I always find the wait between the end of the playoffs and the release of the fixtures for the following season an interminable marathon.
Whilst I’m happy enough to have the break from attending games for a while, the total limbo of not knowing what lies ahead is something that doesn’t chime well with me. I want to be putting dates in diaries, planning the odd away trip to pastures new, and dreaming of the games to come.
Not until June 21, will Canary fans discover what path is laid out for the season ahead. But if past seasons are anything to go by, keep an eye on the opening fixture because, more often than not, an August opener involving Norwich is a precursor to one of the teams involved having a very good or a very bad season.
It goes without saying that Norwich are generally terrible on the opening day. Other than thumping a beleaguered Blackburn 4-1 at Ewood Park two seasons ago, the last time we won our first fixture was at home to Grimsby in 2002. Since then we boast an unimpressive record of Played 16, Won 2, Drawn 7, Lost 7.
But having cracked open the history books, in the past 16 seasons of opening day fixtures, 12 of Norwich’s games have involved a team that was either promoted or relegated at the end of that season. And on two occasions both Norwich and their opponents found themselves in a different league come the end of May.
Fulham’s triumph at Wembley on Saturday was just the latest in a succession of first day fixtures to provide a side that were popping champagne corks or drowning their sorrows once the season has run its course. Nelson Oliviera’s dramatic equaliser and subsequent hissy fit at Craven Cottage seems a long time ago already.
The previous year saw the aforementioned rare opening day victory against Blackburn, who ultimately fell through the relegation trap door (which surprised none of us who were there to witness their 4-1 capitulation that day).
The year before that began with Alex Neil’s Wembley wonders being beaten by a good Crystal Palace team at home but succumbing to relegation by year’s end.
An opening loss at Wolves in 2014-2015 under Neil Adams was the foreshadow for a stuttering start to the season before Adams was replaced by Alex Neil halfway through and we pushed on to Play-Off glory.
Norwich’s opening day the year before saw Ricky van Wolfswinkel’s goalscoring debut in a 2-2 draw with Everton, and like van Wolfswinkel’s city career, it was all downhill from there, with the Canaries crashing out of the Premier League.
Indeed, we have to go back to 2012-2013, and Chris Hughton’s first match as Norwich manager, to find an opening day fixture where neither team were promoted or relegated at the end of the season as both City and Fulham chalked up mid-table Premier League finishes despite their brutal 5-0 win to kick the season off.
Going back further, in 2004-2005 Norwich hosted Crystal Palace in a 1-1 draw at Carrow Road that began a season where both teams, newly promoted the previous year, came tumbling back down to the Championship. And the year previous saw City, who ultimately won the league under Nigel Worthington, draw 2-2 at Bradford, who ended the season slipping down to League One.
So, whilst we wait, eagerly anticipating the release of the fixtures for 2018-2019, let’s be wary of who we pick out for the opener.
And be conscious of the fact that if history is anything to go by, it may be worth a few quid at the bookies on either Norwich or their opponents going up or down. (I’ll leave you to decide whether your glass is half-full or half-empty on that one!)
Previous Opening Day Fixtures
2017-2018 Fulham 1 Norwich 1 (Fulham promoted via Playoffs)
2016-2017 Blackburn 1 Norwich 4 (Blackburn relegated)
2015-2016 Norwich 1 Crystal Palace 3 (Norwich relegated)
2014-2015 Wolves 1 Norwich 0 (Norwich promoted)
2013-2014 Norwich 2 Everton 2 (Norwich relegated)
2012-2013 Fulham 5 Norwich 0
2011-2012 Wigan 1 Norwich 1
2010-2011 Norwich 2 Watford 3 (Norwich promoted)
2009-2010 Norwich 1 Colchester 7 (Norwich promoted)
2008-2009 Coventry 2 Norwich 0 (Norwich relegated)
2007-2008 Preston 0 Norwich 0
2006-2007 Leeds 1 Norwich 0 (Leeds relegated)
2005-2006 Norwich 1 Coventry 1
2004-2005 Norwich 1 Crystal Palace 1 (Both sides relegated)
2003-2004 Bradford 2 Norwich 2 (Bradford relegated, Norwich promoted)
2002-2003 Norwich 4 Grimsby 0 (Grimsby relegated)