“People were raving afterwards about Tommy Craig. He has great skill and he is strong… When you are watching a game it looks like he’s making a great contribution. But that is on the premise that what he is doing on the ball is what it’s about at that level. And it is not. Maybe it should be. It would be nice if it were.

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Falling for Wes and for the ball

“People were raving afterwards about Tommy Craig. He has great skill and he is strong… When you are watching a game it looks like he’s making a great contribution. But that is on the premise that what he is doing on the ball is what it’s about at that level. And it is not. Maybe it should be. It would be nice if it were.

Falling for Wes and for the ball

“Once he starts grafting and working for 90 minutes, he won’t be able to do as much on the ball. Because he’ll be knackered when he gets it for a start.

“Until a manager comes along and gets a side to be successful playing the way Tommy Craig would like to play, and I would like to play, that’s the way it is going to be. And Tommy Craig is going to be superfluous to that type of football.”

Tommy Craig was the first Scottish footballer to command a six-figure fee from an English club when he left Aberdeen for Sheffield Wednesday in 1968, aged 18.

‘Wee Tam’ was a midfielder. Small, left-footed, he had a powerful shot and could pass beautifully. But he lacked pace and divided opinion, playing just once for Scotland despite being regarded among the most prodigious talents of his era.

Wednesday fans on OwlTalk.co.uk still dispute his merits.

“Was too good for the rest of players in the early 70s, he had a football brain and the rest didn’t.”

“His vision and execution of a crossfield pass is the best I’ve ever seen, problem was none of the other players could read them, he was far too good for us.”

“Craig was highly overrated by most. Despite looking stylish at times he flattered to deceive.”

The verdict at the top of the page is from Eamon Dunphy’s great diary Only a Game?, delivered in September, 1973 after Dunphy’s Millwall beat Craig’s Wednesday’s 1-0.

In the book’s postscript, co-author Peter Ball took issue with Eamon’s view, feeling Craig had a fine game. Ball felt it illustrated how journalists and people outside the game saw things differently from players and managers.

“We can accept flaws in exchange for the flair, the moment of vision and artistry. Footballers see the flaws.”

Wednesday fans recall Tommy Craig as a left-footed John Sheridan, though there may be some parallels too with Wes Hoolahan.

Loved but not always trusted. A step ahead but out of step too. Good for a drop of the shoulder rather than a shoulder to the wheel.

Nobody loves Weso more than Eamo, though he once preferred the grafter.

Of Wednesday, he wrote: “People can sit in the stand and say they were better, they were more aesthetically pleasing. They are doing what the game is all about. But they aren’t.

"They are doing part of it. But the game is about competition, about conflict, about character.”

Dunphy has joked that the second half of his own memoir will be called ‘Wrong About Everything’. He has supported just about every political party, taken nearly every position, done all the 180s, seen both sides of most arguments.

That means he has been right about everything too.

Barney Ronay wrote this week, in The Guardian, how a great confusion still persists over which tasks a midfield player should prioritise.

“The central midfielder who isn’t a defensive specialist. The guy who stands near N’Golo Kanté but isn’t N’Golo Kanté. The one we expect to provide a bit more, but not too much more, and some of the same. What exactly do we call him now? And what do we want him to do now?”

Cesc Fabregas probably wonders the same every morning.

Of course John Giles would simplify it for Barney. And Cesc. “Make himself available to receive the ball, use it constructively and work hard to get it back.”

But Gilesy can’t measure out that recipe.

Writing in 2007, also in The Guardian, when Wes was at Blackpool, Steve Claridge saw a player on the verge of a breakthrough:

“Hoolahan is the type of player who, if you walked into a ground at any point during the 90 minutes to watch him, you would not know what position he was playing in, such is his desperation to get on the ball.”

But it was around that time, too, that Wes tipped the balance a little, in his life with and without the ball.

“I knew that I had to work harder as well when I didn’t have the ball. It wasn’t something that the manager said to me particularly. I just knew I had to work harder for my teammates.”

Perhaps his teammates and manager could see the flaws easier than the Blackpool and Norwich fans who idolised him.

“The first question to ask on a Saturday when meeting up was ‘is Craig playing?’,” they say, on OwlTalk.

And so it has been with Wes. ‘Is Wes playing,’ became a shorthand philosophy test. An exchange rate. A price, a value, on having the ball.

Peter Ball was bemused by Dunphy’s view of Tommy Craig, because he felt Craig was just the type of player Eamon should have become.

And perhaps there was some frustration in Dunphy, even envy, that he had bought into a football culture that betrayed his strengths, while Craig stuck to his guns.

“If I tried to play like him, to concentrate on doing it on the ball, and using my skill to the exclusion of chasing and running about, I would never be in the side,” he wrote.

“I could probably play for Wednesday and everyone would say ‘what a lovely player, doesn’t he do well’. And everyone would accept me poncing around. I’ve found over the years that although I’ve got a lot of skill and could be a very skillful player, I’ve never been allowed to indulge myself.”

Before he finished playing, Eamo tipped the balance too, indulged himself or maybe found himself. Reading’s Division 4 promotion campaign was among his happiest.

“He has finally started putting his foot on the ball and playing after years of chasing and harrying,” Ball wrote.

These days, Tommy Craig and Eamo are on the same side of the argument. Both ready to trade flaws for flair.

“My philosophy on football never changes,” Craig said five years ago, when St Mirren coach. “I’m just fighting against the notion the defender who boots the ball into Row Z of the stand should get the loudest applause.”

Perhaps, in Eamo’s great love of Wes, there is a wistfulness about how his own career might have panned out in a different football culture.

And a frustration that, over a half-century of that culture, not everyone has been as ready to change their minds.

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