Those of a #NCFC tweeting persuasion may be familiar with a charming gent by the name of Mike Ward – @mjtward19 to give him his full title – who just happened to appear on last night’s Pink Un Podcast. Well, in a busy week of media appearances, here he is again with an MFW guest blog! All yours Mike…
It’s January 17, 1973. What is so significant about that date? Well, it’s two days from my 19th birthday, which will be riotously celebrated at my teacher training college in York!
Much more importantly, it marks the day when I first saw Norwich City play live. The occasion was a FA Cup replay with Don Revie’s mighty and frightening Leeds United at Elland Road.
No squad rotation in those days! Billy Bremner, Johnny Giles et al were all playing and strutting their stuff and expecting to roll over Norwich on their own patch.
The fact that they didn`t was down to one man: Kevin Keelan, who produced the best goalkeeping display I, and many others in the 36000 crowd have ever seen. He was like a man possessed as shots were continually rebuffed. I read a report of the game which described it as the best goalkeeping performance ever witnessed at Elland Road and who am I to argue?
My fascination with goalkeepers was sealed by watching that masterclass and has remained with me ever since. He was eventually beaten by a sumptuous Giles shot, which cancelled out a shock lead given to Norwich by that splendid centre forward, David Cross.
It doesn`t matter one iota that Norwich lost heavily in the third game at Villa Park because Keelan epitomised the notion that you have to be crazy to be a goalkeeper: brilliant, athletic, brave and not averse to being physical with grizzled strikers determined to upset him!
Keelan was the first Norwich goalkeeper I saw live but what a galaxy of great goalkeepers have followed him.
Chris Woods was tall, imposing and breathtakingly agile who would have got a lot more than 43 England caps if it had not been for the presence of Peter Shilton.
Bryan Gunn achieved legendary status not only for his heroic performances on the field but more importantly off it, for his work with Leukemia research. Bryan wasn`t averse to getting involved with the opposition either as proven in the epic brawl at Highbury against Arsenal! (Still the best tear up I`ve seen on a football pitch until perhaps two weeks ago!)
Robert Green announced his arrival onto the Norwich stage with a debut against Ipswich in 1999 and proceeded to break Matt Jackson`s cheekbone early in the game, but he became a massive worthy successor to Gunn and who can forget his staggering save in the Millenium Stadium or the world-class effort in front of the Barclay against Stoke on the day he received his first England call up?
We then roll on to a relatively barren period with a sequence of loan goalkeepers to follow David Marshall, who resembled Road Runner in his haste to leave Norwich after relegation, before Fraser Forster arrived on loan to cement his place in our history despite only one season with us.
John Ruddy, however, was a superb replacement and one only has to look at the fondness and affection shown on his farewell appearance to realise he had entered Norwich city folklore.
Angus Gunn was most definitely one of our own and made everyone sad that we weren’t in the Premier League so we could afford him.
But football is about legacy and we now have the perfect successor to the wonderful goalkeepers and characters I have outlined above.
Krul was not everyone`s cup of tea when he signed. He hadn’t played regularly since suffering a terrible knee injury whilst on international duty, so scepticism was understandable. But goalkeeping is as much about character as ability and he has both in abundance.
He had a poor start, by his own admission, but how he has come through it. As the team has grown in confidence, so has he and he has played every minute of every league game. Top class saves away at Derby, Bristol City and Brentford ensured valuable points and he has overcome the doubters (well, most of them).
Krul is a worthy successor to the greats I have talked about because he “gets” this club and its fans. Look at how he whips the fans up, barks instructions at his defenders and following on from Messrs Keelan and Gunn, he is not afraid to mix it. Ask Mr Bamford if you don`t believe me!
Our side is wonderfully vibrant, exciting, attacking and a delight to watch but don`t underestimate how important Krul is going to be in the nerve-jangling run-in with his leadership, experience and outstanding ability. We are lucky to have him. Yes, he is crazy as well – he`s a goalkeeper!
One footnote about our legacy of outstanding goalkeepers: On Saturday, February 16, 2019, three of our former Academy goalkeepers were on the pitch for their respective clubs. Jed Steer at Villa, Declan Rudd for Preston and Remi Matthews, of course, single-handedly ensuring Norwich didn`t get double figures against Bolton.
That is some testament to the talent spotting at an early age and I`m confident that an ex-pupil of mine, Aston Oxborough, will be the next in line to follow this great tradition of fine goalkeepers to have graced our club.
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