Winging it

Wingers. We've been blessed over the years haven't we? From some of the quickest, trickiest and everything in-between.  Richard Jeffery drifts into the world of wingers and keeps his feet firmly by the touchline.

“He gives players twisted blood.” Alex Ferguson on Ryan Giggs

Everyone loves a winger don’t they? Like excitable puppies they bound about the pitch. Give me the ball their eyes implore, I want to play; this is fun, gimme the ball! Similarly to puppies, they don’t always seem in control of their movements and often dribble at the wrong times. 

Wingers are the most exciting players on the pitch, with no-other having same effect on those watching. There’s that audible catch of the crowds’ breath as the ball is played out wide and the winger takes it in his stride. In full-flight, gliding past a slip-sliding, discombobulated, open mouthed full back as it dawns on him he’s been done. 

The various exhortations from the crowd; “Get to the line” - “Take him on” - “Get in the box” - “Go ooooooon!”. 

A sleight of foot, a step over, a shimmy, a drop of the shoulder. Or just a push past the defender and a foot race, one on one, mano a mano, fastest man wins. 

The anticipatory sound of seats banging up as the collective canary bottom rises to the winger surging past the last man. He’s clear, he arrows towards the box, the defence has been deftly undressed. Pants slipped down, bra whipped off using only one hand. He looks up then…

The mass groan as the cross evades everyone and goes out for a throw in.  

So wingers don’t get it right every time. Wingers work with small margins, at high speed. Like thoroughbred racehorses, they’re on the edge, pushing it to the limit, they can frustrate. They are truly ‘winging it’, learning as they go, working out their opponents weaknesses, making it up on the hoof, improvising.

I remember during our victorious Milk Cup run in ‘85, during the 0-0 draw with Aldershot, Louie Donowa did an intricate step over and went past his man, only forgetting to take the ball with him. I remember the defender doing a double take as he realised the ball was still right in front of him.

But when the planets align and they do get it right, there’s nothing better.

A winger is distinct from a wide midfield player who doesn’t take on defenders in the same way. For example Robbie Brady is an excellent player out wide, but a classic whitewash on his boots, winger he ain’t.  Modern day wingers are often played on the ‘wrong’ wing and are asked to cut inside and shoot with their strongest foot. They’re also expected to track back in defence now, lucky for Mr Hucks. The reasons for this have been covered in detail elsewhere, and stats can be used to justify this approach. 

But.I don’t go to footy for stats. I go for excitement and joy and glory. And beer. 

We have been blessed at Norwich with a profusion of great wingers, and some not so great but who still live in the memory for *those* moments. I’ll start from when I began watching back in the early 80s and we’ll go from there.

  • Louie Donowa
  • Dale Gordon
  • Dave Phillips
  • Ruel Fox
  • Darren Eadie
  • Neil Adams
  • Keith O’Neill
  • Clint Easton
  • Mark Rivers
  • Paul McVeigh
  • Darren Huckerby
  • Lee Croft
  • Anthony McNamee
  • Tony Pilkington
  • Elliott Bennett
  • Robert Snodgrass
  • Nathan Redmond
  • Jacob Murphy
  • Josh Murphy
  • Sergi Canos

I may have omitted a few but surely have included the best we’ve had in my time watching Norwich. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the club’s fallow years between 1995 - 2002 are under-represented in that list.  It’s certainly no coincidence that a lot of these players inspired their own song. There’s a reason we sang for Darren Eadie, but not for his teammate Peter Grant. 

From “Oh Louie, Louie” to “Jacob Murphy, he’s one of our own” through ‘Ruuuueeeel’; ‘We love you Paul McVeigh’, ‘Oh Huckerby’, ‘Anthony McNamee, he looks pretty good to me’ (family show), ‘Elliot Bennett runs down the wing for me.’ and ‘Duh, duh, duh duh, Nathan Redmond’

It’s still early days but Jacob Murphy has my seat banging up. He’s fast, direct, slippery and he’s ours. The full back can never settle with him on the pitch. When I see him go by his man he conjures a subconscious memory of Disco’s step over, Ruel’s burst of pace from a standing start, of Darren Eadie’s shockingly speedy debut in the UEFA cup, Hucks putting on the afterburners.

We’re lucky to have him, and his brother. Canos has shown in flashes that he may also warrant his own song one day. They’re looking like worthy successors to the great wingers that have hugged the touchline at FCR before them. 

Boys, keep winging.  

Richard tweets at @Twitchut