When Paul Lambert’s “I’m staying!” statement was posted on the official Norwich City website, a fellow Yellow texted me a message that summed up how we all felt.
It said: “…and breathe!”
What a barmy episode it seems now, as we look back. And doesn’t it tell us a lot about our manager, our club and our fans?
It has been said, many times, that Lambert models himself on Martin O’Neill.
The stature, the specs and the tracksuit on the touchline all echo the man who had two spells at Carrow Road as a player and whose departure as manager after just 20 games was the most calamitous blunder of the error-strewn Robert Chase era.
But Lambert is very different to O’Neill.
Tactically, the Northern Irishman has one trick: defend in numbers but then get the ball forward quickly. The only variety is provided by the choice of attacking with pace via one of the flanks or belting the ball straight up the middle.
Our Scot has more tricks than Paul Daniels. In three decades of watching the best teams all over the world, I had never seen any coach use five different formations during one game until Lambert did it against Sheffield United.
When Lambert makes a change of personnel or positional deployment, it is usually a positive amendment.
Sometimes, late in a game, he’ll make an alteration that says: “OK, we’ll keep the score like this, thank you…” But his instinct is usually to throw on another striker.
That’s another difference to O’Neill, whose teams are schooled in caution.
But the biggest difference between the two men is that O’Neill is voluble and Lambert is buttoned-up to the point of being taciturn.
An O’Neill Press conference is a joy for journalists. The only worries are whether there is enough memory on your digital recorder and whether it will be dark by the time he has finished talking.
Lambert keeps his guard up. That’s fine. It is not his job to give reporters glib headlines.
But he reminds me of Kenny Dalglish, the most difficult interview subject I have ever encountered.
When Dalglish was Liverpool manager the first time, I knew, before any other hack, that he had made a £1 million offer for Watford’s John Barnes so, after a routine post-match Press conference, I followed Dalglish out of the room and tried to ask him about the bid.
He told me to eff off. What had it got to do with me?
I said I was asking on behalf of readers of the Daily Telegraph. He said they could eff off as well.
It will be interesting to see how “King” Kenny copes with the brave new world of rolling, 24-hour sports news – because it was that constant demand for information, and ceaseless internet chatter, that fed the frenzy over Lambert’s link with Burnley.
Burnley? Have you been there? If so, I bet you won’t rush back.
When my wife and I walked into a pub before City’s game at Turf Moor in the season Nigel Worthington’s team won the Football League, conversation stopped as we entered.
We were not wearing colours, and it wasn’t a football pub, but there was a tumbleweed moment because, normally, only regular locals ever went there.
Hucks was unstoppable that day and Norwich won 5-3, so they can keep their tepid beer, but Burnley is not a nice town.
And although the football club have four seasons of parachute payments totalling £48 million, they have committed half that amount to modernising their decrepit ground. Why bother?
Attendances in the Premier League only averaged 20,000.
No, I never really believed Lambert would go to Burnley.
Frankly, he must know he’ll get much better offers. But his laconic comment on the Friday morning – “You’ve got the club statement and I’m happy with that…” – was not sufficient to stifle speculation on message boards and Twitter.
News organisations responded to the internet intensity and added to it. A bubble became froth and then an engulfing lather.
I have posted on the Pink Un message board and on the Wrath of the Barclay site, and those who complain about the growth of such conversations are like Canute facing the in-coming tide.
But I do think Martin Samuel was right when he wrote in the Daily Mail this week that “It is a world of unsmiling nastiness and ill-humour…”
I read a lot of message boards of other clubs for my work and the common factor (or perhaps it would be more apt to say the lowest common denominator) is the vile lack of restraint.
People hide behind pseudonyms to say stuff to each other that they would not have the courage to say in person; stuff that would lead to arrests if shouted in the street. Ours are not that bad.
There is a fair amount of playground puerility by Wrathers, but mostly they amuse themselves with harmless banter. Unsubstantiated rumours and senseless speculation are nearly always slapped down with a put-down.
And the strength of Twitter – the brevity of the format – is also its weakness.
You can’t have a balanced, fully-developed argument in 140 characters. So, when Aaron Wilbraham joined City from MK Dons, the wild assumption that Grant Holt would be sold gained credence and grew like a time-elapse film of mould.
When Wes Hoolahan was not even on the bench at Middlesbrough, the shocking supposition that he was about to be sold festered and fermented.
And, when Lambert did not say, simply, “I am not going to Burnley”, the universe went mad.
So fevered was the insanity that when he swatted away ITV on the Friday evening with an exasperated: “I’ll be here tomorrow…”, those City fans whose glass is always half empty fretted: “But he didn’t say where he’d be on Sunday!”
I saw one post which said the varied formations against Sheffield United had been because Lambert was already trying to get away. No, I didn’t understand that either.
But then I don’t believe humanity is under the control of shape-shifting alien reptiles. Suffolk maybe, but not the whole of humanity.
All clubs have fans who are only happy when they are unhappy and whose idea of support is to carp and quibble. But why haven’t we learned anything from the self-destructive time during Worthington’s reign when the club and the team were destabilised by groundless, defamatory tittle-tattle about some of the players?
At least we should have learned something from Lambert’s eventual official statement and the subsequent soliloquy after the Orient game. He ain’t about to walk away.
So, when we win the title, THIS is what we’ll sing: ‘We are Norwich, super Norwich, Lambert is our king!’