Adam Drury wore the Canaries’ yellow for 11 years (and eight managers), and saw it all: the rise, decline and rise again of the great club in the Fine City. If, as cliché insists, football can be a rollercoaster, then he was at the club for the entire ride. His self-critical account of that adventure first appeared in the second volume of the Tales From The City trilogy. It is reproduced here with the permission of Adam Leventhal, for the publishers, and editor Mick Dennis.
GOING UP, DOWN, UP
BY ADAM DRURY
Someone told me that I am the only player who was at Norwich before the 2002 play-off final, in the team who won the Football League in 2004, was with the club as we went from the Premier League right down to League One and then was still a Norwich player through all the climb back up to the Premier League again. So my 11 years were certainly not dull.
The absolute low point is not hard to guess. I was in the team that lost 7-1 to Colchester at Carrow Road on the first game of the season in League One. Fortunately for me, when Paul Lambert took over as manager soon afterwards, he didn’t remember I was on the pitch that day! But I was.
The next day I went to the Tesco near where I lived in Hethersett to get milk or something. A guy, quite old, parked his car, got out, walked past me, looked at me, and said, ‘Surprised you’re showing your face after yesterday.’ I just let it go. He’d got a point.
But before that 2009-10 season, I’d had the chance to move. A few clubs were asking about me, but I was like, ‘Don’t be silly, I don’t want to leave here.’ I could have got a few more quid going somewhere else but I didn’t want to move. I just thought it was the right club for me.
In fact, I don’t know how many supporters realise that I was with Norwich as a schoolboy before I played for Peterborough. I don’t think Norwich fans know that that club down the road in Suffolk were interested in me when I was at Peterborough. But they do know that I chose Norwich.
I grew up in Cottenham, just north of Cambridge. Mum had been an airhostess and dad was a tiler. He still is. When I was at primary school, I was playing for my village team and got selected for the county. I played a few games in Norwich and was invited to their Centre of Excellence. But because I lived in Cambridgeshire, I had to go to the Centre of Excellence that Norwich ran in Hitchin.
My brother, who is a couple of years younger than me, was going there as well. He was a left-winger, taller than me then and now, and a lot better technically than me. I think he could have gone a long way in the game, but football just wasn’t his passion. He had lots of other interests and liked to go out with friends, so at 16 or 17 he decided he didn’t want to take football as seriously as I did.
I understand that. It was quite difficult having mates if you were spending all your spare time trying to be a professional footballer. In holidays, instead of doing school trips or just hanging about with friends, I was spending 23 hours on a ferry for Centre of Excellence trips to places like Denmark.
When you go back to school after the holiday, your schoolmates can be harsh. In the playground they would assume, because I’d been away on a football trip, that I was a bighead. That’s why my best friend was and is someone who’d been on those football trips with me: Niall Inman, who was in the Republic of Ireland team who finished third in the world under-20 championships in 1997. He played for quite a few clubs. After leaving Peterborough, his longest stint was with Kettering Town.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying, ‘Oh, it was terrible being a young footballer’. It was definitely what I wanted to do. But when I got to 13, it seemed like all the lads at the Norwich Centre of Excellence were getting schoolboy forms and I wasn’t offered one. I was thinking, ‘What’s going on here?’ Kit Carson, who had been in charge of the Norwich youth set-up, had gone to Peterborough and I knew he would have me, so I asked to talk to the Norwich people: Gordon Bennett (who was head of the youth system), Keith Webb (youth team manager) and Sammy Morgan and Mike Sutton, who were the coaches of my year group. I went and asked about my chances of schoolboy forms.
I got a letter saying, ‘Thanks for your time’. So that was it. I went to Peterborough where I did get schoolboy forms and then YTS. My best friend Niall and I lived with the same family and then, at the end of my YTS, we both got year-to-year pro deals.
It was while I was a TYS that I met my wife, Helen. Over the years she has had some tough health issues to deal with in her family, but has always supported me through my less serious ups and downs.
And I thought there was going to be a down in the summer just before I turned 18 when there was a news flash. ‘Breaking news: Barry Fry has bought Peterborough!’ He was famous for a huge turnover of players and I thought I’d be out of the door. But he said he would give me a chance and he was as good as his word.
I made my debut the following May and went on to make 150 appearances, win their player-of-the-season award and appear in the play-off final at the old Wembley when they won promotion from the fourth tier. That was in 2000. I was 21. I got kicked in the head in the first half and came off with concussion.
Near the end of the following season, in the March, we were on the bus on the way to an away game and Baz — which was what everyone called Barry Fry — said, ‘Norwich have been in for you’.
Peterborough were in the third tier and Norwich were in the second. Norwich didn’t have anyone who was playing consistently at left back. I thought it was a good move and the deal went through on transfer deadline day, 2001. That’s the only time my name has ever been involved in any news flashes.
My new manager was Nigel Worthington and I soon got nicknamed ‘Son of Nigel’ because he’d been a left back, stuck me straight in the team and more or less kept me there. The Norwich lads reckoned I had to be a relative!
My first game was against Grimsby at Carrow Road. The lads were like, ‘This is a massive six-pointer. If we don’t win this we’ll be favourites to get relegated’. I said, ‘What?!’ I’d only just signed and was so happy to be at Norwich. But they’d lost four games on the spin and were sliding down the table. If we went down, I’d be back in the same division as Peterborough. But we won 2-1 and got on a bit of roll to the end of the season, and it continued the next season.
I couldn’t have been happier. I was 22 when I joined Norwich and turned 23 just before the next season, 2001-02. I was in a team with good players. There were men like Craig Fleming, Malky Mackay, who was just establishing himself, Phil Mulryne in midfield, Rob Green in goal. Up front there was Iwan Roberts and we had Paul McVeigh. I don’t think everyone gives Paul the credit for how influential he was, particularly in that 2001-02 season. People perhaps forget the goals he chipped in. He was never going to race away from anyone but he was technically good and a thinker about the game. He will tell you that he set up most of my goals, and I wouldn’t argue. But scoring was never my forte.
I was a defender: a left back. I would always back myself, defensively, in a one versus one. If you want to take me on, I will back myself to stop you going past me with the ball. And if your job is to get the ball into the middle for your top scorer, well, I’m going to prevent that.
It was a Peterborough youth team coach called Jim Walker who converted me from a winger or central midfielder to left back and then there was another guy at Peterborough, Chris Turner, who was massive on just defending. He took me daily for one-v-one sessions. I was already quite good at it, but he drilled me and drilled me, and made me a better tackler. He’d say, ‘You don’t get beat. You don’t get beat’.
I wasn’t overly quick, but I concentrated well, and I learned to read the game, to read what an opponent was doing. I had a good ability to change direction quickly.
The modern game has changed. Defending isn’t the main thing for fullbacks and you hear people say, ‘He’s a good left back but he can’t defend’. In my book that means he isn’t a good left back.
Being able to defend at fullback was more important then, though, probably because everyone played 4-4-2 and you’d be up against an out-and-out winger every week. If he went past you, your team was in trouble, but not many got past me. Throughout my career I could say that. I’m my own biggest critic and there were things about my game I wasn’t happy with, but that wasn’t one of them.
Our manager — whether it was Nigel Worthington, Paul Lambert, whoever — would say, ‘If you stop your man getting the ball over, we stop them scoring’. So I would think, ‘Right, I can play a big part in winning this game’. Perhaps the media and even the fans didn’t always see that, but I wasn’t after headlines. I wanted to do the job the manager, and my team-mates, understood was important. No matter who you put me against, I’d think, ‘He won’t get round me.’ I played against Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo and thought the same. I just regarded it as my personal challenge. Mind you, when we played Southampton once and Bale was left back, getting the ball from the keeper and running the length of the pitch, I was like, ‘Please don’t switch wings!’
In that 2001-02 season, my first full season as a Norwich player, we reached the play-off final at Cardiff for promotion to the Premier League. The two semi-final matches against Wolves were fantastic, unreal. Those were the times when I said to myself, ‘This is why you wanted to be a pro. This is the reason you pushed yourself. These are the games you want’.
Up the spine of that team we had lads who all played more than 40 games that season: Greeny, Malky, Flem, Gary Holt. Then several had played nearly 40: me, Mulryne and McVeigh. It was a settled team and we’d all got there together. At Wolves that night for the second leg of the semi-final, we just weren’t going to throw away all we’d worked for. We’d won the first leg 3-1 at home and at Molineux we held out for 77 minutes before they scored. And then we kept them out until the end and went through 3-2.
As for the final against Birmingham, well, because I’d had concussion and come off in the 2000 final with Peterborough, I didn’t really feel like I was a full part of the occasion. So to get to another final two years later, even though it was Cardiff and not Wembley, was just brilliant. When we walked out before the game, with the stadium roof closed and one half of the ground blue and the other yellow and green, again, I thought, ‘This is what it is all about’.
Iwan scored in extra-time and thought it was Golden Goal and that he’s won it. He went racing off and I was like, ‘Where’s he going?’ Then they equalised and it went to penalties. The lads who missed ours, Mulryne and Daryl Sutch, well, you’d have backed them to put them away. Mullers always placed the ball so well, but on the day, instead of side-footing it, tried to blast it. Sutchy had never missed a penalty ever in training but he rolled his one wide. But I can’t talk because I think Greeny would have been in front of me in the line to take one.
I thought, ‘I had concussion when Peterborough won. Now I’ve played a full game for Norwich but we’ve lost on penalties. That might be it. I might not get another chance of winning something’. But it turned out there was a lot more to come.
The following season, 2002-03, we had a bit of a reaction to losing the final, I think, and didn’t do so well. But I won the fans’ player-of-the-season award, which I was very, very proud of.
Then, at the start of the next season, Nigel made me captain. I couldn’t believe it. I’m not a shouter on the field — nor off it, either. I am just Adam: just happy to do my job and go home. Away from football I keep myself to myself. I am one of those that, if there is a night out, I wouldn’t be noticed much. I certainly wouldn’t be the centre of attention.
So becoming captain was a strange one. I remember we were out on the main pitch at Colney and Nigel said, ‘Adam, I am thinking about making you captain. What do you think?’ I told him I was honoured, and that it was unexpected. Then I said, ‘I want to ask one or two of the other lads what they think about it.’
There were big characters at the club, like Malky, Iwan and Flem. So I said, ‘I want to check with them. I don’t want to upset the dressing room and I am not vocal like some of the others’. Nigel said, ‘That’s fine. They give leadership. That’s the way they are and the way they play. But I want you because of the way you conduct yourself’.
I did go and ask Malky, Iwan and Flem and every single one of them was brilliant. Of course they had some fun. They said, ‘Well, you’re Son of Nigel, so of course you should be captain’. I explained to them that I hadn’t asked for the job and they all said, ‘No problem’. That meant everything to me. Without them backing me like that I would have found it difficult to go to someone like Iwan, who was an absolute icon, and say anything that might have been stepping on his toes.
The way that 2003-04 season turned out — winning the championship, the open-top bus tour, holding the trophy up on the balcony of City Hall and so on -— I am so glad now that Nigel asked me, that the lads backed me, and that I took on the job. I wouldn’t change what happened.
But I do think that I tried to play up to being a captain, rather than just being myself, maybe. I was so busy trying to make sure I was being captain that it took away a little from my game. Knowing what I do now, if I could go back, I would still take the job. But would I do it slightly differently? Maybe.
I felt I had a dip in form when we reached the Premier League. Defensively I didn’t have any problems. On the ball, though, I thought I could have done better. If I’d believed in myself a bit more I’d have been OK. But I got it into my head that perhaps I was giving the ball away too much. I probably wasn’t but I over-analysed and the team was losing, not doing great, and I was picking holes in my own game.
I wasn’t fazed by the players I was facing. There were some pretty decent ones, but that wasn’t my problem. I just felt I could do more, contribute more to a team that wasn’t getting enough points.
I was still doing my job defensively, I believe. I was proud and satisfied to be a consistent performer at that job: a regular seven or eight out of ten player. But you do get stereotyped a bit and my label was, ‘Good one-v-one defender. Could be a bit better on the ball’. And I believed that. Now, at the age I’ve reached, I look at the games and think, ‘You know what, you weren’t bad on the ball either – but you didn’t have enough belief in that bit of the game’.
Anyway, we had Darren Huckerby to do the stuff at the other end of the pitch. He’d joined us in the season we won the Championship and was the opposite to me. With me, if someone ran at me, it was a matter of pride that he wouldn’t get past me. With Hucks, if he took the ball up to a defender, we’d all back him to take it past him.
In training, Hucks and I never really faced each other. I think he was scared of me! We didn’t see much of each other on a Saturday either, because he was always up the other end of the field attacking and leaving the defensive duties on our side of the field to me.
Actually, we wanted Hucks up the opposition end, because if we could get the ball to him, he’d do some damage. And the other team had to leave one or two men to mark him. So, although I joked about him not tracking back, Hucks made my job easier, because opponents on my side of the pitch were always chasing him and not bothering me!
I had a really good understanding with Hucks. He’d say, ‘Don’t bang the ball over the top. Drop it in front of me’. So I’d drop it in so that he’d take it on the bounce with his back to the defender, the defender would close him down and Hucks would spin and be away. And I’d watch him from the half-way line thinking, ‘Go on Hucks, take them all on!’
I had a good arrangement with old ‘Three Lungs’, Gary Holt, too. I could stop a winger going down the line but if he liked to check inside, it could be more tricky, and that was when Gary was absolutely brilliant. He’d always be there. So, if someone did try to check inside they’d run straight into Holty. Trust me, you don’t want to do that!
And I’d say to him, ‘Gary if your man is giving you a difficult time, make him pass out to my winger and I’ll take care of things.’ The little understandings we had in that team were outstanding.
The 2004-05 season in the Premier League was an unforgettable experience. I was captain, so I remember walking out at Arsenal, and I’m next to Patrick Vierra. At Man United I walked out with Roy Keane. At Tottenham it was Jamie Redknapp. At Liverpool it was Steven Gerrard. But I wasn’t intimidated. I was like, ‘Wow, this isn’t bad.’
At Old Trafford I had the ball in the corner and Keane came across and smashed me in half. The whole of Old Trafford was chanting, ‘Kea-no, Kea-no’, and I was just a crumpled heap. But I still just thought, ‘This is the top, top league’. I was sort of thinking, ‘There are so many players, decent players, who never get to be cut in half by Roy Keane!’
Another game that stands out, and not for a good reason, was the second match of the season, against Arsenal. Lauren should have been sent off for bringing down Hucks but we ended up losing 4-1. They were The Invincibles, though, and Thierry Henry was doing that thing where he knocks the ball past you and actually runs off the pitch as he goes around you after it. He was giving people head starts and just gliding past. Not on my side though!
I remember the ball pinged around our box and it came to me. They’d been playing total football and when the ball came to me, on the penalty spot, I thought, ‘I’ll play us out of trouble here.’ I took a touch, Freddie Ljunjberg nicked the ball off my toes and Robert Pires got their third goal.
We were against the elite, probably the best players in the world at that time, and it was an eye-opener. But at the same time I was like, ‘This is where I want to be competing.’
Our problem, until we signed Dean Ashton in January, was that we didn’t have goals. Once Deano was in the team, we got going and we gave ourselves a chance of staying up. So the less said about the game at Fulham, on the last day of that season, the better — except that we had to win and so when we went one-down after ten minutes, we chased it and for them it became party time. In case you don’t know, they won 6-0. I certainly don’t need reminding.
That summer I was gutted and when the new season started, we’d go to Championship grounds and look around before the game and think, ‘We’ve got to do all this all over again.’ The games come two a week, it’s a grind, and you are thinking, ‘We worked so hard to get out of this once but now here we are again.’ There was definitely a reaction to relegation that was hard to shake off.
It’s Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday. You are never going to be 100 per cent fit. You are going to have knocks and niggles, but that is when you need people who you can bank on week in and week out. I think that is when being a left back who is a seven or an eight every game, it’s not a bad thing.
We were favourites to go straight back up, but we never got going and then a decline set in and it ended, eventually, with Nigel leaving. Next there was the spell in which we had different managers and instead of challenging for promotion, we were fighting to stay in the Championship.
In the September of the 2007-08 season, I did my knee and missed a year. The injury happened just before Glenn Roeder came in, during the three games or so Jim Duffy was in charge. The first diagnosis was a calf strain but, after having treatment for a while, I could feel my knee pushing out to the side as I walked. Hucks said to me, ‘Well both your knees push out to the side. They always have’.
I had it checked by a top guy in Nottingham. I sat in the room with him and he said, ‘Yeah, you won’t play again this season.’ Basically the thing that joins my hamstring to the knee had snapped. I admit I had tears in my eyes because I wasn’t expecting that at all.
As a manager, Glenn did bring in some good players — Wes Hoolahan, Sammy Clingan for instance. But he brought in so many lads on loan that we weren’t allowed to have them all in the team. Glenn was trying to raise the quality quickly, and if you bring in one or two, like we did with Hucks and Peter Crouch under Nigel, that’s great. But you can’t have the whole group made up of people on loan who’ve got no real investment in results. Some of the loan lads were thinking, ‘If I have a bad game it’s not the end of the world because in a month I’m going back to my own club’.
Glenn’s way worked for the season he joined us, 2007-08, though. He kept us up when it had looked a pretty bad situation when he arrived in the October. And results were still bad for most of the season. I remember talking to Hucks after one defeat, just after Christmas. He rang me from the bus on the way back and that was the lowest I’d ever heard him. And it was hard for me, even though I was injured.
Eventually, during the 2008-09 season, I was almost ready to play again — until my hamstring snapped during a training session. That was a low-point. So Dave Carolan (the sports scientist), Neal Reynolds and Pete Shaw (the physios) all deserve special thanks. A long-lay off can be a lonely business, but they helped me immensely with all the rehab work day after day and, in the end, they got me back playing again.
But the results in that 2008-09 season were terrible and Glenn lost his job. Bryan Gunn took over in the January, but we went down to the third tier: exactly where I’d been when I left Peterborough. Relegation was a massive disappointment. Massive, no question.
Then we had that shocking start to the 2009-10 season against Colchester and their manager, Paul Lambert, took over. Once he came in and set us up with a diamond in midfield, we started tearing teams apart. It was a system that got Wes on the ball, and we had another Holty — Grant — to score goals and it just went from there.
In the October, we had Carlisle away and my wife was due to go into labour with our daughter, Isla. I was thinking, ‘Please start labour before we start the six-hour journey’. And she did. She went into labour on the Friday and Paul let me stay behind.
But when I came out of the hospital at one in the morning, after being with my wife at the birth, I’d got a 121 message. It was the manager. ‘Adam, it’s Paul Lambert, give us a call.’
He told me I had to be at Norwich airport for 10 o’clock to fly up to the game with Delia Smith, Michael Wynn Jones, David McNally and some of the other directors. I was like, ‘Really!?’. But he was like, ‘Yep. You’re playing, so make sure you prepare properly’.
So I flew up there. We landed in what looked like just an ordinary field, and went to the ground. Wes didn’t have his shin pads so he put a programme down each sock. The lads were giving me stick about having it cushy on the flight up when they’d been stuck on a coach but Wes scored, we won 1-0 and Paul let me fly back to be with my wife. I waved to all the others and said, ‘See you later.’ I was back in Norwich in 40 minutes.
I know we were in League One, but winning that division was still winning a proper competition, a proper trophy. It felt good to be around the club again, and I’d played a full season again.
I wasn’t stupid, though. I knew I was getting older, and when the manager brought Marc Tierney in from his old club, Colchester, for the Championship season, I knew I was no longer automatic first choice. Every transfer window I’d been like, ‘Have we been linked with a left back?’ Well, now we’d bought one. So I thought, ‘Right, I’ve got to raise my game’.
I got on well with ‘T’. He did better cartwheels than me, I know, and was definitely more of a madman, but because we played in the same position we did a lot of training together. We’d be standing at the same cone waiting our turns to do some drill, and we got chatting, so I became friends with the man who was trying to take my place.
The manager had a way with lads who weren’t playing of keeping them onside, which is one of the toughest bits of man-management. But I did get games. I played in 22 in that 2010-11 Championship campaign and, again, we had a feeling. It was like, ‘We can do something this season’. And we did. Up we went, back to the Premier League.
I was turned 33 that summer. The manager would have been within his rights to have said, ‘You’re in a position where pace is important. See you later.’ But he didn’t. He gave me another year and I played 16 games, was in the team that won at Tottenham, and played a part in finishing 12th.
That season meant I qualified for a Testimonial, so in May 2012 a Norwich team with a few guests beat Celtic, who were Scottish Champions at Carrow Road. Happy days.
The gaffer came to me, though, and said, ‘Look, you’re 34. You can stay and do some coaching, but you’re not going to get many games.’ But everyone you speak to says keep playing as long as you can and I wanted to play as often as I could in the last few years.
So I am with all the lads on a trip to Vegas to celebrate a great season. I get back to the room I am sharing David Fox. The phone goes. It’s Neil Warnock.
I went to Leeds, had two years, but it didn’t turn out to be a big Vegas win. I wasn’t Warnock’s type of player. He wanted me to scalp the ball up the field and the player with it. That wasn’t me and so I didn’t get picked. I moved the family up there, two kids and the missus, because I wanted to do it properly, but it didn’t happen for me. Towards the end of my time at Leeds I was driving to Cambridge on a midweek evening to play with my old mates. I just wanted to play.
Then I went to Bradford in the third tier on loan , and did OK. I definitely wasn’t as quick as I had been, but in that league nobody got past me. But they signed a young lad and I knew I’d got to make a decision.
Nobody came in for me so, in September 2014, a month after my 36th birthday, I said to my wife, ‘Look, I haven’t a clue what I am going to do next, but that’s it.’ I was more than happy with what I’d done in my career. I hope most people would say I’d always done my best.
I look back and I think, guys like Wes and Hucks, it was a privilege and a thrill to play with them. They were the two I would pick out as game-changers. Hucks had so much sheer ability and pace. With Wes there were times in training when you knew what he was going to do — all those left-footed tricks with the ball —but you just couldn’t stop him.
Hucks was one of the best trainers too. But Wes? Well I remember in Scotland with Gunny before the start of the League One season that Wes missed a morning session because he’d got a tight hamstring. He was all right for the afternoon five-a-sides though.
Grant Holt was another who was better at playing than training. I remember me, him and our two wives went to the BBC sports awards in London with Jake Humphries and we got back to Norfolk at some stupid time. Next day, for the only time in my career, I spent the whole training session hiding. But Holty sort of over-compensated and was chasing everywhere, really giving it some effort. I said to him, ‘You need to go out more often’. But he was terrible again on the Friday. And brilliant in the game on the Saturday, of course.
I think I am very privileged to have made good friends through football like both Holts (even though they both love a moan!) and David Fox (a key player in our diamond formation under Paul Lambert and great golfing buddy!). Being close friends with Hucks helped our understanding on the pitch, I think.
I was lucky as well to have a good bond with the fans. It is not often that a left back wins support like I received (especially a non-scoring left back!). It was an honour that I treasure.
Who was the hardest player in any of the Norwich teams I played in? Well, we had a few I was glad were on my side, but you might be surprised by the man I’d say was the one I’d least like on the other side: Youssef Safri. In a 50-50, he would do you, and not necessarily legally.
You have these memories, and over the years you get to know people like Delia and her mum, Etty. They loved my son Ethan, who was my first-born. And even now if I bring him to a game they love to see him.
That comes from staying for so long. I am lucky to have those long relationships and memories, good and bad; that link. That’s why when there is a good time at the club — when the team is winning and there is a feel-good thing around the place — you are just so happy for all the people at the club.
One of the people I’ve known all the time I’ve been at Norwich is Ian Thornton, chief executive of the club’s Community Sports Foundation. A little while after I stopped playing, he phoned me. He knew I was bored and needed some direction in my life. He knew I didn’t want hand-outs or want the club to give me some sort of role just because I’d been a player for 11 years.
So Ian rang me up and talked me into trying coaching. When this book comes out, I shall be coaching an under-18 shadow squad with lads who don’t get taken on by the academy. They’ll do a BTEC course, so they’ll get qualifications and might go to Lowestoft or somewhere like that to play — or they might be a late developer and turn out to be a Jamie Vardy. I’ll let you know if I find one of those.
I’m finding some of it challenging, but that’s a good thing, and it gives me a continuing, proper role at the club that has been my life. Plus, I can go to Tesco on a Sunday morning without too much worry.