Earnie can bring sunshine with his smile

RICK WAGHORN What, exactly, anyone has learned from this season can wait another week. We have, after all, one more game to go where the 'honour' of finishing seventh is at stake.


What, exactly, anyone has learned from this season can wait another week.

We have, after all, one more game to go where the 'honour' of finishing seventh is at stake.

So before the 'look back in anger' pieces that will, inevitably, follow this Sunday's stagger across the Championship finishing line, perhaps there is just time for one brief look back at last Saturday's trip to Ninian Park - a look back at something that was bordering on the enjoyable, in short.

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I can't speak for the 600 or so hardy souls who headed down the M4 last weekend with, I suspect, more fear than hope in their heart, but for me the whole experience was all quite good fun.

Not, in all honesty, what I expected at all.

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Not so much the performance or the result - these days you half suspect the Canaries might be more than capable of grinding out the odd, three points here and there in their 4-5-1 away-day guise; it's when they start to try and play football on their travels that it all starts to unravel - rather the warm welcome that awaited all concerned from the Cardiff faithful.

Perhaps it was the first drop of spring sunshine that lightened the locals' mood; perhaps it was the sure and certain knowledge that with Millwall disappearing down below, the Cardiff 'crew' will be the undisputed kings of the Championship hill next season.

Whatever the reason - they seemed in an awfully good mood.

Actually, I wonder if I do know the reason. Because as much as Jason 'The Maestro' Koumas twinkled about the place, the day belonged to Robert Earnshaw.

From the moment that the ball sat up there in front of him and begged to be spanked beyond the helpless Neil Alexander, you kind of guessed that this was Earnie's game; an afternoon when the little Welsh wizard did his bit, for friends old and new.

Because I've never seen an opposition goal greeted with such a warm and respectful round of applause by the home fans as that which greeted Earnshaw's 16th minute dipping volley. And, remember, this is Cardiff we're talking about; this is Ninian Park, home of Sam Hammam. This isn't Bournemouth or Crewe or Chester or Shrewsbury - or any other twee, little English club ground. This is Ninian Park. And they love him; love him to bits.

The reasons aren't too hard to fathom. He might have been born in Zambia, but he's a Cardiff boy. More than that, however, he is a Cardiff boy that can score goals for fun.

You look again at his scoring feats for the Bluebirds and they are extraordinary. Bearing in mind that Earnshaw only turned 25 this month; so the numbers he racked up were from when he was a teenager to when he left for West Bromwich Albion as, what, a 22-year-old?

And all in Championship football and below where the vast majority of the grizzly centre-halves he faced would take one look at Earnshaw and simply kick lumps out of him - week in, week out.

And yet he left South Wales with 85 goals from his 141 league starts, nine goals from his 11 FA Cup starts, ten from just six League Cup starts. Sure, for those who like their cup to be always half empty there are, of course, substitutes' appearances to water down those remarkable numbers.

Likewise, the argument can run, that any fool can score at lower league level. Really? With a strapping, six-foot centre-half taking chunks out of your little ankles every five minutes?

Add those all up and that's 104 goals from 158 starts. That's better than one in two; that's nearer one in one-and-a-half. Saturday's dipping smash made it seven in 12 starts for his Canary career; seven in 14 appearances for those who like their good news to come in smaller doses. Even then, that is still one in two.

And that's in a team, remember, that's not playing football; in a team that's playing 'hoof' every time the ball lands at a defender's feet; in a team that has a vocal chunk of its support not exactly wishing some of Earnshaw's team-mates and manager well.

Earnshaw's running at a goal every two games in the midst of the most poisonous of atmospheres; at the head of a team that has yet to fully work out just how to play to the little man's strengths. What he might be capable of when both atmosphere around the club and the approach play of the team improves, the Lord only knows.

But even then, there is a bigger point. Because I just wonder whether Earnshaw's ability to melt even the hardest of Cardiff hearts is not just down to his Taff roots and his remarkable goal-scoring ratios. It is, I suspect, because he scores goals for FUN.

The big grin and, of course, that big, somersaulty celebration thing; it's all about the pure and simple joy that comes with scoring a goal. There's almost an innocence to it - not a word often associated with professional football.

You see the face light up; you see the eyes sparkle. And you see how infectious that can become; you see why people take him to their hearts; why he becomes such a hero. He puts the fun back into football.

And that's what this club needs more than ever before; it needs a fun-loving hero; someone to bring a bright, shining light to all the unending doom and gloom.

Find yourself a Chelsea fan and ask him or her the question: 'Is it fun at Stamford Bridge? Does Jose Mourinho's side do joy?' Shaun Wright-Phillips is probably the most 'joyous' player on their books and he barely plays a game. Brutal and efficient - that's the name of the game in 2006. Arsenal apart, Premiership clubs don't do fun.

And that's why Earnshaw's arrival could yet prove the saving grace to this whole, sorry season. He breaks the modern mould; he's different. Forget the goals; he is this little bundle of fun.

And, boy, do we all need one of those round here.

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