Transfer tales: Darren Huckerby and the tale of two Citys - Norwich and Manchester
- Credit: ARCHANT } NORFOLK 2004.
It was the Transfer Tale to beat most – Darren Huckerby’s City-to-City shuttle of Christmas 2003. CHRIS LAKEY was there and watched it all unfold...
The cast: blond-streaked haired footballer, tetchy agent, mega-rich footy club, TV chef and a naked radio show host.
If that’s not believable, then neither is the plot of the 2003 blockbuster The Darren Huckerby Saga.
Those who were ‘there’ will not forget it. It seemed to go on for an age but in all honesty, was perhaps a few days in December when it reached its climax.
The story began back in September, when Huckerby joined City on loan, five days after Peter Crouch had done the same and four days before Kevin Harper. One stayed, one went when his three-month loan was up and the other went a little earlier.
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It was Huckerby who stayed. Just.
The flying winger scored five goals in 16 games, and quickly become hugely popular. Worthington’s problem was how to keep him: Manchester City were paying him much bigger money than Norwich could afford, but there was the smell of success in the Norfolk air – City were second in the Division One table and dreaming of a promotion charge.
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As the end of his loan spell drew closer, Huckerby fanned the flames: “If I had the choice I’d love to stay and play for Norwich City, but it’s not down to me. It doesn’t matter what I want or what the manager wants for that matter. If Manchester City see me as more valuable than what Norwich can pay, then that’s that.”
Ahead of Huckerby’s final game against Cardiff, there was only one subject at Worthington’s pre-match press conference – Huckerby.
But the signs didn’t look good.
“Darren will go back. We’ve spoken to Manchester City and all the figures potentially to be added up are way in excess of where Norwich City is at this moment in time.
“Darren’s done exceptionally well in his time here. He’s an exciting player who gets supporters, managers and coaches on the edge of their seats, but we’re governed by finances, simple as that. We have got to be realistic.”
Then the waters became decidedly muddy.
City beat Cardiff 4-1, Huckerby had a cracker.
Three days later, it emerged Norwich had agreed a £750,000 deal with Manchester City, with another £250,000 added on if they were promoted. Only Huckerby’s personal terms needed to be agreed – and he was reportedly owed £1.5m for the 18 months remaining of his contract. By now, West Brom and Wigan were sniffing around too.
City won 2-0 at Ipswich in a match which took them to the top of the table. Could they stay there? The popular answer was: ‘yes... if we have Huckerby’.
Now, this is the muddiest of the muddy waters coming up... thanks to Huckerby’s agent Phil Smith getting involved. And upsetting more than a few people, including his client.
“It would be very difficult for Darren to entertain a permanent move into the Nationwide League,” Smith said. “We will speak to West Brom and Norwich in due course, but we also believe there are other clubs interested in him who are operating at a higher level.”
Two days before Christmas came a statement, from Huckerby, issued by his agent. And it was incendiary.
“It became clear, first last night and again this morning, that Norwich were expecting more manoeuvrability from myself and Manchester City than they were prepared to do themselves, to the point where I have been forced to ask the question: just how much did Norwich want me in the first place?,” it read.
“I wanted to express this feeling because of the excellent rapport that I have had with the Canaries’ fans during my three months at the club.
“There was certainly no more that we could be expected to do to make this happen and my one regret is that I won’t be playing in front of them more regularly.
“I wish the club well and hope that Nigel Worthington, the lads and the fans get what they deserve, Premiership football next season.”
The dream had died. Or so it seemed.
Huckerby was angry with the statement which, according to Worthington, had been embellished.
“Over the last fortnight we’ve spent a hell of a lot of time and effort in trying to bring him in. That is part of the job,” said the manager. “But when so much enthusiasm, good will and care goes in to try and make a situation happen and there’s a person in the middle who has got the intent from Monday evening onwards where the deal wasn’t going to happen, it’s very frustrating.
“We’re very disappointed because we are potentially losing a quality player. And we want to add quality to the current group. I’ve spoken to Darren and the boy is bitterly disappointed with the statement that has gone out. The agent is not helping the situation at all.
“I think the agent got his own way at the end of the day. While we were moving things on and trying to make things happen he kept saying no, no, no and he’s got the lad for the January sales.”
Huckerby told Worthington he would be bypassing the agent and speaking directly to Manchester City himself. It did the trick.
City faced Nottingham Forest at Carrow Road on Boxing Day and the saga was about to end.
The home crowd waited with baited breath. And then, moments before kick-off, out came majority shareholders Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones ... alongside Huckerby.
The hero had landed. This time for good.
And the naked radio show host?
The late great Roy Waller, from BBC Radio Norfolk, said he’d run naked through the streets of Norwich if Huckerby signed. And, his modesty intact, he did.