. A case of finally finding some passion but exercising it in the wrong manner. Sadly, or maybe not, for him and for the club, that was pretty much the end of his flirtation with Norwich City. He made just three more appearances for us, one of which, against Ipswich Town, was Glenn Roeder’s first as Norwich Manager. New man at the helm, new start for Brellier then? Not really. By now, he wanted out and the club wanted him out. Roeder, not a man who suffers fools (or anyone, for that matter) gladly was only too glad to authorise Brellier’s release less than six months after he had signed for the club, Brellier departing at the same time as the afore mentioned Strihavka, the latter leaving with a ringing endorsement from Roeder fresh in his ears, the new Norwich Manager saying, “It’s disappointing that it hasn’t worked out but it’s always a gamble when signing players from abroad – sometimes it pays off, sometimes it doesn’t. David found it difficult to adjust while in England, and we’d like to wish him the best of luck in his future career.”
There seems to be no record of his parting thoughts on Brellier.
Thus Norwich bade farewell to Le Juge, the Scottish Premier League star who came with a reputation as an enforcer possessed of a sexy French nickname, a past pedigree from the San Siro and his own, his very own, big old flag. He, like those little tanks I laboriously made during my childhood was possessed of all the promise and all the imagination required to be a big hit at Carrow Road-yet, like those toys, the reality never met the expectation. Which was a pity.
The present, long drawn out saga surrounding Norwich and another star of the SPL, Celtic’s Gary Hooper reminds me a lot of that summer of Brellier fever. Will he, won’t he, has he?? Hooper, as I wrote earlier, also has a choice of either ourselves or Rangers – albeit the London variety and one, like their Scottish namesakes, who are currently living off past glories. Such has been the even more long, difficult and drawn out affair regarding our pursuit of Hooper, I almost expect, in the event that we do finally secure his signature that David McNally will, a’la Neville Chamberlain, excitedly wave Hooper’s contract in the air at the inevitable gaggle of photographers that will be present, announcing, “…this morning I had another talk with Gary Hooper and here is the paper which bears his name upon it as well as mine…”
If McNally does get his man and Hooper does come, he won’t be another Julien Brellier will he?
But that’s football – the sport that is constantly reminding you of your childhood, such is its capacity to infuriate, excite and upset, all in equal measure and all within 90 minutes of any given Saturday afternoon.
Much like those cotton reel tanks really.
If anyone is wondering just what the hell I’m banging on about with these so-called tanks made from cotton reels and candles, click here