I was on the Roeder to nowhere - Huckerby
Darren Huckerby admits his working relationship with Glenn Roeder came to a head after he had produced a performance he describes as “horrendous”.
The place was Bury’s Gigg Lane ground, the occasion a 2-1 FA Cup third round defeat in January, 2008.
“I’ve known people who were there, including other players, to tell me that it was the worst they’d ever seen me play, and they’re right to say that. I was horrendous. I couldn’t do anything right, and everything I tried went wrong.
“In the dressing room afterwards, Glenn was saying some stuff to the tune of me being finished, a has-been. I didn’t answer. It was the lowest I have ever been. At the time, I took it on the chin, because I felt I couldn’t answer back given the way I had performed.
“Something was going on there; I knew I’d put in a terrible shift, but I felt that I was being singled out. I can honestly say that I’ve never heard a manager come out with anything like that in the dressing room after a game – this was much more severe than the usual dressing-down you can expect to get after a poor showing.”
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Huckerby was suffering from constant hip pain and told Roeder he would see a specialist to try and sort it out.
“However, it seemed as if he doubted whether or not I was telling the truth, something I found very, very strange. I told him that I’d seen the surgeon, who’d said that I was going to have to get something done eventually. In the end, (physio) Pete Shaw came in and backed me up on that, so I was able to go and have it attended to.
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“I was struggling, and it’s the manager’s job to do what is best for the team. I didn’t feel as I was being singled out, particularly. He was the same with everybody. I just never really got going once I had that injury; I couldn’t hit the level I’d been for season after season before. Once I’d had that second injection, though, I felt better almost immediately, or at least pain-free, which was a big relief after four months where it had been constant. It was almost a new lease of life, a sense that everything was going to be okay again.”
But Huckerby’s hopes suffered a major setback when Roeder told him his time at City was up.
“He said that Neil Warnock wanted me; I told him that I wasn’t remotely interested.
“‘I’ll just stay and fight my way back into the team. And I can guarantee you that before the end of the season I’ll be back and starting.’
Huckerby did get back into the team, but there was uncertainty over whether or not he would be offered a new deal.
“Clearly, I was one of the highest earners, so there was always a chance that I was going to be asked to take a pay cut. I’d have said yes to that, no doubt about it – I’d taken one every year I’d been there. There was, however, never even a conversation about money.
“I spoke to Neil Doncaster, City’s chief executive, about two weeks before the end of the season and said that, whatever happened, we should be prepared and have something organised by which both the club and myself would come out looking okay. Basically, he said that it would be down to the manager; Glenn would decide how everything would be handled.”
Huckerby was still in limbo when City played their final game of the season, at Sheffield Wednesday. Dion Dublin was accorded a farewell wave as he bowed out of the game, but the City supporters never had an opportunity to thank Huckerby in quite the same way.
“I remember the end well. We were doing fitness testing, and Pete Shaw, the No 2 physio that had accompanied me to see the surgeon in London, was called in for a meeting before me – and got the boot. Some people might see it differently, but – honestly – I believe that he got the sack for standing up for me and my hip. He was a damn good physio, so I can’t see the reason being anything to do with the work he was doing.
“Then it was my turn. I waited in the weights room to go in and see Glenn. I was called in, and the message was simple. ‘We’re not offering you anything. Thanks for your time here. Good luck in the future.’ That was it – literally. Five years, two Player of the Years, a league championship; they were all gone in 20 seconds.
“I came out, and went back to the dressing room to tell the lads. I spoke to them for five or so minutes, went back into the weights room to finish off my gym session, and there – within 15 minutes of seeing Glenn – the story was on Sky Sports News. ‘Nine players have been released by Norwich City, including Darren Huckerby,’ it said. That’s how Lyndsey found out about it; she’d heard by the time I called her, which she wasn’t too happy about.
“To tell the truth, I didn’t want to ring her because we had such a good set-up in Norfolk. It seemed to me as if they’d pushed a button the minute I left the room which got the news out to the press.
“Before I walked into Glenn’s office, I still didn’t know which way it was going to go. I genuinely believed I had a chance; I had played my way back into the team, and I was contributing. The other lads were all telling me that there would be no problem, that I’d be kept on without a shadow of a doubt. When I walked in, though, that was blown away immediately. And it was the start of a cull. Out went the assistant physio, the Academy physio, the kit man. All of those people had been at the club for a long time.
“Glenn wanted to make changes, which happens – but you have to be careful that you don’t do too much too soon. I actually thought that Glenn was a decent manager; training was very good with him. It was just that his man-management wasn’t great. The way he spoke to people sometimes had a kind of arrogance about it.” Even if you know more than other people – or you think you do – you’ve got to show a bit of respect when you talk to them. That’s true in every walk of life. It doesn’t matter how clever you are, you have to be careful in how you put your points across.
“There was no great fall-out between us. I didn’t kick off when he told me I wouldn’t be offered a new contract – it wasn’t at all like that. It was fair enough, I said, and I could see that he wanted to do something different.”
There was still time for one last, amazing incident, which involved Dejan Stefanovic, who wanted to speak to Huckerby about a possible move to Norwich. Huckerby told his agent - who also represented Stefanovic - he’d rather not, because ‘I don’t think Glenn’s a very nice man. And the club is a great club. I don’t want to say something and, in doing so, jeopardise the move’.”
Roeder did allow Huckerby to use the training facilities at Colney.
“Then, when I came back to Norwich after my first season in the MLS, I popped up to Colney. They’d just lost another game; the lads were in a meeting, getting a rollocking. I was thinking that I couldn’t have picked a worse time to go up and ask to train.
“I went in and Glenn said: ‘I hear you told Dejan that I wasn’t a very nice man.’
‘No, I didn’t say anything to Dejan. I spoke to my agent and said that I wouldn’t.’
‘What did you say to your agent, then?’ he asked.
‘I told him that I didn’t want to speak to Dejan because I didn’t want to jeopardise anything, and I said to him that I don’t think you’re a very nice man’.”
“Glenn then told me that I couldn’t use the grass at Colney, and that I could only use the gym at certain times, but that he wanted us to be men about it and not let the press hear about our conversation. Of course, I never mentioned it to the papers.
“That was that. I haven’t spoken to him again. As I’ve said, he knew his stuff tactically, but he wouldn’t be in my close circle of friends. It certainly wasn’t the ideal way for it all to end. After all that happened, I bumped into Dejan who said I’d been right about Glenn, and that he wished that I’d spoken to him in the first place.”
• IT DIDN’T FEEL RIGHT HOLDING MY TONGUE OVER SALE OF PLAYERS... I WAS FUMING, ABSOLUTELY LIVID. I WAS ALSO FEELING FOR GRANTY
Darren Huckerby says he felt “cheated” when Norwich City allowed three of their star players to leave Carrow Road on the cheap during the summer of 2007.
The ex-City man was so angry that he turned a photo opportunity for a sponsored bus into a personal press conference to tell fans of his dismay.
Clauses in the contracts of midfielder Dickson Etuhu and striker Robert Earnshaw had both been triggered, while manager Peter Grant had fallen out with midfielder Youssef Safri, his patience broken when the Moroccan failed to appear in time for the club’s pre-season photo-call.
“It was while I was injured that the club decided to sell a few players. I was sat in the dressing rooms, waiting to do a photoshoot for a sponsored bus, and I heard that Dickson might be off to Sunderland. And that Earnie was already on his way to Derby. Oh, and that Safs could be on his way as well. I heard all of this in the space of about 20 minutes.
‘Right,’ I thought. ‘That’s this season done, then.’
“I felt that all the work we’d put in over pre-season had been cancelled out in less than half an hour. It had taken me a couple of conversations to realise that the season had basically gone before it had begun. I then did something a little out of character.
“I came out and said to the press, ‘You want to hear this ...’ and went off on one; I didn’t feel right holding my tongue. A few fans had a pop at me, saying that I shouldn’t be rocking the boat, but what was I supposed to do? Just take it on the chin? We’d lost three of our better players in what seemed like a week and a half.
“Dickson would have stayed, as he’s told me on a number of occasions. For that to have happened, all they’d have had to do was take out his release clause and offer him an improved contract. When the offer did come, it was a joke. It seemed that we were making it easy for players to leave, and that really annoyed me.
“Any time that anyone came in for one of players, we were just rolling over and letting them go.
“I was fuming; absolutely livid. I was also feeling for Granty. How must he have felt to lose three of his star men a fortnight or so before the beginning of the new season? Don’t get me wrong – I know that a football club is a business, so they’re always going to need to balance the books. But it felt to me as if there was, on some level, a failure to think in the long term. For example, we brought in Jamie Cureton, who had got goals the previous season at Colchester, but he was no Earnie. He didn’t offer the same threat.
“Darel Russell came in, and he would have been a fantastic addition to our existing squad. Imagine adding Darel to Dickson and Safs – we’d have had power, strength, engine, and ability. Even now, I can’t get my head round why we’d want to let players of the calibre we let go leave. If a player has a three-year contract and you don’t want him to go, keep him. It seemed to me that the remaining players, along with Peter, had been dumped on. It seemed that we got nothing out of it.
“Coming on top of the injury, it was a hammer blow. My heart didn’t go out of it, but I felt cheated. I actually said that we’d be in danger of getting relegated if we carried on the way we were.”
Huckerby admits he “hurt” for Grant, but admits not all of the manager’s signings lived up to their billing.
“Foreign signings proved to be a bit of a sticking point around that time. Who can forget Julien Brellier? He was known as The Judge, for some reason; word got round that he was a proper enforcer, but I never saw anything of that from him. I remember one game in particular. Around an hour in, he had the ball in midfield, and I was open on the left about 25 yards away. He had about three opportunities to put me in, but didn’t. I went over to him. ‘Julien, what’s up?’ I asked him. ‘I can’t kick it over there,’ he said. ‘I can’t kick it that far . . . ’”
Huckerby questions whether Grant was cut out for management.
“I’d come in on a Sunday to do my own warm-down after a game and Granty would be there, up at Colney, sorting the kit out. He wanted everything to be so right and perfect that he’d try and do it all hands-on, which you can’t really afford to do.”
• GUNN SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN IN JOB
They are both Norwich City legends – and still play together as part of a Canaries All Stars team – but Darren Huckerby believes Bryan Gunn shouldn’t have been given the job as manager at Carrow Road.
Gunn – with no managerial experience but a long association with the club – took over the reins in January, 2009, following Glenn Roeder’s departure and then, despite failing to keep City in the Championship, took on the role full-time.
“I was in America for the real downturn and the end of the Glenn Roeder era, but I could tell that Carrow Road wasn’t a fantastic place to be,” says Huckerby.
“That season just went from bad to worse, and its climax – relegation at Charlton – was a terrible, terrible day for the fans.
“My heart went out to Bryan Gunn, who was in the dugout by then, but I don’t think he should have been in the job. He shouldn’t have been offered the position, and he shouldn’t have taken it.
“Gunny is an exceptional bloke who has never wanted anything but the best for the club, but Roeder should have been succeeded by a safe pair of hands.
“Bryan obviously has a great relationship with the supporters, but it was unfair for him to have been put in the situation he ended up in.”
What happened following Gunn’s departure and the appointment of Paul Lambert will go down in history.
“After starting with a performance so bad that a couple of supporters ripped up their season tickets, it was absolutely startling for the boys to take the title in the way that they did.
“That they then managed to take second place in a very competitive Championship beggars belief.”