The last time the Canary family gathered on the streets of Norwich in both such numbers and such spirits was, of course, in 2004.
Then it was a ticket to the Premiership that then-manager Nigel Worthington clutched in his hand; that famous old Football League trophy that skipper Adam Drury held aloft on the balcony of City Hall.
Six summers on and whilst the prize might not be so great, the achievement is no less remarkable given from where Norwich were one game into their first season back in League One.
Without wishing to re-open too many old wounds on a night of celebration like this, it is interesting to look back at what then befell the good ship Canary and ponder why Worthington’s successor Paul Lambert might be sailing into more amenable waters come the end of this summer.
First things first, however. If only City could bottle the emotion and the passion that is out there in the city tonight, then they would be laughing.
Not only that, but if they could pickle this squad in aspic right now and freeze everyone in this moment of time then all would be well in the world.
Grant Holt’s ankles would stay those of a 29-year-old, not a 30-year-old; Fraser Forster would still be a Canary player; Korey Smith would still be firmly of this parish.
Alas, Planet Football spins ever on; players come and go; no-one stays put; neither limbs nor loyalty ever last.
Look back at the Class of ’04 and people can – and will – argue long into the night whether Messrs Roberts and Mackay had a season of Premiership football in them; that big hearts alone should have given them a crack at the top flight of English football.
History will insist that Worthington called it wrong; called it wrong because City went down some nine months later. There were all-too few big hearts on show on the banks of the Thames that infamous day.
I’m not sure. But here Lambert begins to claim the advantage; he has no such big decisions to make. Those that leave this summer will – pretty much – be those that have proved little more than bit-part players in this season’s triumph.
There isn’t a Roberts moment away at Crewe; a Huckerby no moment away at Sheffield Wednesday.
Therefore, he doesn’t have to test the supporters’ opinions from the very end of a title-winning season; there will be very little by the way of ‘Oooh, I’d have never let him go… ‘
The biggest loss, clearly, will be Forster. But that’s a decision not of either the player’s or the manager’s making; whether he returns will be down to the powers-that-be at St James’. Over that, Lambert has all-but no control.
He has a side with age on its side; players that remain some years off their prime; players for whom a real ‘impact’ season might be just four months away.
If 2009-2010 was the season that Master Smith ‘arrived’ on football’s radar, could 2010-11 be the season that an Oli Johnson or an injury-plagued Michael Spillane make the world sit up and take real notice? Who knows what Zak Whitbread will bring to the party with a full pre-season under his belt.
Did Worthington head into battle with anyone of that potential up his sleeve? Huckerby was a wholly known quantity when he returned to the top flight; Damien Francis was, arguably, the ‘one’. Him and Robert Green.
His ‘unknowns’ were – in the end – invariably someone else’s unknowns; where David Bentley’s real interests lay is another of the moot points that will forever haunt Worthington’s year in the Land of Milk and Honey.
But I’m not sure any of the above carry the same level of anticipation that might, for example, follow a Johnson into next year’s return to the Championship.
More importantly still over and above Johnson, Lambert has already got goals in his team; goals by the bucketful in the shape of Holt, Chrissy Martin and Wes Hoolahan.
Will they be given similar time and space in the higher flight? No, clearly not.
Defenders will that half a yard sharper – both in mind and body; midfielders will be all-too Korey Smith-like in their ability to be ‘The Rash’; to be all-over Wesley in an instant.
So, expectations that the City skipper can repeat his 30-goal heroics in the second tier of English football probably need to be dampened now. In fact, I’d take a dozen from him and Martin now.
Eight or nine from Wes; maybe the same from a Johnson on his first, full season. But that’s OK; get the keeper right and a Whitbread on stream and you’ve got the easy makings of a top-half team.
After all, Leicester City didn’t fare too badly on the back of Matty Fryatt’s 13-goals this term – twas only penalties last night that denied them a trip to Wembley after that thrilling 3-2 win against play-off rivals Cardiff City.
The wind will be in the Foxes sails again next season; you can pretty much take it for granted that both Portsmouth and Hull City will be the proverbial Premiership basket cases on their return to their accustomed roots. Both could yet follow Leeds in a rapid descent into football’s third tier.
Burnley will be Burnley; an all-too familiar miserable night out at Turf Moor in the back end of February, no doubt.
I don’t see too much to fear in the league above; nothing – even now – that causes the heart to stop or the jaw to drop. Not in the same manner that a Premiership fixture list might.
You’re not going to pit your feeble limbs against a Drogba; wonder how you keep a Rooney under wraps.
The key, I suspect, to next season will start at the very back – with whoever fills the large gap that Forster leaves.
Could he return? Given his body language – and that of the club’s owner Delia Smith on the evening of the club’s end-of-season dinner – both parties look keen enough.
But, as the likeable Fraser was the first to concede , he was simply a pawn in someone else’s game; he is, of course, now a Premiership pawn to boot following Newcastle’s swift and sure return to the big time.
Pull that particular baby out of the bag, however, and tonight’s richly-deserved celebrations could just be the start of a long, summer of fevered anticipation and hope – that the Canaries can, indeed, be a genuine Championship force to be reckoned with.
Personally, I’d figure that they’re not that far away now; ‘all’ Lambert, David McNally and Co need to do now is add one – maybe two – more decent cards to the pack and they’ll go close again next season.
They have momentum. And in football that is beyond price.