Video: Huckerby reveals the truth about Norwich City’s disaster at Fulham
In the second of the Evening News’ five-part serialisation of Darren Huckerby’s autobiography, the former City star gives his take on that infamous trip to Fulham…
Craven Cottage, May 15, 2005 – one of the darkest days in Norwich City’s history, according to Darren Huckerby. It was the day when City were thrashed 6-0 to go tumbling out of the Premier League with more of a whimper than a defiant roar.
When they needed to fight for their lives, they surrendered, woefully. As Huckerby admits, “rumours and myths abound about it”, but he insists they have little foundation.
“Word has it that there were fights on the team bus even before we got to the game, an idea which has no truth to it whatsoever.
“We went in there believing we were going to win, whatever anyone says about it.
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“The previous Saturday we’d beaten Birmingham at home to lift us into 17th and out of the relegation zone; we were one point ahead of Palace and Southampton, and two above bottom club West Brom. With one game to play, we were sure we could do it.
“I’d picked up a slight water infection and spent the night after the Birmingham game throwing up, but I’d recovered for Fulham and everything felt good, in terms of preparation, throughout the team. On the day however, people just didn’t turn up.”
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The post-Fulham inquests continue to this day, with many believing – as does Huckerby – that too many players were thinking of what their futures held, not the club’s.
“I believe the heads of some people had been turned a little bit. There were a few loan players and I feel that, maybe, Damien (Francis) thought he was away anyway. I’m not saying he didn’t turn up for Fulham, but I think his head was maybe elsewhere for a few months prior to that match.
“It happens – people can whisper things in your ear, promise you this and that.
“It had happened to me that season. Two agents called me, both saying they represented Liverpool. Apparently, they were interested in me. I just told them both to speak to Phil (Smith), who would deal with it – and that it wouldn’t be happening anyway. I knew where I wanted to be.
“I’ve never known how true any of that was, but the fact two agents contacted me suggests maybe there was something in it.
“If I knew that my future lay in Norwich regardless of what happened, the same couldn’t be said for everyone. Matty Svensson had a knee problem, so he was probably going to be finished anyway. Bents (David Bentley) was going back to Arsenal; you wondered if (Thomas) Helveg and Mattias Jonson maybe wanted away. And who really knew where Damien was?
It struck me he was in a difficult position, but we could have done without the uncertainty. If you have four or five players with question marks over their futures, you’re in trouble.
“We didn’t start the game too badly, creating a couple of chances and having an appeal for a penalty turned down.
“After that, it was a catastrophe. Every time they had a chance they scored; we were pushing more men on to try and score, and exposing ourselves in the process.
“The midfield were reduced to chasing shadows. Everything was going wrong. Safs (Youssef Safri) picked up a knock after half an hour; even before the game started, our first-team coach Steve Foley had been taken ill.
“He was a lovely guy whose bubbly character kept things ticking over; to see him whipped off to hospital wasn’t exactly ideal.
“No excuses, though. We just didn’t turn up – and by ‘we’ I mean all of us, not just the lads who wanted away. However hard we tried, it wasn’t good enough.
“The fans had travelled down in their masses to create a carnival atmosphere, but we just couldn’t do it for them – I felt for them so much. Given all the work we’d put in over the second half of the season to give ourselves a lifeline, it was horrible – we blew it, pure and simple. It’s up there as one of the most painful games of my entire career.
“The collapse at Fulham was live on TV, which made it doubly embarrassing. What has to be remembered though, was that it was what we’d done – or failed to do – over the course of the season that got us relegated, not that one result. We should have got an away win; we should have pushed or held on for wins early in the campaign; we should have seen out the game at Selhurst Park rather than letting Palace back in.
“There’s a whole list of little things that didn’t happen, and all of them contributed to us going to Fulham with so many doubts in so many heads.
“I know for a fact Ads (Adam Drury), Flem (Craig Fleming), Shacks (Jason Shackell), Leon (McKenzie), Ash (Dean Ashton), Holty (Gary Holt) and Greeny (Robert Green) gave it their all that day. We’ve talked about it.
“I can’t speak on the behalf of the others; I can’t say what they were feeling as we walked onto the pitch that afternoon. Maybe some of them couldn’t face the thought of dropping down a league.
“When the final whistle eventually blew at Craven Cottage, I looked at the supporters and thought how much we’d let them down. It was horrendous for them – they truly, truly believed we could do it and we hadn’t repaid their faith in us. It wasn’t like we’d been dead and buried for ages, like when Derby and Sunderland went down.
“We’d gone into the final game of the season with an opportunity to stay up which we hadn’t managed to take. A few of the lads disappeared pretty quickly into the dressing room, but I stayed out there for a while.
“Everyone deals with such events in different ways, but I think you have to show your appreciation for the fact the supporters do spend a lot of money following their team around the country.
“When I did go in, I heard Nigel (Worthington) saying, ‘Well done, lads! It’s been a good season.’ I couldn’t agree with that. ‘It’s not been a good season!’ I said. ‘We’ve just been embarrassed in front of millions of people when we had a chance to stay in this league – and some haven’t even turned up!’
“And that came out in front of everybody.”
• To pre-order a copy of Darren Huckerby’s autobiography go to www.dh6.co.uk