So then, Paul Jones.
The latest member of the Norwich City goalkeeping fraternity with a near impossible job on his hands (IE. Being the number three number one at Carrow Road).
It’s never been an easy job being the goalkeeping cover at Norwich. Even more so if you are regarded as the number three choice in that department.
Jones is, to be fair, a more than accomplished professional. He won’t be far off 400 senior League and Cup appearances now in a career that has lasted just over a decade. His footballing CV is a modest one. Despite being highly thought at both schoolboy and youth team level with Leyton Orient and Charlton Athletic, he didn’t make a single senior appearance with either club; moving on when still only a teenager to the then non-league Exeter City and winning promotion back to the Football League with them before spells at Peterborough, Crawley Town and Portsmouth.
There are those who will say that sort of playing background does not make Jones suitable for a club of Norwich City’s size and ambition. But then there are others who will say that Jones could, quite easily, have either chosen to stay with Portsmouth this season, very probably as first choice keeper, or earned himself a move to another club in the lower divisions and the comfort and relative security that would have got him.
Yet he opted to sign for us with all the attendant challenges and consequences that would bring to his door, one of the latter being that he has only signed for the money as ‘he knows’ he will have little to no chance of being anything near to the first choice keeper at Carrow Road.
I would disagree. Jones has played football as a first choice pick for nearly all of his career. And, at just 30, he is hardly likely to think his playing career is drawing to a close; there is nothing of the Richard Wright and Manchester City (zero league appearances over four seasons from 2012) about him.
He wants to play and he will push John Ruddy and Michael McGovern as hard as he can. He’ll believe he is good enough and, make no mistake about it, Alex Neil will think he is good enough as well.
His chances of ousting the established number one will, at least, be a little easier than they ever were for Mervyn Cawston.
Diss born Cawston signed professional forms with Norwich in the proverbial Summer of ’69 just as Kevin Keelan was fast approaching his pomp and peak years at the club. Keelan is, as anyone who ever saw him play, something of – and I say this in the most polite and positive terms possible – a footballing freak of nature.
From August 14, 1971 through to September 14, 1974, Keelan played in every League, FA and League Cup game Norwich participated in, a remarkable record of 159 consecutive games played at the highest level; an extraordinary level of achievement and consistency for any player, at anytime, but especially so in the 1970s.
Injury finally meant that Cat had to sit out the Division Two game at Fulham on September 21, 1974. By now Mervyn Cawston had seen the magnitude of his task and left, as had Peter Vasper and Geoff Barnard (who went on to be a teammate of Kevin Keegan at Scunthorpe), all three of them beaten into submission by the sheer brilliance and consistency of Keelan – he who would not be moved.
Instead the unenviable task was handed to the latest number two, one Roger Hansbury.
Hansbury knew that his performance against Fulham would have to be nothing short of world class in order to give himself any chance at all of retaining his place for the Canaries next game when Keelan would be banging down John Bond’s door, demanding he be reinstated.
As things turned out, Bond’s choice in the matter was made a tad easier when Norwich, including an undoubtedly nervous Hansbury, lost 4-0 at Craven Cottage.
Not the sort of debut you would wish on anyone and one that, for a Norwich goalkeeper, you would think might be difficult to be “bettered” in terms of the abject misery Hansbury must have been feeling as the fourth goal went in.
That is, at least, until Michael Theoklitos came along.
Hansbury, unlike Theoklitos, stuck around and stuck it out, despite his nightmare debut. And it paid off for him. He ended his Norwich career having made 84 senior appearances for the club with Clive Baker being, for a while, his main rival for the number one shirt.
That is, of course, until Chris Woods arrived at the club. He went on to surpass Keelan’s record, playing in a remarkable 170 consecutive League and Cup games himself in the first-team from 1981 through to 1984 before injury ruled him out for three games, his place being taken by former Manchester City and England goalkeeper Joe Corrigan.
Later that season, Graham Benstead arrived as the new number two goalkeeper at Carrow Road, one who, you felt at the time, had been signed as Woods eventual replacement, such was the interest in the latter being expressed by bigger clubs at that time.
And so it proved. Woods joined Glasgow Rangers in the summer of 1986, starting that season as the club’s number one goalkeeper with the very highly thought of Harvey Lim as his deputy.
Benstead certainly arrived at Carrow Road with all the right, for want of a better word, credentials. He’d originally signed for QPR (from whom, like Woods, he joined Norwich from) under Terry Venables and had already received international recognition with the England youth team.
He was also a little like Woods in stature – they were both 6’ 1” in height with the sort of commanding physique that went with it. So, in all senses of the word, Benstead looked as if he was going to be a very useful acquisition indeed for the Canaries, potential being translated into the sort of form that saw him keep four clean sheets in the opening ten games in the 1986/87 season-and that at the top level.
Yet, for all that, Ken Brown and Mel Machin thought the club needed more. Which is, of course, where Bryan Gunn enters the picture. His illustrious playing career with the club suggests that they were right even if, at the time, the decision to phase Benstead out of first-team contention after just sixteen league appearances in total, looked a little harsh. But when a player comes, as Gunn did, with a strong character recommendation from Alex Ferguson, it does well to listen. Brown did and took the plunge.
But what of the man who was originally seen as Benstead’s understudy, Harvey Lim?
He’s signed for Norwich as an eighteen year old with some promise but, after three years and only a loan spell with Plymouth Argyle to show for it (where he also failed to trouble the first-team), Lim spent a season playing non-league football with Kettering Town before playing in Swedish football for Friska Viljor. He returned to English football with Gillingham in 1989 making nearly 100 league and cup appearances for the Gills in his time at the club before moving onto play in Hong Kong.
He is currently the owner of a contemporary art gallery in Whistler, Canada. So he hasn’t done so bad in life.
Mervyn Cawston (seen here, left with the father of Brentford keeper, David Bentley) still lives in Norwich, working in the financial services industry whilst Peter Vasper did much the same thing with the Prudential in the Midlands.
Roger Hansbury has also ended up in the Midlands where he spent time running a greetings card shop whilst his one time friend and rival, Clive Baker works in the insurance industry.
Maybe Paul Jones will end up owning an artisan bakery? With Carlo Nash the proprietor of an upmarket deli?
Who knows. But it must be better than being the second or third choice number one to a number one legend?