Wes: A Footballing State Of Mind

Norwich City’s little master bids us farewell on Saturday, and the Little Yellow Bird is leading the Wesbutes. Zoë Whitford takes a look at the sadness of the occasion and the Hoolahan state of mind.

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The day has come. We all knew it would, but hoped that somewhere there might be a glitch in the system, a quirk of fate, a loophole, something that meant Wes might stay forever. We’d already lost our battle with time. Wes isn’t Peter Pan, he’s got older, and in many ways that worked to his advantage. Years and experience matured him from gifted magician into wise gifted magician, someone who was not merely exquisitely skilled, but who knew just how to exploit those skills to their very limits.

But nothing lasts forever. It couldn’t, not even if we had squeezed our eyes closed and wished it with all our might. And that’s ok, it’s the right time, his starring moments have been limited this year. When the news broke, it felt like this might be another opportunity for anger in this season of angry outbursts; but for once the City fans were undivided, the overwhelming emotion was sadness.

Sadness that an era has come to an end, sadness that we’ll be deprived of any further audience with this unique player, and most of all sadness at the inevitability of time passing. We get older, but worse, our heroes get older. They become fallible, and more human, and we are left to rely on memories which we worry might become altered with time.

With Hoolahan, those memories will take an interesting form. For Wes, in all his glory, is less about moments and more about feeling, about vibe. Sure, there are occasions which will stick around as the years pass. His goal against Forest, his first Premier League strike against Wigan, his series of completely terrible penalties, that pass to Brady in the Euros. But the truth is that Wes Hoolahan is more state of mind than footballer, he is more serotonin than stat.

It’s hard to put a finger on the exact moments when he dazzled you, when his audacity forced you into a spontaneous round of applause, when your mouth dropped open in admiration and all you could say was ‘oh, Wes’. Of course he wasn’t perfect, but who needs perfection when someone can leave you so full of pride and pleasure over the course a decade? We are lucky to have seen him at his worst and at his best.

Earlier this season, Wes came off the bench at Stamford Bridge and within minutes nutmegged N’golo Kante, drew a foul from Pedro that got him sent off and then performed a rabona, leaving even the most hardened observer with an hysterical grin across their face. Until then Norwich had been playing with such determined precision, in itself admirable, but Wes was there to remind us all that the best success can only really come from staying true to yourself.

It is important to remember, amid all of this, that Wes has always fought not to be seen as a luxury player. Some of my dearest memories of him from the Lambert era are him being hauled exhausted from the pitch by his manager. His tenacity and absolute determination to influence games elevated him from a coach’s tactical headache to the man around whom the whole team should be built.

Alongside Holt and Huckerby, Hoolahan is one of the defining players of my generation. Those colleagues were the type of player adored by their own fans but with a handy ability to wind up opposition supporters. Wes is different, he is admired almost universally, and in particular fans have united in their horror of his dearth of international caps. This is testament to the way his special talent can transcend normal footballing convention, and a reminder of just how lucky we’ve been that it’s us who’ve watched him evolve and sparkle over the last decade.

It is right that Wes will get his swansong at Carrow Road, that he and we will be able to say goodbye. He is fundamentally interwoven with the highs and lows since 2009, his absence will be unusual, unsettling, upsetting. As inevitably as time passing, as people growing old, players come and then they go. With love and gratitude in our hearts we say farewell to Wes; a one-off, a magician, an entertainer, a stalwart: the ultimate footballing unicorn.