We’re all aware of how football matches can often turn; see the pattern of play, impetus, and eventual result influenced by an incident that takes place during the game which isn’t necessarily that most obvious of game changers (IE A goal).
Football commentators and pundits love referring to them. Something will happen in the game – a disallowed goal, a missed penalty, a dubious off-side call or unfortunate injury. Their clarion call will surely follow and does as they breathlessly intone, “Now… what sort of influence will THAT have on the game?”
It’s a good call to make. Football matches ebb and flow like a spring tide. A force of nature covering all in its path one moment, a retreating wake the next; their flow and direction switched, by force of nature, from attack to defence in the blink of an eye.
Thus does that footballing blink of an eye sometimes irrevocably change things on a sea of sporting green.
As was the case in Cardiff on Saturday.
Two goals to the good and, following on from a first half that was as peerless for them as it was hopeless for us, the Bluebirds sweep forward yet again. The opportunity presents itself to Federico Macheda to make it game, set and match to Cardiff and, with it, a long journey back for all of us. We prepare ourselves for inquests, recriminations and renewed calls for the head of Neil Adams on Canary Call.
Yet Macheda misses the chance. Or, to be more precise, John Ruddy saves. The score stays at 2-0 and there is renewed hope for Norwich. Yellow shirted heads are raised above the parapet again. Is this, we collectively wonder, that turning point which students of the game are so fond of?
Those footballing blinks of an eye. A split-second that sees a sudden change in the wind that now fills the yellow and green sails, driving on the Canaries, fresh of hope and on to eventual victory.
Ruddy’s save took up around one second of the entire match on Saturday but it was the incident the game pivoted on – the moment that won it for Norwich. There and gone. But so very important.
The sort of save and game-saving moment we’ve long expected Ruddy to make.
Ruddy is quality, the best keeper in the Championship by some considerable distance. But not only that, he was also, during our three year residency in the Premier League, one of the best goalkeepers in that division as well.
But not as good as Ben Foster – then or now it would seem. You’re having a laugh Roy Hodgson.
Then there’s another question; a supplementary. Is he – or could he turn out to be – the best goalkeeper that Norwich City have ever had?
That little debate erupted on Twitter at the weekend. It was neither the first, nor indeed the last time it will be discussed either – after all there are plenty of candidates; a roll call of excellence, quality begetting ever more of the same.
I don’t need to give them a mention – we all know who they are. Yet, as some people enjoy a class of the very finest claret, I like to mull over those finest exponents of the goalkeeping arts, vintage memories held in the vats of Carrow Road.
Keelan, Woods, Gunn, Green, Ruddy. Anymore? Yes, cast your mind further back to Nethercott and Kennon. We’ve had our fair share of green shirted riches.
Yet I don’t intend to share, debate and argue their qualities today. I want to remember some of the others who have worn the number one shirt for Norwich; particularly those who are either not quite as fondly remembered or, for a variety of reasons, not remembered at all.
Take Herbert Skermer for example.
He was Norwich’s goalkeeper in our very first league game – a 1-1 draw against Plymouth Argyle on August 28, 1920.
Herbert joined the club with a solid reputation in the game in non-league circles, backed by the fact that he’d been in teams that had won medals at junior, local and county level in and around his native Nottinghamshire. He was, along with right back George Gray, the only ever-present in all of Norwich’s 42 league games throughout that 1920/21 season. He went on to make a total of 95 appearances for the club, 67 of which were in the Football League before joining non-league Ramsgate Town.
Despite his departure however, both city and county had woven its magic over Herbert and, as is the case with so many players today, he eventually returned to Norwich where – like so many more players throughout the game – he became a pub landlord. In this case it was the Lame Dog in Queens Road.
Herbert was the first of a total of 57 players who have since played in goal for the Canaries from that first ever league game up to, and including, the match at Brentford on Tuesday night.
A third (19) of that total have been used in the 22 and a tiny bit seasons since the formation of the Premier League in 1992/93 – not many seasons but a lot of goalkeepers – which speaks volumes of squad numbers, injuries, suspensions and everything else that reflects the extraordinary player (and manager) turnover in the modern game. We fielded, for example, four different keepers in the 2009/10 season alone – yet from August 14, 1971 to September 21, 1974, out of a total of 157 League and Cup games, Kevin Keelan played in the lot.
Who would have been an understudy to Keelan during his time at the club?
Plenty tried; some even saw a game or two. Sandy Kennon was the man that Keelan eventually ousted as first-team choice. He was followed by Geoff Barnard (6 league appearance in 5 years), Peter Vasper (31 in two and a half years) and Mervyn Cawston (4 in 5).
An unenviable task for an unfortunate trio.
Roger Hansbury was the man who not only broke Keelan’s run of 157 consecutive games when injury to Keelan saw selected for the Division Two game at Fulham on September 21, 1974. Norwich lost 4-0 – their first defeat of the season – and Keelan was unsurprisingly back again for the following league game at Sunderland where he kept his fourth clean sheet that season from eight games in a 0-0 draw.
Hansbury, to his eternal credit, eventually became the number one goalkeeper at the club, making a respectable total of 78 league appearances for the Canaries including a total of 34 consecutive league appearances that spanned the 1979/80 and 1980/81 seasons.
Yet you always thought he was merely keeping the shirt warm until someone else came along, that someone else clearly not Clive Baker who established himself, briefly, as the number two to Hansbury, making 14 league appearances in his seven year spell at the club.
The man who eventually replaced Keelan as the established number one at Carrow Road of course was Chris Woods and, whilst we rightly admire Keelan’s run of 157 consecutive league and cup games from 1971 to 1974, it maybe shouldn’t be forgotten that Woods played in a total of 170 consecutive league and cup games himself from 1981 through to 1984.
Of the two, Keelan is, perhaps rightly, seen as the better keeper and possibly the best ever to have played for Norwich. Yet Chris Woods, at his peak for Norwich City was as close to Keelan, quality wise, as it is perhaps possible to get.
It’s an argument that will run and run, the fact that as well as being a fabulous goalkeeper he was also a tremendous character was what often gives Keelan the edge in most supporters’ minds. Vasper summed him up perfectly, saying, “Kevin was brilliant. He wasn’t the best trainer, liked a pint and smoked but he was different class on the field and he was a smashing bloke”
Not the best trainer? Liked a pint? A smoke? You have to say it’s probably as well for Keelan that he played when he did, as it’s unlikely he would have had the same reputation, career and longevity in the modern game.
Or maybe he would. Yet another argument raises its head. Such as it is with Norwich City goalkeepers.
Part two of this piece next week will look at some more of the great, not so good and positively obscure goalkeepers who have played for the club – including a Spaniard, the man who to quote the club was “leaving for intemperate habits” and the one-game wonder who spent most of his time at the club playing darts at the Elm Tavern.
Plus the goalie who conceded four on his debut and a further six a week later, yet remained a league and cup ever present that season.