As a certain Glaswegian once said, ‘football – bloody hell’.
Like many of us, I’m still revelling in one of Norwich’s most memorable victories in recent memory, as Captain Farke and his intrepid band of young guns stormed the battlements of Elland Road, proverbially sacked the city, and left the North triumphant, sending shockwaves across the Championship.
Where does one start?
Maybe with the ruthlessness that’s become a hallmark of Carrow Road’s Class of 2018/19. Every forward move felt incisive, every attack carried threat, every player showed a sense of purpose – a commitment to play football ‘the right way’.
Or perhaps the streetwise canniness that left the locals in despair, by turns directing their ire at the referee (wrongly, as it happens) and the poor performances of their own players (and rightly so)?
For me, it was the tenacious tackling and tireless endeavour that wore Leeds down, draining them of belief as turnover after turnover was won by a yellow shirt. It was a level of sheer combative intensity that I can’t recall seeing from a Norwich team for – well, as far back as I can remember.
(For the record, dear reader, c. 20 years of Canary-dom.)
Wherever you might cast your analytical gaze, it was a tactical meisterwerk, the roots of which were sown on the fields of Colney and made for probably the finest result of the Farke-Webber era yet.
Where eagles dared? Nay – where Canaries soared.
Now, a dose of perspective that I think we’re all keen to acknowledge: one swallow does not a summer make, and one win is insubstantial in isolation, but some victories serve to lay down a marker – and this felt like not just a marker, but a pair of steel gauntlets.
I think it’s not a far stretch to suggest that Saturday’s win was probably the most important result for any Norwich side since Wembley, 2015.
Farke and his team have moulded a squad that wields the kind of swashbuckling attacking verve any football fan craves – and now gets the results to match. Just as crucially, when goings have gotten tough, they’ve shown resilience – an indefatigable sense of belief in themselves and their methods that has dragged them back from virtually every brink. Since Leeds visited Carrow Road in August (irony, I hear thee cry), we’ve lost four games in 28 – all by a single goal, and all in relatively exceptional circumstances.
Now, for all my faith in the Farke-Webber project since its inception (and the fruit it’s now bearing), I am still a Norwich fan, I cannot help it – and doubt is always on the edge of reason.
As Saturday loomed, I was nervous.
Leeds have certainly struggled of late, but concern persisted: would we be the ones who found the answer to the riddle of the sleeping tiger, the stick, and what happens when you poke it?
Similarly, a more primal fear lingered – when the going is this good, it can’t last forever…
I believe the pressure was on us just as much as it was on Leeds. Despite a good performance, we were unable to defeat the Blades last time out. It was vital we avoided defeat and ultimately a point was a fair result, but a win would have left me much more at ease. However, Chris Wilder’s side deserve huge credit for what they’ve done and what they’re doing now – and I don’t think they’re going away this time.
For all that, my fears were clearly not felt by Farke and his charges. Indeed, I think we’re now seeing that this is a team that thrives under pressure. When challenges have been laid down to us, virtually all have been answered – and now we’ve laid down our own challenge.
At times like these, one ponders life as a Canary over the last couple of decades – and what a ride it’s been. For better and worse, there have been some standout results – but I thought about which should be considered THE most important result of the lot. After much deliberation, I have decided: April 17th, 2010: Charlton 0-1 Norwich.
The relegation season had been soul-destroying – and hindsight says to me it could have been well avoided, but then who knows what may have transpired instead?
Such as it was, the fates conspired, we met our demise, and found ourselves in the 3rd tier. The uncertain hope fostered over pre-season quickly fell apart as we crumbled on home soil against the other lot from East Anglia.
Despite the following 4-0 dismissal of Yeovil in the League Cup (and a hat trick for one G. Holt), David McNally took the kind of decisive action that felt so un-Norwich-like at the time – but has arguably become part of the club’s identity ever since. He wielded the axe, sending our Gunny on his way, and lured Colchester’s boss up the road to take the reins. (A certain P. Lambert, if you’ll recall – I wonder where he is now?)
In short, no more Nice Norwich.
Fast-forward eight months to April, and we are now a club transformed: fringe players are reborn, youth players blooded, and we have heroes again. We’ve traded blows with our rivals all season long, and now find ourselves top of the pack and on the brink – but now we must see it through.
But we were back at The Valley – the graveyard of our hopes only a year before. You could sense Tennyson primed with pen and paper. But this time was different; this was not the charge of Lord Cardigan – we had Lord Nelson at the helm. (Not to mention the King of Spain too.) Full time came, the ghosts of 2009 were laid to rest – and we were back.
The rest, as they say, is history.
I’m in no doubt that result made us all believe again.
2004 was certainly a great season, but the land lay differently back then. As the new decade kicked in, football was on course to change forever (read: more money being pumped in by TV deals, and a global shift underway in how the game was being played at the top levels) and we had to be in that reckoning.
Being down in League 1, we were considered favourites by our peers– arguably for the first time in decades – and failure was not an acceptable option. We set out to bounce back and achieve promotion at the first attempt, and we did it. Winning at Charlton showed us we could cope with the pressure of expectation; we weren’t just turning up to compete any more, we now knew we could take home the spoils.
We could easily have bottled it that day– and who knows what might have happened afterwards? How many much ‘bigger’ clubs have floundered in those depths before or since? But look what’s happened since – we rode the wave, stormed to successive promotions, and found ourselves in the top flight. In the years since, we’ve been bouncing between the top two tiers, but we now know what it’s like to win – and know we can again.
But now, with April 2010 firmly in mind, my thoughts turn to this weekend: the 144th edition of the East Anglian derby, and an erstwhile hero returning in the opposition dug-out.
It’s funny to think how roles have reversed; back in 2009, we were the team clinging on grimly whilst Ipswich were challenging to end top-flight exile. In 2019, we lead the pack, and our dear neighbours face the abyss.
I often find myself adopting a certain forced apathy whenever derby day comes around (‘not all that bothered, just another game’ etc.) but then the day arrives, and all I want is the final whistle – and any kind of win for our boys.
I’ll never forget how it felt seeing us fall through the trapdoor in 2009. Maybe I’ve developed a certain sympathy born out of pity, but I do fear for them – because they’re a mess. There are parallels between our fall from grace and their own plight, but I think there was a definite sense that we could haul ourselves back up – but I don’t think many feel the same about them.
But that, ultimately, is not our problem – except that this could be the last derby for a while.
And that brings us to Lambert.
I’ll always be grateful for everything he did at Carrow Road. He gave us icons – Holt, Hoolahan, the Norfolk Cafu. He gave us the 5-1. He helped us dream again. Yes, his departure was a mess, but no one came out smelling of roses then.
But now he’s a Blue.
He could be the man to eventually turn their fortunes around, but I can’t help wondering if he’s turning into something of a lower-league Mourinho – riding on the coattails of past success without justifying the plaudits since. Spells at Villa, Blackburn, Wolves, and Stoke hardly match his time patrolling the touchline at Carrow Road. I do wish him well – but only once Sunday has been and gone.
The thing is, he’s done well against us since he left – and football is all about narratives. It’s why we always believe in the face of so much logic – as Terry Pratchett would say, ‘it’s a million-to-one chance, but it just might work…’
To that end, my heart says we should be very wary when Sunday arrives. Despite the huge disparity between the two sides, derbies are ready-made for football clichés – ‘anything can happen’, ‘form goes out the window’, insert other-truism-here.
It’d be the ultimate example of sod’s law that we find ourselves charging towards the most unlikely of any recent promotions yet whilst our dear neighbours look set to plummet down the league, yet our old boss comes back to the scene of his greatest triumph to end this historic unbeaten run – one he started all those years ago.
But this is where head kicks into gear and tells heart to give it a rest:
We’re top for a reason – and there’s a reason they’re bottom.
So I’m going to give Farke and his band of brothers the dues and trust they’ve earned – and remember what helped us learn to believe again.