Ultimately of course, Justin Fashanu’s story was a tragic one.
The many professional and personal lows after leaving Carrow Road, and his self-inflicted end at just 37 years old have been well catalogued with two biographies written to my knowledge – and well worth a read they are too.
On the occasion of what would have been the Fash’s 55th birthday – February 19th – I thought it more fitting to remember all of the happy memories he burnt into my brain as a 14/15 year old as he would have done many other young and old fans from the late 70s-early 80s.
Justin was only the second black man to play for the club, Johnny Miller being the first five years previously. He famously scored the wonder goal against Liverpool which won the 1979/80 Match of the Day goal of the season award – when they bothered to do such a thing properly.
I was there with my dad to witness it and can still, clear as day, remember the momentary stunned effect it had on the crowd and on the likes of Alan Hansen, Mark Lawrenson and, most of all, Ray Clemence.
The crowd soon recovered their senses as sadly did the Scousers who went on to win 5-3 -the best match I’ve seen first-hand.
If that is to be his epitaph, then it’s not a bad one but there were many others in those formative years in Norfolk: 40 goals in just over 100 games in the yellow and green – not a bad strike rate in any era – and half a dozen England U-21 caps.
Some of those goals can be dug up online with a bit of a struggle but what I recall about the Fash was his raw power and athleticism, the like of which had not been seen or is yet to be matched in a City striker of such a young age. It’s worth noting that he made his full debut a month before his 18th birthday.
Those qualities along with his height gave him the full package for a glittering career at a higher level.
Click here for a great documentary from 1981 – the last 2-3 minutes where Justin is asked about his hopes and fears for the future are especially poignant:
Once Cloughie got hold of him for £1million, that magic evaporated quickly. The rest unfolded as tragic history.
A classic case of too much too young, even long before any notion of a Premier League and the all-consuming Murdoch TV empire. Other issues of course ultimately played a part in his downfall.
In one clip from a documentary, with the ink still drying on the contract at Forest, Justin is striding down the touchline at an empty Carrow Road, looks round one last time and bids farewell to the groundsman.
The world was his oyster. I’m sure John Bond (by then at Man. City), Ken Brown and all at the club were delighted.
The transfer fee would have been one reason but also the fact that Fashanu had been nurtured and developed at Norwich. The rest of the country had taken notice and wanted what we had.
One of the top clubs in the country at the time paid top dollar for him.
That was an unheard of situation back then, and sadly remains all too rare these days – maybe only Chris Sutton and Craig Bellamy could compare?
It all seems a long, long time ago that we had Justin in our team. However, he left a lifetime’s impression on me and is forever a Canary to be treasured.