It struck me today that it is rather a long time now since we went through a season that was, for the want of a better word, one that might best be described as mediocre.
You know the sort of campaign I mean. One in which the heights are modest and the lows more than bearable. One in which nothing much really happens in and around the football club, a nine months or so that sees us happily progressing in the middle lane at a steady 55mph, sometimes overtaking, sometimes being overtaken. But never really causing anyone any trouble or raising any eyebrows.
No last day nerves, no mid-season boardroom rows or demands for the manager to sacked and no scapegoats on the field either.
Even that last one would be a change but I don’t see it happening anytime soon.
It has been a while since we’ve been distinctly average isn’t it?
Last season needs no introduction. Neither does the one before that. Promotion followed relegation and all the angst and excitement that accompanies both.
The 2012/13 season saw us pretty much chewing our fingernails throughout until that 4-0 win over West Brom guaranteed our safety for another year whilst the season prior to that had all the joie de vivre of new life, new hope and Grant Holt plundering his way through some of the finest defences English football had to offer like a hungry lion in a field of fat and lazy buffalo.
Promotion campaigns that ended in triumph in successive years preceded that whilst the forever miserable 2008/09 season ended in relegation to the old Third Division for the first time in nearly half a century, a level of football we had happily avoided whilst some of the games more leading lights – Leeds United, Aston Villa, Manchester City and Nottingham Forest to name but four – had all done time in whilst we looked down on them, loftily reassured that such a demise would never come our way.
Even the campaign that preceded that relegation, the 2007/08 season, had its moments of both blinding light and suffocating shadow.
Remember the thirteen game unbeaten run that started with a 2-0 win at home to Coventry City in what only Glenn Roeder’s fourth game as manager? Luke Chadwick and Jamie Cureton sealed the win and the points in a game that saw Matty Pattison make his debut and Graham Paddon, the man who should have been the first Canary to play for England, fondly remembered pre-match following the sad news of his death earlier that week.
Or maybe your abiding memory of 2007/08 is the autumn run of eleven games without a win that included five games without even a goal to cheer, one that precipitated the decision of Peter Grant to fall on his sword and, in time, lead to the appointment of Roeder, a move that seemed a wise one at the time and which, to be fair, paid off in the short term.
But footballing dynasties are not built or even conceived in the short term.
As far as Nigel Worthington was concerned, he was in it for the long term, managing, in his time at the club, to build a dynasty – or, rather a squad, that was good enough to get us promotion to the Premier League.
However, by the start of the 2006/07 season, it was beginning to feel as if Worthington and Norwich had done their time to together and both parties needed to move on. Only three of our opening ten league games that season ended in a win, the darkest moment of that early run coming in a 3-1 defeat at Plymouth Argyle that saw us slip to 14th place in the table, any chance of being able to atone for that loss a little over a week later at home to Burnley being swiftly put to one side as the visitors cruised to a 4-1 win. Bye bye Nigel. It was like having your faithful old cocker spaniel put to sleep.
The personnel in the Norwich side on that day ranged from the sublime (Safri, Dublin, Huckerby and Earnshaw) to the near ridiculous (Colin, Boyle, Hughes and Thorne) and perhaps that, most of all, was the crux of our disappointment; the fact that there was, deep down, the makings of a very good team at Norwich at that time, given the names and nature of the first four names mentioned above. The fact that they were expected to carry teammates who were never good enough to play for Norwich City meant we were never going to have enough quality to even pretend to be part of a promotion race with the rancour and hurt that preceded and followed Worthington’s sacking something that was not, and is not, a characteristic of our club.
I felt for Worthington at the time; a manager who, in this recent era of Lambert and Alex Neil, has seen much of what he did and achieved at Norwich pushed into the shadows of long forgotten footballing rooms. He, like Bryan Gunn, is now more likely to be remembered and recalled for all went wrong at the club during one particular season rather than all the good that preceded it and that, for me, is a very great pity.
It was not a happy time and, for that reason, I cannot consider 2006/07 to have been that now elusive season of mediocrity either. And we’ve now gone back a decade looking for one.
The 2005/06 season was, of course, one that was immediately burdened with the expectation of an immediate return to the Premier League following our relegation from that level the season before. We were lucky enough to start that season with three consecutive league games at Carrow Road (Coventry, our opening day opponents had not finished their new ground in time for the fixture to take place there) and, with said three games against the Sky Blues, Crewe and Crystal Palace, it was not that unreasonable to think that, by the time we took ourselves off to Southampton on August 20th, we’d have nine points from nine. An early statement of intent made by a team who, despite being relegated, had players of the calibre of Robert Green, Adam Drury, Youssef Safri, Leon McKenzie, Dean Ashton and Darren Huckerby to call upon.
But the three consecutive home draws that preceded three consecutive defeats meant that we were one place shy of the relegation zone by early September, that poor start being the catalyst for another season of disappointment, which despite a brief period of excitement in December (five successive wins) is more likely to be remembered for the departure of Dean Ashton (bought too late, sold too early). And also some crushing defeats that included seven at “fortress” Carrow Road (including 0-1 against Sheffield Wednesday, 0-3 against Preston and 1-2 against Ipswich) as well as that forgettable Tuesday night trip to Luton in October 2005, almost exactly a decade ago, which saw Luton go 4-0 up by halftime and Callum Davenport, perhaps keen to get out and away from Kenilworth Road as soon as he could, contrive to get himself sent off.
A season of vague ups but distinct downs then. So certainly not a mediocre one.
An accusation that cannot be levelled at the 2004/05 season (relegation from the Premier League) or the 2003/04 season (Championship winners and promotion) either.
So back we go a little bit more in an effort to find the last season when nothing much really happened at Norwich City.
We can’t consider the 2002/03 season either. Or can we? For much of it, we were in or around the top ten places and talking of a possible play off place. Indeed, from our opening day win at Grimsby Town on August 10th to our last day victory over Preston at Carrow Road (2-0, Mears OG, Mulryne) we were in the top ten for the entire season, with any chance of a real push for the play off places or even automatic promotion being dulled by a poor run that started in December 2002 and, over the course of fifteen games (a little over a third of the season total) went as follows – L L W L D D L D D W L L L L W.
Fifteen games played, 45 points available, 13 gained.
And five points shy of a play-off place at the end of the season.
So you can see where it all went wrong during that campaign, one that promised so much but, in the end, yielded absolutely nothing other than some pleasingly high attendance figures at Carrow Road and, according to one reference made at the time, much hope to be had with the “…emergence of record-breaking youngster Ryan Jarvis.”
And we all know what happened to him.
Yet maybe, just maybe, that poor run over those fifteen games in the middle of the 2002/03 season was the last time that we drifted from game to game in a fug of mediocrity, accepting things for what they were, never really believing we had a chance of promotion anyway and just “going to the football” because it is what we did.
There were no demonstrations during that run of poor form, no demands for the manager’s head. No questioning of the board’s motives in their running of the club, no frenzied pleas for money to be spent on unattainable targets or for perceived dead weights to be either ran out of town or sent on loan to Cambridge, Colchester or Crewe.
Team selection was fairly static throughout the season. Nine players started in 30 or more league games, 13 scored at some point during that campaign. Eight players made their senior Canary debuts during the course of the season*, none of whom have particularly made a dramatic impact, good or bad, upon collective Canary memories – indeed, some will very definitely now be residing in the ‘Where Are They Now?’ file – whilst the club’s player-of-the-season at the end of that campaign was the reliable and consistent Adam Drury, a footballing Trumpton clock – never too quickly, never too slowly. Always just right…
[*Paul Heckingbotham, Nicky Southall, Ian Henderson, Keith Briggs, Dean Sinclair, Leigh Bromby, Jason Shackell and Ryan Jarvis]
So yes, maybe 2002/03 WAS our last season of mediocrity, of being average, of never being really good enough to do anything dramatic but then again, never being so bad as to be a particular cause for concern – even during a fifteen match run that saw only two wins.
We’ve certainly had a lot of excitement since then. Some of it good, some of it bad. But there has rarely been a moment in the seasons that followed where, for one reason or another, we aren’t collectively on the edge of our seats fearing, as is our wont as Norwich fans, the worse in every situation – like the fan who was heard to say “…I really worry when we go three up, it’s just the sort of lead we tend to throw away”.
Dull we ain’t. At least, not often. So there must have been something very soporific about that run of game in the 2002/03 season, something that might even have been vaguely calming and relaxing.
Because we didn’t have to worry about something good potentially happening. But neither did we have to concern ourselves over the opposite. Our mediocrity during that spell was almost a footballing Nirvana for us all; we were just being Norwich City.
And that was all.
I wonder if we’ll ever drift into a footballing state of Om again?
Or do modern day demands in a very modern game mean we’ll always be demanding more of our club?