It was totally unexpected.
As some will have realized, I’ve been away for the last couple of weeks. Years of experience have taught me, when I’m out of the country and looking for Norwich’s results, to lower my expectations. It’s normally over Christmas or this time of year, and invariably the holiday is dented by learning that City have lost.
Except this time. The four games I missed – including Forest which we got back in time to hear on Radio Norfolk – produced three wins and a draw. The mood of the City dressing room must be buzzing; the mood of the Lewis household certainly is.
The only thing we lost in my absence was a Chief Executive. Another surprise, and, on balance, a pleasant one.
I’m not sure whether it’s a good or bad thing, but following City from abroad has become far, far easier.
In my early supporting days it was often a 24-hour wait to learn how City got on. Even that was dependent on sneaky looks through the range of local papers to see which might print scores from English Division 2.
It was always worth trying to do better, though.
In 1975 I was a student in southern Germany, and made the brilliant discovery that I could get World Service radio commentary on our key promotion game at Portsmouth. Unfortunately, it only worked in the one communal toilet of our building; I had some explaining to do after the 90 minutes was (at least for me, enjoyably) completed.
My wife would say – with considerable justification – that I’ve shown more determination and ingenuity in finding City scores than in other aspects in life. I’ve scoured foreign cities for internet cafes (that’s my story, and in this case true) and cajoled airline pilots and ship captains to get that simple piece of information for me, occasionally with success.
In passing, the one time I can remember a pilot announcing unsolicited sports news was on a British Airways flight to New York on Boxing Day 2010. To cheers from the Brits and total bemusement from the Americans around us, he interrupted the entertainment system to share that England had bowled out Australia in Melbourne for 98.
Things have changed, of course. This time we were on a cruise, and even in mid-ocean the internet connection was excellent. So I paced up and down the cabin like a caged animal while City held on to their 1-0 lead at Cardiff (cheered by the image of Neil Warnock getting increasingly irate on the touchline).
As I mentioned in a previous article (or two) I had to follow the 2015 Wembley playoff final by internet from a motel in the Australian outback. Internet or no internet, I will be absolutely and definitely be in this country on 29 May 2017. Not counting any chickens, of course – but with some new hope.
How justified is that hope? I know some City fans are still writing off our revival as too little, too late. Well, here’s a thought:
We’re in seventh place as I write, two points behind sixth. On the same date two years ago, we were in seventh place, two points behind sixth.
We had an exceptional run from February that year, of course. However, we don’t actually need to replicate it. We finished third and but for a couple of late slips, we might well have grabbed one of the automatic spots. We were eight points clear of the team who took the last playoff place (can’t remember who that was).
I’m a fan of Darren Eadie – but I became a little irritated with him on Canary Call after the Forest game, constantly pressing callers to agree that anything other than winning promotion would deem this season a failure.
That kind of reflection can wait. Right now, we have to play the ball where it lies. In the case of my golf that involves visiting some strange places; in the case of City, it means facing a series of games in the knowledge that there’s little scope for error. We have to be ‘up for it’, whether ‘it’ is Burton away or Brighton at home.
The biggest challenge for the manger at this stage is perhaps team selection. We have good options, but it seems to me we’ll want to employ several of them. Unlike other seasons, there isn’t a natural XI to play week-after-week, a team that selects itself.
Certain games will allow us to play Wes, Pritchard and a Murphy; that combination can be simply too good for some opponents, as we saw on Saturday.
On other days, though, it will be asking for trouble. Some games – including those key visits to Yorkshire – will call for the more combative presence of a Naismith. Last night too called for a different dynamic, hence Neil’s decision to swap the flair of Pritchard for the muscle of Wildschut.
All nicer things to ponder than we had a month ago.