Norwich City FC star Wes Hoolahan excited to experience Portland passion
Almost every week Wes Hoolahan plays in front of sold-out crowds in the most popular league in club soccer, yet there is something about Portland’s crowd that has sparked his curiosity.
The Norwich City midfielder can tell you all about the atmosphere at famous grounds like Old Trafford, Anfield, Emirates Stadium, and Stamford Bridge, but he wants to know a little bit more about the Timbers Army at JELD-WEN Field.
When it was announced that the English Premier League team would be visiting the Rose City this summer, Kei Kamara, who was on loan at Norwich from Sporting Kansas City at the time, gushed to his teammates about the tifos, the songs, the colors, and even Timber Joey.
Scheduled to take on the Portland Timbers in an international friendly on July 24 (8pm PT, TICKETS), Hoolahan and Co have been warned to expect an experience like nothing that they have come across in their careers – even in the English Premier League.
“Going to the States this summer for preseason is something to look forward to. I didn’t really get to ask Kei [Kamara] much about [Portland], but he did say that it is fantastic to play there in front of the fans, who create a great atmosphere,” said Hoolahan. "So it will be a great opportunity for us to play in front of a crowd like that.
“In the last few years, we’ve gone to Germany and Denmark for preseason, so it’s really exciting to go to the States, where I believe the crowds are fantastic and really get behind the teams.”
The arrival of Norwich continues a recent trend of high-profile clubs checking into Portland for summer friendlies and they will be the third English Premier League team in as many years following on from West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa. Manchester City visited in 2010 when the Timbers were in the USL.
After finishing just outside the top 10 last season, Norwich reestablished themselves as a major force with head coach Chris Hughton taking over to bring stability and a competitive edge to their team.
“It was a really good season. We finished in 11th place and had two great wins right at the end, which was a nice way to end it. I think we can be quite pleased with how we did overall,” stated Hoolahan.
Victories over Manchester United and Arsenal were real highlights for the Canaries last season, but Hoolahan, who has emerged as a key player for the Republic of Ireland, admits that they got dragged into a relegation battle towards the end.
“There was some uncertainty about our position as we needed to win in the second-last game in order to stay up and there were a lot of teams down there fighting for that fourth from bottom place in order to be safe. So we were lucky enough to finish ahead of those teams,” said Hoolahan.
“We had a great run before Christmas, beating Arsenal and Manchester United, but after Christmas we just couldn’t score a goal for whatever reason. Once that happens, confidence just goes within the team and with every game you’re thinking: 'we have to win one more game.'
“But Chris [Hughton] has done a fantastic job and got us over the line. Over the years he has done a fantastic job, he was probably harshly treated at Newcastle, but he did a great job with Norwich in his first season there. And we can look forward to preseason and building for next season.”
Looking ahead is exactly what the Norwich squad are doing, especially to their visit to Portland after hearing so many good things about the passion of the Timbers supporters.
Gareth Maher is a contributing writer to PortlandTimbers.com. He is a frequent writer about soccer for the Irish Daily Mail in Dublin as well as ESPNFC.com.