Whatever status a football club holds, amongst its supporters and within the game at large, it’s almost certainly going to be a transitory one.
Indeed, in an increasingly unpredictable game, those fleeting and often beguiling switches between delight to despair and back again are pretty much a given.
Delight to despair? Ask the supporters of clubs like Barnsley, Blackpool, Bradford City, Coventry City, Oldham Athletic, Sheffield United, Swindon Town and Wigan. All clubs currently, as the old football saying goes, ‘plying their trade’ in the old Division Three with, for most of them, little chance of even returning to the Championship, let alone regaining any sort of foothold in the Premier League.
Whilst this season’s Championship contains seventeen clubs that have, for at least one season but, for most, considerably longer, spent time in the Premier League.
Add Portsmouth, currently making steady strides forward under ex-Canary Paul Cook in League Two and that’s a total of twenty six clubs; a little over a third of the entire complement of the four senior divisions that used to play at the top level.
And every single one of them will want to get back there.
But few of them will.
A similar ‘rule’, for want of a better word, applies to the players themselves. They can be the proverbial heroes one moment and zeroes the next, or, to paraphrase a memorable line from the film Spinal Tap, are “…currently residing in the ‘where are they now?’ file”.
Take our playing squad from that eminently forgettable 2008/09 season.
It all seems a long, long time ago now. Positively Cretaceous in fact.
Yet it will still only be seven years to the day this Sunday since we lost 2-3 at home to Swansea, and slipped to 19th place in the Championship, with one account of the match starting with words that might as well apply to this season; the observer noting, “City again dominate but fail to capitalise and dodgy defending does for them”.
Cup of déjà vous anyone?
We used 33 different players during the course of that season. And, if you really want to know how fleeting, how transitory football is, here’s a little bit of evidence for you. How many, of that 33, do you think are still at a club in one of the top two divisions in England today?
Let’s start at the very top. Of that 33, only two of them are currently at a Premier League club with one of them, Wes Hoolahan, still a Canary. The other, Ryan Bertrand, is one of the few Canaries who have played for us and won a Champions League medal.
Four are currently resident in the Championship: Jonathan Grounds, David Marshall, Jason Shackell and Korey Smith.
Which leaves a total of 27 players from that relegation bound squad who have either retired from the game, else are playing abroad or at League One level and below.
Let’s pluck a few names out of the footballing ether.
Sammy Clingan, remember him? He jumped ship at the first available opportunity in order to sign for Coventry City. Spells at Doncaster Rovers and Kilmarnock, who released him at the end of last season, followed. Sammy is still only 31 and might think, given his footballing career which has included 321 senior career league appearances as well as 36 for Northern Ireland, he might reasonably have still expected to be playing full time football.
Ah, Sammy, football is such a fickle mistress.
Then there is Lee Croft. He legged it out of Norwich and Norfolk at the end of that season as fast as he could, Player of the Season award in hand. He joined Derby County before spells at Huddersfield, St Johnstone and two at Oldham Athletic, who he rejoined this summer for a second spell.
And how about Omar Koroma, Glenn Roeder’s “lovely mover” who we signed from Portsmouth? Harry Redknapp had sung his praises to Glenn, warning him at the time we signed him on loan that there was no way it would be a permanent deal but an opportunity for Premier League side and then FA Cup holders Pompey to let one of their most promising youngsters get a few games at a lower level.
“Premier League side and then FA Cup holders Portsmouth” – remember what I said about the game being a transitory one?
Koroma made just five appearances for us and, even if there was some lovely moving involved at the time, it cut no ice with Roeder. Neither Redknapp for that matter as Koroma ended up at Forest Green Rovers before last being seen playing for Dulwich Hamlet.
Alan Gow currently plays for St Mirren. His shirt sponsors for this season, should you be interested, are a company that supplies bottle washers to pubs.
Cody McDonald is back at Gillingham, Leroy Lita (who had spells at a further seven English teams after his loan with us ended) – still only 30 – is currently playing for AO Chania in Greece whilst Jon Otsemobor and Mark Fotheringham are two more who, like Clingan, are currently free agents.
Otsemobor has represented ten different clubs in his nomadic career, one which saw him reach his peak with us from 2007-2010 with 93 league appearances made, 93 appearances during which you might have been forgiven for thinking he was only really keeping the shirt warm until we got someone else.
That person being, incidentally, Russell Martin, an example of a player whose career has gone in the opposite direction.
He’d had a solid, if not very spectacular career in the lower divisions. Rejected as a schoolboy by Charlton, he then had three seasons at Wycombe Wanderers, the highlight of which would have been reaching a League Two play-off semi-final that Wycombe lost.
He went on to join Peterborough but was bombed out on loan to us by an incoming manager, Mark Cooper, who didn’t think that Martin was up to the challenge of Championship football.
So what happened next?
Peterborough were relegated and Norwich were promoted. Since then Russ has played for Scotland against Germany in a European Championship qualifying tie, been promoted three times with Norwich and, earlier this season, scored for Norwich, at Liverpool, in the Premier League.
Mark Cooper on the other hand, was sacked as Swindon Town manager last month.
Now Russ is a gent. He won’t look back at either a club or a manager who rejected him and get any sort of pleasure out of how his career has since sky-rocketed whilst the trajectories of both the Posh and Cooper have gone in the opposite direction. In fact, if you were to raise the subject with him, he’d probably just smile and say, “…that’s football”.
Indeed it is. The one where you really have to treat those two imposters of triumph and disaster as one and the same.
Just a few more examples of footballs ups and downs.
Oh, and before I forget….
We were one of ten clubs he represented in a little under a decade since he signed for Arsenal in 2005.
Know where he is now?
Playing in Serie A, that’s all. For Frosinone, their very first at that level.
And you know what? I’m really pleased for him.
lisbon canary says
Your remarkable point about the twenty six clubs that used to play in the Premier League reminded me of another fact:
Only two of the teams that have been relegated from the top level since the start of the 2009-10 season are currently playing in it – Norwich and West Ham. The three other clubs that managed to return did so only temporarily – Burnley, QPR and Hull (for two seasons).
Once relegated it is unusual for any club to (re)establish itself in the top tier. After promotion, 17th spot this season would be an impressive second step for the club.
Dan R says
Another great piece, Ed. What about that Scottish Centre-Half, Roeder used to rave about, John something? We got him when he was injured didn’t we, and he hardly ever played.
Dan (2), that would be John Kennedy from Celtic. Very much thought of as the “next big thing” at the time and with us to ‘toughen up’/get playing time-the sort of thing we now ask other clubs to do for our up and coming players.
Sadly, the knee injury he sustained in 2004 was something he never recovered from and although he played in 16 leaghe games for us, he never retained full fitness and retired the following year.
We could have been handily placed for centre halves that season as we also had, briefly, Dejan Stefanovic who was injured whilst he was with us.
Dan Rear says
Thanks, Ed, that’s the chap! Funny how ‘big Club’ Celtic loaned us their players. Quite the reverse today I suspect.
By the way, didn’t Russ sign for us around October ’09 on loan, so in the 09-10 season under St Paul, not 08-09 under Rodent?
Stewart Lewis says
Ah, Sammy Clingan – it could have been you.
Lisbon Canary (1) – I was going to cite a similar, and equally sobering, stat. It’s too early to tell how the three clubs relegated last season will do, but of the nine clubs relegated from the Prem 2012-14, one is already down to League 1. Seven are mired in the Championship, while just one has returned to the top division. Norwich City.
Declan Rudd was in the 08/09 squad and still is (obviously).
Also worth a mention from that squad is the legend that is Jamie Cureton, still banging them in (top scorer last season) for Dagenham in L2 at the age of 40.
Dave H says
Excellent & enjoyable article. It is easy to criticise the likes of Clingan & Croft, but if memory serves me correct, both had played well that season & deserved to be playing at a higher level than we could provide – you can’t blame them from wanting to move on. Should Robbie Brady have stayed with Hull?