The one thing missing from Sunday last game of the season. Steven Whittaker upfront. He's played everywhere else! Jon Rogers gives him a firm handshake, pat on the arm, and a smile as if to say 'cheers mate' - all in the medium of words.
During the ‘Ooh-look-aren’t-my-kids-cuter-than-yours’ walk-around after the last game of the season, I scrambled down the steps to get myself near the front just to take a closer picture of John Ruddy. Looking back now, it was probably because subconsciously I wanted to be near Wes, but I hid those feelings behind the emotions of the moment.
After the Johntourage had passed me and hundreds of others slapping their hands together, John calmly absorbing our appreciation, another figure followed just behind holding his kids who received just as warm a reaction. Tracksuited up, it was a smiling Steven Whittaker. At this point, I did something I don’t think I’ve ever done before.
It just felt spontaneously natural.
It just felt right.
I threw him one of the biggest thumbs-up any human could possibly do. Right at him. Right at his face. A proper thumbs in your face, mate. And he saw me do it, and partly scared, partly confused, he looked me right in the eyes, still smiling, and nodded as if to say, “I know. It’s ok. I forgive.” And on he walked.
We were arseholes to Steven. A collective ‘we’. Absolutely dreadful to him if you think about it. Boos at his name being called out. Overreactions when he went for the tricky ball down the line and it sometimes drifted out. Unjustified cries of panic when he was in full control in sticky situations at the back. Even when he did do the occasional fantastic piece of play, there was an aura of disbelief or a sarcastic clap as if to say, that was lucky.
Ever since his 90 minute cameo as ‘Bumbling Central Midfielder’ during the disappointing production of ‘Brentford at Home’, people have had it in for him. Some were incandescent with rage after the extra year on his contract was triggered, and some called him an utterly dreadful footballer more than a few times. I think it’s partly because he can afford, and pull off, a pretty successful hair transplant. I know I’m jealous.
I think he was one of the best free transfers we’ve acquired in recent history. Maybe because I can’t think of any others apart from Youssef Mulumbu off the top of my head. What I know for definite is that he gave the club so much more than numerous other players who we’ve spent good amounts on. People forget he was our right back for the best moments in the Premier League. He scored two or three really good and important goals in his Norwich career too, including a brilliant goal in a 4-3 away at Swansea, that last minute one versus Derby, and how can you forget that pass for Redmond’s Wembley goal? AND, without his shot-cum-cross-cum-slice, Ricky Van would have scored no league goals for us, and he would have been a real waste of money then!
I did think it could be right backs as a whole, as Russell Martin, Andre Wisdom and Jon Otsemobor have all had an uneasy ride spending at least forty-five minutes of the game camped directly in front of the Snakepit. (Who, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed, can be a tad pernickety about people’s performances at the best of times). However, despite reviewing some players’ performances with words Quentin Tarantino would balk at, Ivo Pinto seems to have passed their test without having bubbles of unintentional spit rained down on him, so maybe not.
I’m not suggesting Steven should have stayed, or that he wasn’t at fault for some goals in his time, or that he never had bad performances, or that he should have been first choice, I just…liked him.
I warmed to him as a bloke. Like my favourite Norwich footballers, the ones who hovered under all the fandom, all the praise and awards. I admired that he continued to train when the majority didn't after being told no more contract. I like how he willingly used to play in odd positions knowing it was unnatural and was going to get pelted.
His time was up this season, but I have a slightly sad feeling that he left us known as the whipping boy, the ‘escaped goat’. So, I guess, that might be the reason I thrust my thumb at him, it made a change from the accusing fingers that continued to jab at him.
Bye Whits - ya fackin liability.