The initial feeling after Norwich clinched their Championship return at Charlton on Saturday was ‘job done’. But when you assess the season as a whole and the rescue mission after the opening day nightmare, the club, from top to bottom, have really done rather well.
First of all, despite being one of the biggest clubs in the division, to get out of it at the first attempt is an achievement that shouldn’t be underestimated. If Leeds choke again this season and fail via the play-offs, it will mean a fourth season in the third tier for the Yorkshire giants.
Sheffield Wednesday spent two seasons in League One in recent years and former European Cup winners Nottingham Forest only achieved promotion at the third attempt, after being relegated from the Championship in 2004-05.
It’s a classic Lambertism but you do have to ‘earn the right’ if you want to have success at any level and after the 7-1 horror show in August, Norwich really have knuckled down – there are no airs and graces with the current crop.
Considering where the club were at the end of August, with a new manager only just installed, confidence at a real low and the top-two already starting to pull away, it really has been a remarkable turnaround at Carrow Road.
But it’s right at the top where I’d like to start and every board member deserves credit for steadying a very rocky ship. With the fans offside and relegation still fresh in the memory, David McNally, Alan Bowkett and Stephan Phillips were brought in and – although hindsight is a wonderful thing – it was clear that the club needed freshening up at that level.
Delia Smith, Michael Wynn Jones and Michael Foulger continue, much to their credit, to put their money where their mouth is and the business acumen of the board’s newest recruits means that Norwich City appears to be in safe hands, despite the financial crisis currently engulfing football.
McNally’s impact as chief executive, in particular, has been spectacular and it’s common knowledge that he was the driving force behind the appointment of Paul Lambert back in August. Too often in the past, the club have dilly-dallied on managerial appointments, with too much emphasis being put on interviews and personality tests.
But McNally, having known the Scot from his Celtic days, could quite clearly see something special in Lambert and having targeted the former European Cup winner from the outset, he was determined to get his man.
There was a refreshing ruthlessness about the whole process and maybe that is what the club needed while sailing through such difficult waters. And every time McNally speaks, you can’t fail to be impressed.
Lambert himself has obviously done a wonderful job and he has to take a lot of credit for the consistency shown by the team on their march to the League One title. You can tell that the players have an awful lot of respect for their chief and when you have the backing of your squad, you’re halfway there.
There is a healthy distance between Lambert and the playing squad and they all know that if they let their manager down, they’ll be in for a rollicking. But the Scot will also back them to the hilt – how many times has he criticised the players? Not once.
Another Lambertism is that ‘the players and fans are the most important people at the club’ and while I might not agree with that comment entirely, the two have certainly played as big a part as those I’ve discussed already.
From the minute that 25,000 flag-waving Canary supporters packed Carrow Road on the opening day to the wonderful backing the Yellow Army gave their heroes at the Valley just three days ago, they really have stepped up to the third tier plate.
Travelling in their thousands to away fixtures the length and breadth of the country, Norwich fans have been simply awesome and the Championship has been a poorer place without them in 2009/10.
And last, but not least, City couldn’t have bounced back without the men on the pitch and there have been some outstanding performers. I’ve covered this in a previous column but Fraser Forster, Grant Holt, Wes Hoolahan, Chris Martin, Gary Doherty would all be worthy winners of the Barry Butler Memorial Trophy and you could even argue that Korey Smith and Darel Russell should be added to that list.
Everyone at the club deserves a pat on the back and the Norfolk football family is a much happier place for it. Congratulations.