Have you ever had those conversations? The ones with a colleague where you’re boiling the kettle and making painful small talk about the summer transfer window? The ones where he complains that his beloved Man United aren’t going to sign Jadon Sancho, Harry Kane, and Gareth Bale? The ones where he then asks how your team (“who do you support again?”) are getting on this summer? The ones where you start explaining that you’ve signed three lower-league journeymen, a roofer from the semi-professional leagues, and a loanee with a name so boring you’ve already forgotten it yourself, but then realise that life’s too short and he’s zoning out, eyes glazed over, nodding out of sync, thinking more about the HobNobs than the 36-year-old ex-Rochdale and Burton left back you’re on about. And you don’t blame him.
For the majority of fans who support a lower league club, these are standard encounters. We are not fortunate enough to frequently bump into strangers or colleagues who also support our team, or even just a fellow team at our level, and it turns out people with no vested interest don’t want to hear all the intricate details of the transfer incomings of Morecambe, Oldham, or, let’s be honest, Cambridge United.
Until this summer. When United announced the signing of Norwich City and Republic of
Ireland legend Wes Hoolahan, it came as a surprise to pretty much everybody. Mainly for the fact that he had been on trial with the club last summer, not this one, before a sudden move to Australia’s A-League left us wishing we had never let ourselves fall for such a preposterous idea. The rumour mill hadn’t yet caught any wind that he was nearing a return to blighty and to football in the English pyramid this summer.
His arrival has thrown up a discussion amongst United fans. Some feel he will be an
expensive and injury-laden nightmare, who will pick up some sort of persistent physical
misfortune that keeps him out of the team for the majority of the season – as is the way with United’s star players in recent years; think the obvious stretcher-fetcher Barry Corr, or even Samir Carruthers last season. Others feel that with him in the side – Wessi, SuperWes, the Wessiah himself – we may as well start packing our bags for League 1.
The real contradiction here comes down to how you want to approach football; with logic, or with emotion. You can sit there with a snarl on your face and a glass of ice-cold cynicism, with added bitterness to taste, complaining that he’s 38 years old and past it, having probably watched him playing or training all of zero times. Or, you could let football do what it is there to do and why we pay our money and time to religiously follow it: to excite you.
With Wes, we have a player who is going to be a clear class above in League 2, capable of
talents way above this level. We’re talking about a man who played a starring role, and
scored, in a major international tournament as little as four summers ago. Not the England C of Rory Mcauley, but proper international football against real footballers in real international stadiums – the ones littered with disappearing plastic patio furniture.
He might be a player in his twilight years, but the pinnacle of his career is not a long-
forgotten remnant of the past just yet. Two seasons ago, he made 29 Championship
appearances in all competitions for Norwich – the same year, United struggled to a 12th placed finish in League 2 with a 37 year old David Forde keeping goal and a 34 year old Jabo Ibehre limping to 22 appearances up front.
But more important than that is the excitement of a signing like this. It is nothing short of a marquee signing, an extreme luxury that will be able to decide games by himself, and a
player with a track record at the highest level of the game. Given the past seven years have provided us with little to no moments of real excitement, why not let this huge gamble be a source of excitement rather than scepticism? I would take this feeling of glorious anticipation from a player like Wes over the sheer boredom of a 28-year-old League 2 journeyman with a well below-average record – and probably some not too shabby wage expectations along the way.
United fans have been here before with the epic saga of Herve Renard and Claude Le Roy – a story as brilliant now as it was then, but one that deserves its own word count dedicated to it. For now, when you’re next making a brew with a colleague and he asks how your team is getting on “down there”, you have the perfect answer ready. They’ll be listening. If Wes’ signing has done one thing, it has transformed water cooler chat for us all. And just for that, it’s already a resounding success.
This piece first appeared in the Cambridge News on Saturday August 15th. Reproduced here with thanks.