Huckerby: I wish I was still at City
Darren Huckerby's life on the Californian coast sounds idyllic: constant sunshine, beautiful scenery, and the small matter of having been an instant hit in Major League Soccer.
Darren Huckerby's life on the Californian coast sounds idyllic: constant sunshine, beautiful scenery, and the small matter of having been an instant hit in Major League Soccer. His first season with the San Jose Earthquakes saw him crowned the league's Newcomer of the Year, and in the process he gained a similar status among his new club's fans to that which he enjoyed in his five years playing for Norwich City. It's hard to imagine life out there going much better.
“Luckily for me it's blazing hot every day. There's plenty to do. I've got a pool in my complex, there's coffee shops everywhere, there's bars everywhere, so it's kind of laidback. When my kids were over there, we went on lots of walks and trails. There's always something to do outdoors, so that's probably the best part about living there. It is such a lovely place.”
In fact there's only one problem with California, it appears - it's not Norfolk. Which might sound absurd but his heart remains with Norwich City, the club where the much-travelled winger finally settled and became one of the local all-time greats. It's also where his wife Lyndsey and two sons, Thomas and Ben, remain while he makes a name for himself in the USA.
“Not a day goes by where I don't wish I was playing for Norwich, but I also know that those days are gone,” he says. “So I just want the team to do as well as possible, even though, the derby aside, things haven't been going great this season.
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“They did brilliantly in the derby game and it's always nice to get one over the enemy, but one game doesn't make a season, so we have got to carry on building.”
Huckerby's way of talking is rather like how he plays football: direct, passionate, sincere. His tendency to tell it like it is caused ructions at Carrow Road once or twice in his time there but only added to the fans' respect for him. With his City career a memory now, he's 100pc committed to building on his successful start to life in San Jose. But while he is not one to look back there are evidently still one or two regrets. Few Norwich City fans were pleased with the club's handling of Huckerby's departure, regardless of whether they agreed with Glenn Roeder's decision to not to renew his contract at the end of last season, and Huckerby himself wasn't too impressed either.
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“I'd be lying if I said I thought it was handled well,” he says. “But that's gone now. Could it have been handled better? Definitely. But I don't have any regrets about the way I handled myself. I walked away with my head held high. I could have said things but I didn't. It's all water under the bridge now but it does… I wouldn't say anger me, but I was just disappointed, more than anything.”
Since we spoke, however, City's fans have had their chance to say a proper goodbye to Huckerby, when he appeared on the Carrow Road pitch before last Sunday's defeat by Nottingham Forest. Sitting in the stands to watch matches such as that one or the derby victory over Ipswich Town is a strange experience for him (“you know you'll have to get used to it, but it's difficult because you know you can still play,” he explains).
He still says “we” as a matter of course when discussing the club. “Yeah, Norwich will be my team forever now. It's kind of strange because obviously I've played for some big clubs and my hometown club in Nottingham Forest, but they don't even bother me at all - I don't even look at how Man City have got on, or Coventry or Forest have got on. There's only one team that matters to me now and it's Norwich.”
So as a fan rather than a player, can he see the Canaries returning to the Premier League any time soon?
“Truthfully no. They haven't got the money they need, we've got some decent players but money talks at the end of the day and until something happens where we've got enough money to compete, we're not going to compete. Unless you've got proper money there's no point doing it [investing in a football club]. And if you've got proper money you're not usually thick enough to put it in football!
“So at this point in time, when everyone in the world is struggling for money, I can't see somebody who is business-sound putting money in football.”