Ipswich switch was just a non-starter – Huckerby
Darren Huckerby’s departure from Carrow Road didn’t go unnoticed – with Ipswich Town among those reportedly interested in acquiring his services.
There was only ever one answer to that idea, as Huckerby admits.
“There were a few options on the table in the summer of 2008. Neil Warnock’s Crystal Palace, Burnley, and Hull all expressed an interest; someone at Ipswich contacted me too, although that was never going to happen, obviously.
“I was also given the chance to go and play in Qatar, but that would only ever have been a money thing, which meant it wasn’t for me. All in all, there were a fair few avenues I had to explore, and those had opened up without me having to tout my name around.”
However, trying his luck in the Major League Soccer set-up in the US had already crossed Huckerby’s mind, even though he had dismissed it once he became settled at Norwich.
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“Then everything had unfolded in an unexpected way, which was how I found myself speaking to Frank Yallop, the manager of San Jose Earthquakes, the club I presumed I was going to end up at.
“In the States, though, the rules regarding player transfers are completely different. It’s not easy to buy players for money, as usually happens in Europe, but I was supposedly okay as I was available on a free transfer. However, they also have a ‘discovery rule’, which is really strange. It basically means that a club can put a ‘discovery’ clause on you, which means that you have to speak to them first, even if you have no intention of going there. It’s crazy – a club can get first refusal on you even if you’re not remotely interested. And that’s what Toronto did with me, even before I had contacted anyone at the club.
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“Apparently, this happens every season – clubs will put six or seven ‘discovery’ notices on players who might be coming in from the European leagues.
“It was really strange. I don’t know whether it was down to my former team-mates Carl Robinson and Jim Brennan, both of whom were at Toronto, or if it was because I’d said I didn’t want to play for another English club after Norwich alerted everyone to my availability. Perhaps it was the latter, and Toronto decided to take a chance on bringing me to Canada. To this day, I don’t know the full story.
“Neither did I have much idea about the standard of the football on offer on the other side of the Atlantic. Robbo had gone out there, and David Beckham was already at LA Galaxy, but it was all completely new to me. There was very little coverage of the MLS in England, so the best I could really do was fly out and see what it was all about.
“From the first time I spoke to Frank Yallop on the phone, we got on; he seemed like a really nice guy, very laid-back. As I say, though, I had to go to Toronto to speak to them before I could hook up with Frank at San Jose, even though I never had any real intention of playing in Canada. A big reason for not wanting to go to Toronto was that they played and trained on Astroturf, which would have been crazy for me with my hip not being 100 per cent.
“On top of that, there was definitely a bit of me that was California dreamin’. I’d lived in England all my life, and while the stadium and facilities in Toronto were great, I saw the moment I arrived in San Jose that the lifestyle out there was the best you could ever ask for.”
The one big issue was leaving his wife Lyndsey and their two sons behind, but Huckerby was lucky in the way the MLS season fell.
“First off, Lyndsey and I looked at taking the boys out of school for a year, but we realised that, financially, that wasn’t an option. Also, they were getting on well at school in Norwich, so it wasn’t a great idea to remove them. The solution came when I looked at the MLS schedule. In the States, you play through the summer and have a break in the winter, which meant that the kids could come out in the holidays, have eight weeks in California, and that I could come back to Norfolk in mid-November and stay until halfway through February.
“That way, there would be lengthy spells away from the kids, but it would never mean anything as bad as being away for six or seven months in one stretch.”
• CITY NO 6 LEFT QUITE A MARK ON HIS PALS AT CARROW ROAD
Gone but not forgotten: Darren Huckerby ensured that his pals in the Norwich City dressing room wouldn’t forget him after he left the Canaries.
Huckerby made friends with those closest to him – literally – and left a permanent reminder at his “home”.
“The club had been, in a way, my home for over 11 months of every year. I was in literally every day, and I knew how much I’d miss the people I’d tended to take for granted at times. There are people you see on a daily basis – in the laundry, the offices, the canteen and so on – who you just think will always be there. If you’re honest with yourself, you know it’s going to end some time, but you can’t anticipate what it will be like. Wherever you go, that happens, but it’s far more difficult when you have a special bond with the place.
“It was hard clearing out the No. 6 locker for the last time. Shirt numbers influence who you’re friends with, which is why I ended up close to Flem (No.5), Crofty (No. 7), Shacks (No. 4) and Ads (No.3). The only reason I ended up with a 6 on my back was that I didn’t want to be No. 24, which was what was on offer when I walked through the door with Crouchy. I’d always prefer to be either a No. 7 or a No. 11, the old-fashioned wingers’ numbers.
“I abused Jason Shackell’s locker before I left, drawing a big No. 6 shirt in it. I wrote ‘Huckerby’ across the top, so he’d remember me every time he looked in it – which he would have done until Glenn sold him to Wolves. Then I wrote ‘Who’s Yer Daddy?’ underneath.
“I’ve made some lifelong friends from my time at Norwich. Adam Drury is probably my best friend in football – I’d do anything for him. Iwan Roberts. Craig Fleming. Paul McVeigh. People who’ve gone away and come back again – they’ll be mates forever.
“And I wouldn’t ever want to move away from Norwich now. I love it here. I have no ill feeling towards Glenn Roeder, but my wife? Well, that’s a different story.”
• To pre-order a copy of Darren Huckerby’s autobiography go to www.dh6.co.uk