In an interview from last season's matchday programme on November 5, 2016 to mark his 300th Norwich City appearance, Wes Hoolahan picks out his seven favourite moments from his time in a yellow and green shirt.
If you pick your all-time Norwich XI, there is strong competition in almost all positions. Deadly strikers, a succession of pacey, tricky wingers, classy central midfielders, gnarled centre-backs, crafty full-backs, athletic goalkeepers.
One area stands alone, though. The No.10. Wes Hoolahan is like no player we have seen in a Norwich shirt. His gifts are rare in British and Irish football. It is why fans often say we may never see the like of him again – it’s not a throwaway cliché, it’s because his talent is unique. At his best, Wes slows the game down when he’s on the ball; the match marches to his rhythm.
The No.10 role is so ideally suited to him that it’s a surprise to learn he never even considered playing there until Paul Lambert took him to one side before a League One game in 2009 and suggested he would be more productive in the hole than out on the left wing. He hasn’t looked back.
That is one of many insights Wes offers into his eight years with Norwich in this special interview to mark his 300th appearance. We’ve been lucky to have him, and even luckier to have had him for so long. As Wes himself says: “It’s quite rare in modern football to be at a Club for that long. But it’s been great. Every minute of it.”
Playing in the hole
Norwich 2 Charlton 2 (League One, September 2009, Carrow Road)
Charlton were top of the league at the time, and it was a big game for us as we’d had a bad start to the season.
Before the game Paul Lambert pulled me in to tell me that playing on the left wing might not be the best position to me, and that playing in the centre would suit me better as I’d see more of the ball. I’d never even thought about playing in the hole until Paul asked me to do it. And he was right. Since then my career has got better and better through the years.
I’d always thought of myself as a left-winger. I grew up playing there, and played there at Blackpool under Simon Grayson. Back then when I started it was nearly always 4-4-2 and there was no room to play in the hole, but now it feels like it’s always been my natural position!
Charlton went 2-0 up, but I scored before half-time and Holty popped up in the last minute with an equaliser. That was the start of so many late goals we scored that season and the next. It was brilliant – the fans never left early because they were always expecting something to happen in the last few minutes and injury time, and it usually did!
Portsmouth 0 Norwich 1 (Championship, May 2011, Fratton Park)
Before the game we’d been watching Cardiff play Middlesbrough at the hotel in Portsmouth. We knew if Cardiff lost we’d get automatic promotion with a win, and we couldn’t believe it when Cardiff 2-0 down after 20 minutes. I’ll always remember Korey Smith running up and down the hotel corridors cheering and celebrating!
It was a brilliant curling ball from David Fox to Simeon Jackson to get the winner, and the celebrations after that were brilliant. There were fans on the pitch, beach balls on the pitch, everything was getting thrown onto the pitch! It was the first time I’d got myself to the Premier League and it was a great experience. Most of us in the squad were in the same boat – we had started in League One, so to go up to the Championship and then the Premier League was really special to share together.
Premier League debut
Wigan 1 Norwich 1 (Premier League, August 2011, DW Stadium)
Obviously you dream as a kid about playing in the Premier League. Then coming out and seeing the Norwich fans who had come all the way to Wigan was brilliant, and being talked about as a Premier League team and a Premier League player was amazing – it’s what you think about when you’re a kid growing up wanting to be a footballer.
And to score on my Premier League debut just made it even better. Steve Morrison had a cross-shot and Ali Al-Habsi spilled it, and I was lucky enough to be in the right area to tap it in. I ran off looking surprised in my celebration!
Captaining at Old Trafford
Manchester United 2 Norwich 0 (Premier League, October 2011, Old Trafford)
Since I was a kid I’d supported Man United, and my dad used to take me to Old Trafford to loads of games, I used to love watching there and being among such a big crowd. So to walk out there in front of 90,000 people instead of being in the stands was a dream.
Not only to be able to play there, but to be captain as well made it even more special. Grant Holt was obviously the captain that year but he wasn’t playing at the time and I took over for a few games, which was a great honour.
I took a moment to look around and appreciate playing in such a famous stadium. And you could also see the pocket of 2,000 or 3,000 Norwich fans, and you could hear them all game which was amazing.
Norwich 3 Ipswich 1 (Championship play-off semi-final, second leg, May 2015, Carrow Road)
Those semis against Ipswich were a nervy couple of games. After the 1-1 draw in the first leg, the first 45 minutes of the second leg were quite intense – there was no space on the pitch.
I was quite nervous when I stepped up to take that penalty to be honest: big game, in front of the Barclay. But luckily I’ve put in the corner and the keeper’s dived the wrong way. And although they equalised soon after that, we were confident because we were finding more space and we really punished them.
Afterwards, the gaffer told us to celebrate that night and have Sunday off. We all went to play golf to relax and clear our mind and look forward to the final.
Norwich City 2 Middlesbrough 0 (Championship play-off final, May 2015, Wembley)
It was such a great day out – the atmosphere, the match, the whole place. Walking out to the sea of yellow was amazing and you could hear the supporters through the whole game, which was absolutely brilliant.
I felt a bit bad for Middlesbrough but there had to be a loser. But we owed Boro one as well because they beat us twice in the league, and I remembered them cheering and shouting when they’d beaten us at home – and we used that memory in the final.
Everybody was really on their game that day. It’s not often that happens, that all 11 players and the subs are all playing to their potential. Normally you have 7, 8 or 9 players playing well and a few having an off day – that’s pretty natural. So to have everyone at the top of their game in such a big occasion was amazing, and we just blew Middlesbrough away in that first half an hour. And then when we got the second goal we sat back a little more and saw the game out really professionally. It was an almost perfect performance.
The celebrations were great fun at the hotel at Wembley. Everyone’s friends and families were up, and all the backroom staff were there and we all partied the night away.
Manchester United 1 Norwich 2 (Premier League, December 2015, Old Trafford)
To beat Man United at Old Trafford, and to do it for the first time since 1989, was a brilliant day.
Before the game we’d had a little sneaky feeling we could do them because they weren’t on the best run of form. Although they hadn’t lost at home all season, it just felt like a good time to get their fans on their backs early on and keep them quiet. And we scored in the first-half through Cameron, and from then we were confident we could keep the fans quiet the longer it went on.
Then in the second-half came Tettey’s toe-poke for the second goal! I remember David de Gea not knowing where it was going because he didn’t know if it was a shot or a pass! I’m not sure anyone knew where it was going to be honest.