Howson is now

This piece was published in the matchday programme for the game against Middlesbrough on 15 September 2018. The whole programme is really great and it is worth subscribing imho. You can do that here.

Jonny Howson is back. Just saying his name makes you feel wistful. The breakup was amicable. We wished him the best. But it’s always hard to see the ex on the arm of a new flame. Or in this case, not wearing a yellow and green shirt.

He’s not (yet) with another team but I’ve been feeling the same way about Russell Martin this week. We’ve been separated for a little while now, but the final break — while bringing back memories of all the good times — has still been a real jolt.

They always say ‘never have heroes’ but you can’t be a football fan without getting attached to the players who perform heroics on the field. The difficult task is working out where the love is a one way street, and where you have one of those rare players who loves us right back.

I was 12 when I realised that Norwich players didn’t treat me, a young anonymous fan standing behind the River End goal with my head barely above the advertising hoarding, as a key factor in their career decision making. Dave Phillips had just left the club, and I was heartbroken. I decided to write to David, care of his new club Nottingham Forest. I made a collage of my favourite Philips photos, cut out from programmes, to enclose. I wrote a short but strongly worded note. It was when I was putting it in the postbox that I remember having a twang of ridiculousness. What was I doing? What did I expect to happen as a result of my letter? I wanted Dave Phillips to change his mind and come back. The realisation that he wouldn’t, even if he even saw my (s)crappy collage, changed me.

I’m not 12 anymore, and I don’t make collages. But I do still hate when players leave Norwich. I haven’t been able to watch James Maddison in a Leicester shirt yet. It just feels wrong. I want to be happy for him, but it’s too soon.

At least most Norwich players never commit the ultimate sin of playing in the blue and white of them down the road. Cameron Jerome’s time with Norwich fizzled out at the end. But he had the respect of the fans. But now more than ever, he’s got a place in our hearts after demolishing the idea that he’d ever play for Ipswich.

His agent told a local town newsletter that Cameron wouldn’t sign on for a stint at Portman Road, saying he “has decided on going elsewhere because of his association with the Norwich faithful, whose company on a Saturday afternoon he thoroughly enjoyed.” You aren’t given legendary status, you earn it.

Maybe Cameron saw the reaction meted out to Norwich “legend” Andy Marshall on his return to Carrow Road for the charity game against Inter Milan. It was a little half-hearted but it wasn’t pretty.

The reaction Sam Clingan got on his return to Carrow Road wasn’t half-hearted. Playing for Coventry at Carrow Road, on the day we were promoted to the Prem, after having left us saying he wanted to play in the Prem… well, it was never going to be pretty. For long, long stretches of the game, Carrow Road rocked to the chant of “it could’ve been you, it could’ve been you, oh Sammy Clingan, it could’ve been you.” Some people thought it was mob justice. Other people thought it was art. Whatever it was, it was savage and relentless.

Some former players never actually really leave. Hucks, Holty, our own Neil Adams. Even many of those who do leave keep a piece of Norwich with them. I will never forget being at the funeral of a school friend of mine and seeing Craig Bellamy, well after his transfer to Newcastle, walk into the church in Thetford. He and my school friend had been teammates in the Canaries youth system. He came a long way to pay his respects.

Whether a player is leaving on good terms or bad, after a season of triumph, or a season that was a squib, all we can really ask for is some respect: for the support they got when they were with us, for our pride in the team, and, for the community that the team represents.

As hard as it is to see Howson in a red shirt, there are no hard feelings. He epitomizes that sort of respect. I just hope we don’t have to find out whether or not he’ll join in the tradition of not celebrating a goal against a former team.

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