Chris Goreham: Norwich City fans showed there is room for sentiment in football
PUBLISHED: 20:03 08 May 2017
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There’s no place for sentiment in football.
It’s a harsh phrase that is often trotted out at this time of the year by those trying to come to terms with decisions being made about a player’s future.
That lesson should really have sunk in by now and yet you will never meet a more sentimental collection of people than football supporters.
Five days after being told he was no longer required by Norwich City, John Ruddy was applauded to the rafters by a packed house on the final day of the season.
The fact he was dressed all in black suited the mood and it really did feel like the end of an era as the most prominent bald head between the sticks at Carrow Road since Bryan Gunn finally left the pitch for the last time as a Canary.
His seventh and final season as City’s number one may not, by his own admission, have been his finest but supporters are good at remembering that class is a more permanent quality than form on occasions like that. Memories of promotion campaigns, a Wembley clean sheet and performances good enough to become one of very few players to have been capped by England while playing for Norwich City assure him of a place close to yellow and green hearts.
It’s a club that knows a thing or two about goalkeepers.
Depending on your age you will wax lyrical about Nethercott, Keelan, Gunn or Green. The fact that Ruddy was number one in every sense under five different managers makes him stand out from the rest of the not-so-magnificent seven who were told that no new contract would be forthcoming last week.
None of the others had consistently established themselves as a solid first team regular no matter who was in the dugout so it was only right that Ruddy was singled out for special attention at the weekend.
Like so much of football, the timing is an important issue here. Had Ruddy been tied down for another year or two then we would almost certainly be looking at an eighth season with him as Norwich City’s first choice goalkeeper.
But when a club needs such obvious refreshment and big noises are being made about summer clear outs space needs to be created in a squad and within a wage bill before it can be filled by more promising and less demanding talent.
The easiest players to shift are those whose contracts are up for renewal and Ruddy is being moved on for the benefit of Stuart Webber’s supposed bigger picture.
The new sporting director is one man who cannot afford to be sentimental.
The same doesn’t go for the supporters. John Ruddy left the ground on Sunday with a bottle of champagne courtesy of the sponsors who had voted him man of the match.
It didn’t matter that QPR’s lacklustre display underlined why they’ve ended the season with six defeats out of seven and allowed the outgoing goalkeeper plenty of time by himself during the game to take in the adoration being offered in his direction.
This was his day and any opportunity to pay tribute to him wasn’t going to be passed up.
The soppy side of the Norwich fans was visible before the match too when Wes Hoolahan walked off with his first ever Player of the Season award at the end of his ninth campaign as a Canary.
I don’t think I’m being too controversial by suggesting that other players have been better and more consistent than Wes over the past few months and that the 2016/17 season won’t go down as his most devastating for the club.
However, it didn’t seem right that such a crowd favourite had never won the award so, with no obvious stand-out performer this season, the perfect opportunity was grasped to turn the trophy into a sort of Lifetime Achievement award for this year.
It seemed only right but then I always have been a sentimental old so-and-so.
What does the future hold next season?
The dust may barely have settled on another season but, as a true football supporter, I have already started fretting about what the next instalment of the Championship slog might hold.
Having seen Norwich City score 97 goals in all competitions this season there is some reason for optimism if that ability to create and take chances can be harnessed for another year.
The trouble is that similar discussions surrounding reasons to be hopeful about having a genuine shot at promotion will be occupying the minds of many supporters who will be following teams in the Championship next season.
Having finished eighth, there are already seven teams above City who will expect to be competing at the top of the table next year.
The three promoted clubs will be replaced by Sunderland, probably Middlesbrough and either Swansea or Hull who would all be desperate to spend as little time as possible away from the feast that is football’s top table.
They won’t find it easy to bounce back though. Three of the teams to finish below Norwich this season have been Derby County, of whom big things are expected with Gary Rowett now in charge, Aston Villa, the giant ocean liner that Steve Bruce seems to be slowly turning in the right direction and Wolves. Any club at which Paul Lambert is getting his feet under the table will always make Norwich fans nervous.
There are always one or two surprise packages as well. Sheffield United have won League One with 100 points while Bolton, also promoted automatically, know what The Championship is all about and have the precious momentum that a successful season can bring.
I’ve been careful not to mention the size of the budgets at any of these clubs because the Championship has never been solely about which team has the most money.
It’s all about who has the hunger, the organisational skills and the aptitude to deal with what feels like football’s most relentless division.