On Saturday, Wes Hoolahan will play his final competitive game for Norwich City after 10 years at the club. From the outset of his time at the club Hoolahan was always the classiest player on the pitch, the type of player which up until very recently, was needed to make a Norwich side properly tick. In all 3 promotion seasons he was involved in, Hoolahan was the creative pulse within the team, and in his 2 relegation seasons, two different managers sacrificed the fluidity that Wes brought to a football team for a more stodgy side, which on both occasions, led to goals drying out and ultimately, relegation.
Although we all knew it was coming, it still hurt when Hoolahan announced he was leaving on Monday. Not just because we are losing a player which will be remembered on an iconic level, but it is also the final remnant of the Norwich squad which made me love football to depart. Although Russell Martin is technically still under contract, next season no players who were about in neither the double promotion seasons nor the swashbuckling premier league side of the Paul Lambert era are likely to remain.
From liking football for a couple of years as a child before it broke my heart when Fulham hammered Norwich 6-0 on the final game of the season, my interest in football was only revived in 2009, in the famous 7-1 defeat to Colchester, where knowing about that result seemed to be a great way to annoy a teenage Angus Gunn among others. However, quite quickly keeping up with the Lambert era in order to wind seemingly random people up began to create an interest in Football again, and soon the Lambert era would turn it into a love and a pride of my City, and a real understanding of provincial cultural identity.
My first experience of watching the Lambert era would be an ITV Live FA Cup tie against Paulton Rovers, where Chris Martin scored 4 goals in a 7-0 victory which Grant Holt and Wesley Hoolahan both scored. Although the opposition were pretty easy, the aggressive, high pressing, counter attacking football spearheaded by the aggression of Holt and Martin and supplemented by the touch of Hoolahan was enough to get me instantly hooked. My memory of the Lambert era from then on then was of absolute jubilation, of being hooked into every game of football. Games which stand out in my mind to the height of Lambert was the famous 4-1 derby day victory against Ipswich, an Andrew Surman masterclass at home to Nottingham Forest; that late, late goal against Derby County; A 1-1 against Liverpool at Anfield featuring a Holt bullet header and a John Ruddy masterclass and a breathless 3-3 thriller at the Emirates against an inform Arsenal. With the amount of last minute goals, the sheer determination of the players and particularly the talisman, and that slight ropeyness of the defensive line, it felt that anything could happen in a Lambert team, and it usually did. The sheer togetherness and electricity around the city in those years was something special and is the reason people who follow their local football team stay loyal all those years, as a few years of success means so much more than the likes of an Arsenal who moan as their hugely successful manager ONLY delivers an FA Cup.
In that era, there were a lot of players who made great contributions to the good times; Andrew Surman, Anthony Pilkington, Elliot Bennett, Chris Martin, Simeon Jackson, Zak Whitbread, the once Norfolk Cafu famed Russell Martin, Marc Tierney, Steve Morison, Michael Nelson, Bradley Johnson, Ollie Jackson, Adam Drury, Andrew Crofts, Leon Barnet and Henri Lansbury to name a few, but three men would always stand out from the crowd and hold an infinity for all Norwich fans – Grant Holt, Paul Lambert and Wesley Hoolahan.
Out of those, Holt and Lambert have never really been replaced since, and although Pritchard showed potential under Irvine of fulfilling that role and Maddison has added goals and assists, neither will prove to have the longevity of quite the talent on the ball as Wes has had. Hoolahan however, can now stand alongside Holt and Lambert in an end of Return of the Jedi like scene, as a true Norwich City legend, and the number 14 Norwich Jersey will forever hold a significance on any player who wears it in the future.