“I’m wondering whether I should try something new with the column in the New Year,” I said to a couple of fellow City fans over Christmas.
“You could try talking about what’s happening on the pitch instead of yourself,” said one. “That would be something new.”
“Or how about saying something a bit controversial for once?” suggested the other. “You seem afraid to say anything that might offend anyone.”
“Oh, f*** off,” I told him.
Which was, apparently, a bit too controversial. The first point is a fair one, though.
I haven’t said much this season about how the team’s playing, because everything’s been going so well. As the letters page of the Pink Un used to demonstrate (for it was once a newspaper, younger readers…), it’s much easier to find something to write about when we’re playing poorly.
The page was always a desert during purple patches; during smelly brown patches, it was inundated with submissions which generally began: “I’ve been a City supporter since before 1959, and I felt I had to write and say that this is the worst…”
Of course, we could talk about: the increasing assurance of the back five; the effective combination of bite and ball-playing in midfield; the variety of attacking options (including the full backs); the different formations at the manager’s disposal; Paul Lambert’s astute judgement and bold decision-making; the sheer energy and spirit of the squad.
But apart from demonstrating Sybil Fawlty’s capacity for stating the bleeding obvious, this could sound self-congratulatory and smug to the extent that the wrath of the football gods could be incurred.
We don’t want to jinx things, do we?
After all, we’re all aware – or should be – of how suddenly the wheels can fall off the wagon. (Mmm, Wagon Wheels… sorry, I’m on a New Year diet and can’t stop thinking about confectionery.)
And we all know what would be most likely to halt the club’s upward trajectory – which is why there was such widespread panic the Friday before last.
Looking back now that the last ripples of hysteria have died away, it’s still impossible to tell from the outside what happened behind the scenes.
The first sign that something might be afoot came the weekend before. I was listening to 6-0-6 (a rare event these days, and likely to become even rarer if Robbie Savage is a regular on there) when a Burnley fan came on and said he’d heard Lambert had resigned.
I couldn’t find any other mention of this rumour when I got home, so I didn’t think anything more of it… until late on Thursday evening, when I wondered again why a Burnley supporter would have rung up and said that.
Then there was Lambert’s less than categorical statement at the Press conference on the Friday morning.
My thought at the time was that there were four possibilities here…
1) He was genuinely of the opinion that the statement from the City board covered everything and there was no need to add to it.
2) He intended to stay, but wanted to use the situation to either strengthen his position at the club – as Worthy once did when Sheffield Wednesday were looking for a new manager – or to obtain assurances regarding the club’s intentions in the transfer market. (David McNally has since stated via Twitter that the club’s transfer strategy has not changed.)
3) He wanted to talk to Burnley.
4) He didn’t want to talk to Burnley, but was leaving the door open to talk to other clubs.
My guess, for the little it’s worth, is that there was a fair bit of discussion and negotiation behind closed doors that day before Lambert issued his clear statement in the evening.
But what those discussions involved, I don’t know and don’t really care since we got the result we wanted. He’s staying. It’s all sorted…
…except, of course, that another day like that Friday is likely to come around again before long, given the precarious nature of management in the Premier League and the fact that with the success he has had over the last 18 months, Lambert will be on every shortlist going.
So we may as well learn a few lessons from the episode.
First, let’s not get into such a state next time. (This is addressed to myself as much as anyone else, by the way.)
It doesn’t help and it isn’t good for the heart. It makes people in Suffolk and Essex laugh at our discomfort.
And I think the members of the board know just how vital it is to keep Lambert and his team and aren’t going to let him leave without trying everything they can.
Second, let’s not start turning on Lambert and suggesting he’s disloyal or disrespectful to the supporters. Even by the standards of the Internet, it was alarming to see how quick one or two people were to have a go.
And if and when he does ever leave, it should be with our thanks and gratitude for how he’s turned our fortunes around.
Third, we should enjoy to the full what we have at the club at the moment, if we don’t already.
Times like this, with the team playing well and getting results, the crowd buzzing and everyone pulling in the same direction, don’t come around very often and have to be savoured when they do.
Paul Lambert is a bright man and surely realises this himself.
If he needs any reminding of the dangers of walking away from such situations, he only has to speak to Roy Hodgson (last season’s Manager of the Year, hard though it is to believe now).
Or think back to what Sir Alex Ferguson said at the time of Rooney’s possible departure from Old Trafford: “Sometimes you look in a field and you see a cow and you think it’s a better cow than the one you’ve got in the field. It’s a fact, right, and it never really works out that way. It’s probably the same cow and it’s not as good as your own cow.”
(Fair play to him for trying to avoid the old ‘grass is always greener’ cliché, though I’m not sure that bringing cows into it helped. Unless it was a veiled reference to Rooney’s alleged extramarital dalliances.)
Paul, you’re in a good place right now, in more senses than one. ______________________________________________________________
And finally… while I’m always moved by those compilation tributes to ‘Ones we have lost during the year…’ at the Bafta and Sports Personality of the Year awards, I was utterly shocked to discover over Christmas that the Capital Canaries football team died in 2010.
Forming that team 15 years ago, after the demise of the previous incarnation a couple of years earlier, ranks high on my Proudest Achievements Ever list; below having children, yes, but above getting a degree and putting an Ikea wardrobe together.
If there are any Norwich fans in the London area who can play a bit and are the slightest bit inclined to consider starting a new team, my advice is to go for it.
It will be one of the best things you ever do.
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