What of 1976 then, how will history regard this year that we are soon to bid farewell to?
The historians and writers of the future, many of whom have yet to be born, certainly won’t find themselves struggling for topics and events which they can look back and reflect on.
We’ve just had one of the longest and hottest summers on record for example. If, therefore, as seems likely, that very British affection for all things meteorological prevails over the coming decades, it’ll remain something which is indelibly linked with this year for a long time yet.
At home we’ve seen the end of the ‘cod war’ whilst, abroad, Jimmy Carter, a one-time peanut farmer stands ready to become 39th President of the United States at the beginning of next month.
This is exactly how you could describe how life as a Norwich City supporter has been over the last twelve months or so.
We weren’t the only ones pinching ourselves back in May when, after a 2-0 win over Stoke City, the two points won in that game against our mid-table rivals not only elevated us above them, a team rich with talent in the likes of Peter Shilton, Jimmy Greenhoff and Terry Conroy but, after Middlesbrough’s 2-1 defeat to Aston Villa, saw us confirmed in a season ending 10th place in Division One, the highest league finish the club has attained in its near 75 year history.
Could we have done better?
Maybe. In our games at Aston Villa and Derby we were in front and looking good, not least at Villa Park a week or so ago when Martin Peters followed up his early goal with a shot that hit the bar. Had we gone 2-0 up at that point, there would only have been one winner. But it was not to be.
In John Deehan, who is only 18, Villa look to have a real star in the making and his two strikes, the second of which won the game for them , illustrating how our defence still seems unable to cope with the sort of pace and opportunism that modern strikers seem to come equipped with as standard.
Dave Stringer and Big Duncan are primed, ready and as good as anyone in the country at dealing with the sort of centre forwards we are used to seeing every week, the likes of Alan Woodward, John Hickton, Mick Jones and Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson, all sinew and elbow, the very best that English centre forwards can offer.
We’ve seen it, week after week after week. Allan Clarke can be a nasty piece of work but he knew he’d been in a game – and not long into it either – after Duncan had tangled with him a few times early on in our game here back in August.
But you wonder if our formidable pairing might require a little youthful help when it comes to dealing with the younger players coming into the game now who, like the afore mentioned Deehan, are able to marry the enthusiasm of youth with the sort of speed and cunning that we are more used to seeing from some of the great strikers on the continent, many of whom, including Gerd Muller, Pietro Anastasi and Dragon Dzajic, are all relatively short, compact and fiercely quick in both mind and body.
We might have someone able to cope with such players in Neil Davids.
Davids, who is still only 21, arrived at the club last year after he was released by Leeds United. It merited little fanfare at the time and there are those who have questioned John Bond’s wisdom in signing a player deemed not good enough for one of our rivals. But Davids has pedigree, enough for him to be signed as a professional by last season’s European Cup finalists when he was 19, his burgeoning reputation at that time bolstered by winning caps at youth team level for England.
In short, just the sort of player we should be looking to sign, one who is young, ambitious and fuelled with, no doubt, a burning desire to prove Jimmy Armfield wrong. Time will tell but Davids didn’t look out of place in the two appearances he made last season, especially in his debut against Ipswich where he more than ably shackled both David Johnson and Trevor Whymark.
Davids came into the game as a late replacement for Duncan and whilst our captain, even at 35, has a few games in him yet, he must know that even the slightest drop in form will see Davids leap at the chance of creating his own Carrow Road legacy.
Following our 1-0 win over Sunderland on Saturday, Norwich climbed up to 15th place in the table, our highest position yet in a season that has, as we prepare for the trip to QPR on Monday, been largely disappointing.
And, whilst four defeats in our opening five league games didn’t exactly see the same sort of supporter discontent shown at John Bond that had been meted out to Ron Saunders three years ago after our defeat to Everton, there were those who were questioning whether he or the team had what it took to survive in the top flight following our relatively successful return last time out. We went down after just one season up here last time. Is it set to happen again?
On balance, I think we’ll be OK.
Bond has added some good players to the squad and, even if he signing was as low key as that of Neil Davids, striker Roger Gibbins, signed from Oxford United in the summer, looks a decent option to have in reserve, whilst Viv Busby, signed to replace Supermac, also looks a capable enough sort of player. But will he be as prolific a striker as Ted was for us?
We’ve been linked with numerous centre forwards since MacDougall headed south, one of whom, Charlton’s Derek Hales, ended up at Derby. More recently, there have been reports we are looking at Blackpool’s Mickey Walsh although the £250,000 plus that Blackpool are likely to want for him almost certainly rules us out of any possible deal, not least because Arthur South would claim the club couldn’t afford it. And also because, if we did have that sort of money to spend, Bond would likely want to get five or six players in with it rather than risk a club record fee on a signing that might not work out.
A lack of ambition as some are suggesting? Or the grim reality of being a smaller club trying to mix it with the wealthy elite?
Which brings me back to that game at Sunderland at the weekend.
We were all delighted to see Graham Paddon back in a Norwich City shirt. His initial departure to West Ham was tempered only by the arrival of the now departed Ted MacDougall at the same time but, even then, we all knew and recognised Paddon for what he was, a player proven at this top level of football and one who, shockingly neglected by Don Revie during his spell at Carrow Road may yet have got his chance to wear the England shirt whilst he was at Upon Park.
MacDougall, on the other hand, had the aura of someone who hadn’t made the step up from lower league football for, as good as he was at Bournemouth, he’d been found wanting at both West Ham and Manchester United. It felt, in other words, as if we’d got the lesser half of the deal.
As it turned out of course, we hadn’t. Ted has since moved on again, back to the south coast. But it’s fair to say we did rather well out of him during the short time he was here. But he never really quite felt as if he was one of “us”.
With Paddon, on the other hand, it feels as if he has come home. Which made his exit from Roker Park so galling and upsetting. A broken leg in football is as bad as an injury there is in the game, one that can be recovered from – but it takes time and a lot of the very best medical care and attention that money can buy, something which the Canaries board will not scrimp on.
The prospect of a Norwich midfield quartet of Martin Peters, Paddon, Colin Suggett and Jimmy Neighbour was one which led me to believe that we can and should look to emulate last season’s 10th place finish. Paddon’s sudden departure has thrown that tantalising thought into temporary hiding but, even so, there seems no reason why we should not continue to prosper, especially if John Bond is given the money to buy an established striker, one who can compete with Busby and play alongside Phil Boyer for the remainder of the season.
Let’s hope that another high final league placing is what we are looking to achieve when Sunderland travel to us for the last game of the season on May 14th. If Paddon is fit and able to play in that game, so much the better.
This is a tough league. We know that, we’ve felt its quality on more than one occasion. But there is no reason why we shouldn’t prosper and, with our manager and his coaching team given backing by both the club and its support, look to settle down to life in Division One as an established top flight club.
On the Ball City. And a very Happy Christmas to you all!