The Ballad of the Boy who would have been King

Picture by Claire Epton

Picture by Claire Epton

By Alex Scott

The Square Ball had it right. Nahki Wells going to Leeds would have been bad, but at least they’re a bigger team, you know? You can rationalise that.

But them? THEM? That stings. That really stings. Not just that they now have our best player, our hero over the past two years. But that the fact they can just take him. Just like that.

After everything we’ve gone through since Nahki arrived, the fact that bloody Huddersfield can just swoop in and take him is awfully emasculating, awfully demeaning. Especially when in our heads, for all intents and purposes, Huddersfield and us are just about equals.

It stings. It stings like terrible breakups sting. I’ve never been one to “hate” in moments like these, rather I just tend to mope around for a bit, quietly torturing myself. And that pattern was repeated Sunday morning when I forced myself to watch the Football League Show even when I vowed that I wouldn’t.

And the maddening thing, again like those terrible breakups we’ve all had, is that I still bloody like him! I wish I didn’t, but I can’t root for someone for this long and flip it off like a switch. Watching him gamble on that mistake in the Millwall defence and contort his body before applying the finish, my heart panged. Then he high-fived that damn terrier and the walls came crashing down.

I still like him. I’m a Wells apologist and have been for two years now. As I’ve said on here before, no one thinks he can be better than I do, and no one as wilfully overlooks his shortcomings.

For those interested, I think in the long run, he’s Fraizer Campbell (Huddersfield-born no less). Very, very similar players, except one had the benefit of beginning at a big club. Nahki’s already scored 20 more league goals, and has three years on the Cardiff man.

Photo by Claire Epton

Photo by Claire Epton

The first thing I did when I heard the news was start making excuses for him. “He doubles his wage. He gets to stay home with his family. He is going to a good footballing team who create a lot of chances, in the division below the Premier League. And the board were willing to sell him there so get off his back!”

I’m not saying that any of that is true, or right, but that was my instinctive reaction. Not anger, not frustration. Just immediate, instinctive excuse-making for someone who I’m desperate to root for regardless of what he does to me.

Huddersfield are either the second or third result I look for on a Saturday evening, obviously rooting for a defeat. This wound isn’t going to heal easily. Especially if Nahki becomes as good as I think he can be. I’m going to be a front row viewer.

The fact that this deal means that parts of me are actually supposed to root for Huddersfield to succeed now is just about the worst of the lot. I could take the club accepting a semi-reasonable offer. I get the board were in a tough spot, but in spite of all that, I’m supposed to be comforted by the fact we have a financial stake in Huddersfield getting promoted?!? Seriously?

Now, I’m being irrational. I know. But I’m a sports fan. I’m allowed to be irrational. And I suppose that I should be glad that there is someone at the club strong enough and brave enough to take the tough call in the best financial interest of the club.

But here’s the thing: I just like watching him play. I like watching this team play. I’m more invested in these guys and the manager than the division that the club plays in at this point.

The argument that we had to sell now revolves around the fact that the club were scared about his value decreasing in the summer. I don’t know how real that risk was, but I suppose I can understand it. Although free-scoring 23-year-old forwards don’t tend to depreciate in value and I’m sure I’m not alone in having Palace, West Ham and Sunderland fans come up to me asking why we sold him so cheaply and that they’d have had him. (Granted my friends who like football are similarly devoted tragics who pay attention to the Football League, but still.)

The board’s cautionary tale appears to have been Jermaine Beckford. During those glorious years when Leeds were in League One, Beckford was their main man. Alas he wanted to play at a higher level, refusing to extend his contract at the club.

So he wound down his contract and left the club on a free transfer. His value was probably around the same as Wells’ at this point, 18 months out from the deadline. But Leeds had faith that by keeping him they had a better chance at promotion than with £1.5m in their back pocket.

They rode the contract out and gained another 40 goals out of him over the next eighteen months, along with a promotion. They’d have paid £1.5m for that probably five times over.

Beckford wanted to go as much as Wells did, he used all the leverage he had over the board as well. But that’s all it was, leverage. In the end him scoring goals was in everyone’s interest. The club got promoted, and he got a free agent move to Everton along with a whacking signing bonus.  The Leeds board had the nerve (and the ability) to take that gamble.

And herein lies my sad frustration. Not with Wells, or the board in particular. It isn’t my money on the line. I’m not the one taking the financial risk I wish they did. I’m an irrational observer who likes things the way they are and doesn’t want them to change.

I’m just sad with the situation in general. I don’t want this. I’m invested in this team. Even after this bad run, I still believe that with everyone fit they are capable of remarkable things, especially with Nahki Wells in tow. And now this belief, this team, is beginning to erode.

Last weekend marked the beginning of the end of this team as a unit. As a thing.

And that just makes me a bit sad, really.

Nahki Wells spiriting himself away makes him the first of the heroes of last year to cement himself in the past tense. All the talk about him now moves to legacy, to how he is remembered. And unfortunately, the way he left will forever taint that.

The argument for him is that the board were willing to sell him to Huddersfield, so why should we only reserve him for judgement? He has a career to think about. One move to a Premier League team and he sets himself and his family up for life. He’s interested in money over loyalty. So am I. If some rival company wants to come double my wages, cool. Sign me up.

The argument against is that he could have gone anywhere. Literally anywhere else. And no one would have had a problem with him. Even when receiving an underwhelming fee. He would have gone down in history as one of the greats of this club, leaving us behind to go be great, just like John Hendrie did before him. But he ruined that. Not for him, it would never have affected him anyway, but for us. We don’t get to have that guy in our memory over the next twenty years. By doing what he did, we’ve lost that.

The present is so often terrible, that living in the past and the future is all we have as fans, and now countless moments in the past two years will be filed with an asterisk in our mind. That goal against Rochdale, that hat trick against Northampton that kept us up, Villa, Burton, Play Off Final. All those moments slightly singed by the ending.

He was always going to go. All we had was rooting for him at his new club, and those memories. Now we’ve just got a void. And it is sad.

SAM_2194

I’m really not looking forward to this summer. We’ve reached the penultimate chapter when our favourite character gets killed off, and the remaining length of the book is diminishing rapidly. All of our friends, the people we’ve grown attached to are about to leave us for good.

It’s not the end of this team, this era definitively, but Nahki is the canary. The first domino to fall. In the summer, as Jason noted earlier this week, a number of the remaining pennies will drop and this team which we’ve been supporting for eighteen months will break up and go their separate ways.

I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing with regards to the club’s progress. But it’s sad all the same. I was sad when some of the supporting cast were killed off at the end of last season. (Pours one out for Will Atkinson) But Wells is the first main character to leave the show. It’s different this time.

Last year’s stars have seen off the summer recruits with aplomb so far this season, but their curtain call is coming. Nahki Wells is just the first of the gang to die.

James Hanson should be hanging about. Andrew Davies as well. Beyond that? There are no assurances over the keeper or left back. Kyel Reid appears set to move back home to London. Garry Thompson and Gary Jones will in all likelihood be phased out.

The only permanent thing about football is the lack of permanence, and it’s now obvious to me that I’ve had my head in the sand for months. But I’m
not ready for the end of this team. The end of this. This is as good as it’s been for over a decade. And it’s ending.

That matters more to me than what shirt Nahki Wells wears now, or how much the club made out of him. That stuff is just noise. It’s ending. It’s not even a year since Hanson’s goal at Villa Park, and the clock is ticking on this era. It’s ending.

Parkinson said when he arrived, and throughout this run that if he could just build a team the fans could believe in, they would come, and believe. And he was right. He built this team. This team we believe in. And it’s ending. Now he has to look toward building another.

Mike (3)

He’s probably my favourite City player. Even now. Jermaine Johnson used to be my guy. But Wells (and a couple others in this team) have jumped him for sure. I’m just sad that he’s left more than anything. I’m just going to miss watching him play. The last time I saw him play was so nondescript. Watching him halfheartedly ply away at London Road, isolated, alone, was just sad. For that the be the end, the coda for everything feels wrong. Many parts of me are still in denial.”

I just hope he scores as many goals as possible as quickly as possible so he can move again to get rid of all of this.

Throughout this entire Wells era I’ve been so happy, and so excited watching him, knowing I’d be able to root for him in the future at a bigger club somewhere. And all of that has gone out of the window for the time being. There is only a void.

I can’t hate him. I can’t wish ill upon him. I love that guy. But now I can’t anything him. I can only look longingly at a distance hoping he’s well but deep down hoping he isn’t. Like every terrible breakup, he is the only winner and us, the losers, can only watch on in envy.

I’ll defend Nahki Wells to anyone for as long as it takes to wear them down, but some things I have to call it what it is and silently hope things turn out well in the future. This is bad. He couldn’t really have handled this worse if he had tried.

Nahki Wells is still going to be my favourite City player. Even after everything. But I’m a lovesick tragic. I’m not the people he has to win over. Maybe down the road, when the dust settles and his replacement bags a few, and Nahki moves on again, things will get easier. And we can love him again. Because after what he did for us, he should be loved.

Maybe things will get easier.

I hope they do. I really hope they do.

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Categories: Opinion

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12 replies

  1. Nahki was as cold as ice. No smiles, no bond with fans, no enthusiasm at the ‘end of game walk over and applaud’ ritual (see Jones, Hanson, Flynn).
    The finest striker to wear the City shirt for a long time, now he’s gone. I’ll love his goals for ever but love him as a player……….na.

    • I agree Ian. In the same way Carbone was the best player ever to wear the Claret and Amber but will never be a City legend so Wells will be remembered as prolific but without much affection.

      I just get so disappointed when I think of his calf ‘injury’ against Swindon. No gesture to the crowd, no applause – he knew it was his last game and yet countless kids looked up to him (my lads included) as a hero. There’s no doubt he was tapped up. You can’t blame him for looking after his own interests but then you can’t blame the supporters for being disillusioned. Its just a big reality check bursting the wonderful bubble we’ve been enjoying over the last 18 months.

      This month is so key. A few good signings and Well’s will just be a footnote. I’ve long maintained that Hanson would have had a many many more goals now if the service was up to scratch. Let hope Parky can work his magic.

  2. move on

    • This is the last Nahki article we have – the final word, so to speak.

      Indeed it is time to move on, but Nahki’s huge impact at City means we were unwilling to quickly wipe our hands of him and forget he existed. I’m already looking forward to writing about the Sheffield United game at the weekend, which will not need to mention his name.

  3. Yes, it’s all getting too emotional.
    Personally, me, my sister and niece Katie have on several occasions hung about after a match waiting for the players, affectionately known as “our lads” to sign an autograph or pose for a photo. Even Phil Parkinson has obliged – me and my sister have a bit of a crush on him….

    Yes, we have lots of photos but many more happy memories of last season.

    Of course, I don’t know the businesss side of football or the depth of feeling towards Huddersfield Town, but these things happen and for my niece this has been a hard lesson. “At least we’ve still got Stephen Darby Baby” she said.

    Yes, we have lost a great player and apart from the many goals scored for the club he was one of “our lads”.

    I accept we will never have a season like the last and so I should be saying “Good luck to the lad, he did his bit for us” but why do we feel so cheated and so bereft ?

    Come on Phil, pull something out of the bag and give us all a lift. We are right behind you.

  4. Nahki was fantastic for Bradford City FC but I’m afraid I can’t wish him well at Huddersfield, as some one alluded to above, he’s a cold fish.

  5. Enough on Nahki, already. The boy is gone so lets move on now.

  6. Alex, great article summarising the anguish felt by many. I felt exactly the same when Caleb Folan left but at least I know he will end of at Gillingham…

  7. The bit that touched me was the author telling us he liked watching Nahki play. I totally agree with that. He was certainly an exciting player and one I will miss. We were always a stepping stone for Nahki, lets just move on and enjoy watching the new squad develop over the next 12 months.

  8. Agreed, really is time to move on, but as always, top coverage from you all. Wells didn’t get a farewell game or lap of the picth, it’s felt like this has been the best place to offer goodbyes (whether happy or not!0

  9. Once again an article that gets to the ‘guts’ of how we as supporters think and feel. Keep up the reporting with ‘heart’.
    Last word; Bye Nahki……

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