Wes Hoolahan: mercurial, frustrating, brilliant. He’s back in the Premier League and no longer calling Norwich “shithouse”. Zoë Morgan salutes a player whose fortunes mirror those of the club
Norwich are back in the Premier League, lining up among England’s best sides. In theory, it’s all wonderful, but then the flashbacks begin. All of those emotions you felt the last time City were in the top flight come flooding back. Just like that, wonder turns into panic.
It’s like you’re back at school, watching that boy you fancied snogging another girl. Then you told your English teacher about it and then the boy walked into the classroom. Why would he do that in the first place? But most of all, why did you cause yourself further embarrassment? Will you ever have feelings for a boy again?
The answer, of course, is that the only way to move on from this burning shame is to bury your epic embarrassment inside a locked cabin deep in the recesses of your mind. However, every now and then you get a fleeting recollection of the whole ghastly situation, your face flushes and your stomach drops. Did you really behave like that? Are you even a normal human?
For me, there is one particular Premier League memory that induces similar feelings of nausea, a sweaty upper-lip and tightly clenched buttocks.
Remember when Wes Hoolahan refused to celebrate scoring against Aston Villa? Of course you do. Whenever it pops back into my memory, those feelings of humiliation, heartbreak and every love you’ve ever lost come bubbling back to the surface. We loved you, Wes, we loved you. But then you tried to cheat on us.
Wes wasn't getting picked by Chris Hughton so he decided he wanted to leave, with father-figure Paul Lambert courting him at Villa. That's when it all became like the breakdown of an adolescent relationship. First he described City as a “fucking shithouse club” (bit harsh, as he had been a member of the “fucking shithouse club” that were relegated in 2009). Then came the non-celebration against Villa, a farcical, presumably never-before-seen incident where a player refuses to celebrate scoring against a side he thinks might present him with the best chance of a glittery new life.
How must Wes, fresh from promotion and once again instrumental, feel about this incident now? You wonder if it is fair game in the changing room: Wes’ face crudely photoshopped onto Peter Odemwingie in a bit of deadline-day ‘banter’. If someone says “shithouse”, does he suddenly feel smaller than he already is?
Since the glory days of Darren Huckerby it is hard to name a Norwich player so bound up in the fortunes of the club than Hoolahan: strong Hoolahan, strong Norwich. Where Norwich have found themselves not quite up to the task in the Premier League, so Wes has struggled to assert himself at that level, yet he is often integral to their best performances. Some of my fondest Wes memories are of Lambert having to almost carry him off the pitch at the end of matches; bossing games can clearly wear a little fella out.
Both Lambert and now Alex Neil have found their greatest success when building the team around Wes, but building a side around a player not always at his twinkling best is a risky business, as Hughton discovered (and then tried to rectify by not playing him).
For Hoolahan – Wes – is Norwich. Has there been another City player universally known by his first name? Especially when his surname is quite so impressive? Most are convinced of his brilliant talent yet he hasn’t ever quite made it as the fans' favourite. The exasperated cry of 'Oh, Wes!' is heard from all corners of the ground when he gives the ball away. Our relationship with him is bound so uniquely in both his errors and his achievements; his mistakes are our mistakes.
In the end, the worst never happened; Wes didn't leave, and we have (mostly) all forgiven him. It's great not to be angry anymore, it was too painful before. How have we managed it? We have compartmentalised the whole Aston Villa saga into an area of our brains we rarely visit; shut it away to never be thought of again, next to those humiliating memories of teenage lovesickness.
You can follow Zoë on twitter at @zvfm2