Derided. Devastating. Divisive. Two out of these things are true.
Aaron Wilbraham unexpectedly joined The Norwich in the January transfer window after spending 6 or so years with Franchise FC. I say unexpectedly because, even though we were clearly in the market for another striker, getting a less than prolific big-man from the league below wasn’t really part of the plan. Unfortunately, this sealed Aaron’s fate in the eyes of many fans and his signing was welcome with a general sense of bafflement.
He went in the team straight away, starting the 1-0 win over QPR, and was a regular part of the team until he picked up a back injury and was forced to miss the rest of the season. He only contributed one goal, the winner in the 3-2 away win over Leicester. The goal itself was a work of rare beauty from the lumbering tower as he received a long ball from Ruddy, sold a defender down the river with a beautiful Cruyff-turn before lashing the ball into the back of the net.
But this was the high point of Aaron’s season, in the eyes of many fans at least. He became the target of derision in the crowd, the occasional boo, complete bitching if we didn’t get a win and just ignored if we did. It seemed that if Norwich only picked up 1 point, or lost, then Aaron was primarily responsible and became the target both in the stands and online. If we did, then his contribution was ignored or minimised; such as against Millwall when it was a key flick on from him that set up Lansburys late winner.
One young chap behind me in the Barclay had a frequent criticism of Aaron; “he doesn’t jump his height.” I would be happy if this commentators phrase was never used again, not least because it was inaccurate. Time and time again Aaron would do the job asked of him – linking play, knocking balls on, making space and finding other players. That he was never brought in to score shedloads of goals seemed to elude some fans, and his overall good play was brushed aside. Indeed, if ‘In Lambert We Trust’ has become the motto around Carrow Road, he certainly wasn’t trusted on this one. The sight of Wilbraham on the touchline, ready to come on, was frequently greeted with cynicism or just outright defeatism.
But I like Aaron. I think its fair to judge all players by what they bring to the team, and he did his job. In several games he made key contributions, setting up goals and making himself a hassle for defenders. The fact that Lambert continued to play him is a sign that he too was happy with the contribution he made. But I’ve never been a boo-boy. For me, getting inside the stadium means supporting the team, to a man. I’m not a fan of Chris Martin but I’ll sing his name and cheer him on. I want them all to do well, but Aaron followed players like Russell Martin, Gary Doherty and Andy Hughes in being a target for crowd complaints and unpopularity, which even reached the lap of honour. When each player had their own chant sung from the stadium, and they came along to pick up the cup in front of the Barclay and Snakepit, Aaron was the only first teamer left out. Even Oli Johnson got a song. I briefly heard, from Barclay E block, a chant of “we want Wilbraham, say we want Wilbraham,” but this was quickly drowned out.
Ultimately, Aaron only played 12 games and scored 1 goal, but he had an impact on our season. Whether it was with his performance in arguably our best away win of the season, or setting up goals, or being the target of boo’s without ever complaining, he did his job and, in the end, got his medal. Next season, things are bound to be different. The step up to the Championship was tough on him and, like Oli Johnson, I’m not sure he’s going to make it at the top level – especially with the signing of Vaughan and rumours of others coming in. Wherever he goes from here, I hope he gets a little more respect than the Carrow Road crowd occasionally offered him.