With the permutations and mounting pressure of promotion battles to come over the next few weeks, the Barry Butler Memorial Trophy vote seems a relatively trifling affair.
Last season, with relegation being stared squarely in the face at this very same time of the year, the award became an unfortunate vehicle for fans’ frustrations.
The case for the third string keeper was a sadly misjudged stain on the memory of the man after whom the trophy is named and also on those previous winners who have served the club with such great distinction.
To clarify, Barry Butler played over 300 games at the heart of the Canaries defence, became club captain and player-coach under the legendary Ron Ashman in the 1960s and, but for his death at just 31 in a road accident, would have possibly gone on to greater glories at Carrow Road.
The first trophy named in his honour went to Terry Allcock in 1967. The last, after reason eventually won the day over anger, went to Robert Snodgrass. Only Grant Holt has won it three times – a great hat trick from Holty only bettered possibly by the one he inflicted on the Tractor Boys in 2010.
A full list of winners can be found at this excellent site. 39 great names and worthy winners to a man.
While a goalkeeper, of course, plays a crucial role in any season, and the trophy has gone to the holder of the number one jersey on six occasions (Kevin Keelan twice, Chris Woods, Bryan Gunn twice and Andy Marshall), for me if the keeper has been the outstanding player then it’s probably not been a great season.
Does that theory hold water? Almost, but for one very odd exception as it turns out. On Five of those six occasions the award came off the back of a lower-half to bottom-end table finish, as might be expected from an average to disappointing season.
The other was when we had our highest ever finish in the history of the club!
1992-93 had us mixing it with the big boys of the day under Mike Walker and – remind the kids and the grandkids at every opportunity – Norwich City finished third in the first ever Premier League.
I was there for that ‘annus mirabilis’, and 22 years on it seems more and more remarkable that we achieved such a stratospheric finish.
Bryan Gunn proudly held the Barry Butler trophy aloft at the end of that record-breaking season, and yet City finished with a -4 goal difference after conceding 65 goals – more than Nottingham Forest who finished bottom and more than twice as many as champions, Manchester Utd. Bizarre and unlikely to ever be repeated again – on all counts.
We’d been spanked 7-1 at Blackburn, 4-1 at Liverpool and 5-1 at Spurs. Not all of that was Gunny’s fault obviously but why did he pick up the player of the season award when we’d conceded such a deluge of goals?
Gunn’s young daughter had tragically died from leukaemia during that season which presumably propelled many to put a tick against his name. In terms of efforts on the pitch, the likes of Ian Crook or Mark Robins – who finished top scorer – were unlucky to lose out.
Last season of course, we had to endure a similar list of stuffings at Man City, Liverpool and Man Utd and yet at the end of a torrid season, the goals against column showed 3 fewer than the glory season of 1992-93. Bizarre with knobs on, and I’m pretty sure that John Ruddy was never in with a sniff of picking up the Barry Butler jug after that calamitous campaign.
Similarly, if the stand-out player is a defender then more times than it’s unlikely to have been an attacking goal fest rewarded by promotion or at least a top 10 finish. Seb Bassong was the last to come top of the vote when we finished 11th.
No, I would hope that the player of the season would be your main striker or forward-thinking mid-fielder with a sack full of goals for their efforts or a number of assists and influential match-winning performances.
By that argument, I’d expect that the winner for 2014/15 will come from a short-list of Cameron Jerome, Bradley Johnson or maybe if current form continues, the longest serving member of the squad – Wes Hoolahan. For Wes, it would be a fitting accolade for his contributions to the club over the past six and a bit years.
But for that ankle injury inflicted in or just after the 2nd derby game, Lewis Grabban too would almost certainly have been on my short-list.
For me, Jerome deserves it for the number and quality of vital goals which have left his boot, but Johnson appears to be the red hot favourite after a stunning Easter period. He seems to have a more visceral connection with the fans despite being on the wrong end of sardonic observations of his weaknesses in the past.
But I’m not here to try to influence anyone thinking of casting their 2015 vote – I wouldn’t be so arrogant to think I could. I’m not a politician after all.
Now there lies a far more difficult and important voting conundrum.