As Darren Huckerby celebrates his 44th birthday today, canaries.co.uk takes a look back at the forward’s fruitful football career.
To understand the success and context of his time at Norwich City, we must go back to the start.
Little did he know at the time, Darren Huckerby’s first connection with Norwich City actually came at Coventry City, where he linked up with Dion Dublin after signing in 1996.
The pair would go on to reunite at Carrow Road a few years down the line.
Huckerby had a successful spell at Coventry, earning a callup to England’s B team before helping the Sky Blues avoid Premier League relegation in 1996-97 and then scoring 14 goals the following campaign to warrant a move to Leeds United.
But it hadn’t all been plain sailing up to that point.
Having begun his senior career at Lincoln City in Football League Division Three, to say it was a step up to move to Newcastle United – who were three tiers above – would be an understatement.
Unfortunately, Huckerby barely got a chance to prove himself on Tyneside, playing just once for the first team and struggling to feature for the reserves, who Kevin Keegan had scrapped through fear of them damaging the St. James’ Park pitch (where the FA required they play).
Huckerby did prove his credentials in a short loan spell at Millwall though, scoring three goals in six games to seal the aforementioned move to Coventry.
When it came to departing the West Midlands in 1999, Huckerby struggled to rediscover his goalscoring form at Leeds, but was snapped up by Manchester City in 2000.
Manchester City in 2020 is a very different beast to the one we saw two decades ago (albeit one that was tamed by Daniel Farke’s Canaries). Indeed, following the turn of the century the club had signed Huckerby in a fight to avoid relegation from the topflight.
It didn’t work. Huckerby, unfazed by the prospect of First Division football, banged 26 goals in during the 2001-02 campaign as Manchester City topped the league by ten points to return to the Premiership at the first time of asking.
Once again however, Huckerby would have to wait to truly make his mark in topflight football, as he was loaned to Nottingham Forest for the 2002-03 season thanks to the arrivals of Nicolas Anelka and Jon Macken at Manchester City.
Huckerby scored five goals in nine matches as Forest reached the Division One playoffs.
Canaries come calling
While Huckerby wasn’t guaranteed first-team football at Manchester City upon his return from Forest, the club weren’t keen to let him go permanently ahead of the 2003-04 campaign.
That’s where Norwich City come in. The Canaries agreed a loan deal for Huckerby betwixt the arrivals of Peter Crouch and Kevin Harper.
He may have only scored five goals in his 16 games on loan, but Huckerby’s teammates in yellow and green knew they had a player they could work with as soon as they saw him in training.
“We won the lottery when he walked through the door,” Iwan Roberts recently told The Athletic.
Of those five goals, two came in Huckerby’s final game on loan at home to Cardiff City. Carrow Road sold out as City fans bid farewell to a player who had quickly became a favourite.
Norwich desperately wanted to keep hold of Huckerby, but manager Nigel Worthington conceded that the winger would move back to his parent club, Norwich “governed by the finances”.
But those teammates who thought so highly of Huckerby arranged a team meeting and encouraged Worthington to continue his efforts to bring him back. City made a permanent offer after West Brom had done the same. There was only one place Huckerby was going.
The gift that keeps on giving
Let’s be honest, Boxing Day is the day in the festive calendar we as football fans really look forward to, and with the Canaries playing at home on December 26, 2003 to Forest, it promised to spread the cheer again.
Joint majority shareholders Delia Smith and Michael Wynn-Jones perhaps gave City fans the best Christmas gift of all when, ahead of kick-off, they brought Huckerby back onto the pitch to announce his permanent signing.
It became a great debut season for Huckerby at Norwich, who scored 14 goals (including one against Ipswich Town) and was voted runner-up to Craig Fleming in the Player of the Season awards.
"I felt straight away that I'd found somewhere I wanted to play football, even after two or three games on loan, I'd decided that I wanted to play for Norwich,” Huckerby later wrote in his autobiography, Hucks: Through Adversity To Great Heights.
Those goals helped City clinch promotion to the Premier League, where Huckerby would finally go on to show he could compete at the top level, scoring seven goals in 2004-05 including two against Arsenal.
Norwich were ultimately relegated, however, and rumours were circling that a couple of big clubs were after Huckerby’s signature.
"It sounds stupid, but I took four pay cuts, truthfully, to come to Norwich and every time a new contract came around, I took a cut to stay here,” he said. "I got two calls from two separate agents, who didn't work for me, saying they could get me a move to Liverpool. I said I wasn't interested.
“After the season Gordon Strachan rang me up, he was at Celtic then, offering Champions League football. I knew him pretty well, but I said I wasn't interested at all, he didn't speak to me for six months."
That loyalty and connection with the fans and the club, alongside his performances and goalscoring exploits, saw Huckerby win the Player of the Season award in 2004-05 and 2006-07 (despite Dean Ashton and Robert Earnshaw scoring more goals respectively).
He also became runner-up again to Gary Doherty in the 2005-06 season, meaning he’d either won or come second in the fan-voted award in each of his first four seasons at the club. No small feat.
Unfortunately, from the 2007-08 season onwards, a persistent hip injury made minutes more difficult to come by. City finished 17th in the Championship that year and the club announced Huckerby’s contract wouldn’t be renewed by Glenn Roeder.
Hucks eventually had the chance to say goodbye properly at a ‘Greatest Ever’ legends event at Carrow Road in May 2008. In total, Huckerby scored 48 goals in 203 appearances for the Canaries in all competitions.
His love for the club still apparent, Huckerby told BBC Radio Norfolk; “It will mean nothing to play for another team against Norwich, it meant something every time I put the shirt on. Those days will always be remembered forever.
“Without [the supporters] none of this would have been possible, they treated me like a son after two or three games."
True to his word, Hucks fled the country altogether, moving across the pond to join San Jose Earthquakes in June 2008. He scored nine goals in 28 games for the club before retiring in 2009.
Like many former City players, Huckerby didn’t leave the city of Norwich for good. His family continue to live in the Norfolk region and, after coaching at the club’s Academy from 2015 to 2017, Huckerby became a Club Ambassador alongside Jeremy Goss in June 2019.
Thanks to his marvellous contributions in yellow and green, those days really will be remembered forever.