Having reported on the footballing fortunes of the Norfolk nation for the better part of 20-odd years now, you kind of know where the sore points are.
What claim is likely to get people wound up; what subjects you have to tread carefully around. One of them is Norwich’s place on the size ladder.
Are the Canaries a ‘bigger’ club than them? Or them? Why do you lump us in with them… etc etc.
Size does matter, it appears. And, before we start, Norwich are a bigger club than Wigan.
So, I know there’s a sensitivity in these parts with regard to who is a ‘big’ club and who isn’t.
But, to my mind, I’ve always believed that – roughly – you could talk, say, about a Southampton, a Charlton, a Sheffield Wednesday and a Nottingham Forest in the same way as you might a Norwich.
We won’t even go down the road; comparisons to Palace always causes a stir.
But you get the drift. Certain clubs are not wholly dissimilar.
What is interesting for me is that their respective experiences of life in League One are.
And it’s why I think that Paul Lambert’s achievement – and that of players, club, supporters and all – needs to be recognised well before a ball is kicked in anger at The Liberty this weekend.
Because for the first time in a long while I looked at the League One table last night; for whatever reason, I hadn’t really studied it of late. And there are Charlton; ten points off the play-off places with just six games to go.
The Valley will be playing host to Yeovil again next season. Sheffield Wednesday are three places below them – nine points off the relegation zone. They could yet be playing host to, er, Sheffield United in League One next season.
Someone out there will know; but I wonder when was the last time that the two Sheffield clubs were both in the third tier of English football? That it was Barnsley and Doncaster Rovers flying the flag for football in South Yorkshire.
Southampton could yet steal that second automatic promotion spot courtesy of their two games in hand; make it a South Coast one-two with Brighton up as champions.
Or else they could find themselves facing the lottery of the play-offs; their 2-0 win over Charlton this mid-week did at least attract 20,000 punters to St Mary’s, so it’s not total doom and gloom.
The point is that these clubs are not walking out of League One at the first time of asking – certainly not in the manner that Norwich did last season in the midst of Lambert’s first promotion campaign.
Nor, looking back, did either Leeds United or Nottingham Forest find League One altogether to their liking.
Clearly, the ability of any club to bounce back at the first attempt is skewed somewhat by the loss of ten points at the start of the season if you’ve fallen foul of the Football League with regard to administration.
So, in theory, we’re not always comparing like-with-like.
But, in a sense, simply by somehow steering themselves away form the rocks of administration, Norwich have proved themselves more adroit than many of their ilk.
And, of course, it doesn’t stop there. Second season back and Forest’s Championship campaign appears to be following a similar path to the last in that they appear to be falling just short of the mark; running out of fresh legs at the very death.
Likewise, Leeds’ return to the second flight – having been eclipsed by Norwich in that title fight last season – appears to be following a similar script; in the sense that Simon Grayson looks all set to follow along in Lambert’s wake for another year.
The point, therefore, is fairly simple.
That in bouncing back in such style and at the first time of asking, Norwich under Lambert proved to be the exception, not the rule.
Clubs of a similar stature have found it a far, far harder slog to regain their footing following their Championship demise. And having finally scrambled their way back into the Land of Bovril and Pukka Pies, few have maintained the level of momentum that Norwich have demonstrated this season.
On and off the field, in fairness.
As has been mentioned before, it is no mean feat to be able to deploy Sam Vokes, Simeon Jackson and Henri Lansbury as your second-half substitutes; the three only appearing with the game in question having long been won.
And in some style, to boot.
So as City fly down the final straight with a place back in the Premiership effectively now their’s only to lose, it is probably a timely moment to recognise just what City have already achieved over the last 19 months.
It is not normal; quite the reverse.
City might not have fallen as far and as fast as a Charlton, but the decline still found them flirting with administration and travelling to Yeovil (a).
But as the Addicks face a third season on the M5 heading down into the depths of Somerset, so Norwich can, realistically, now look forward to a trip up the M6 to Manchester.
To Old Trafford, not Oldham. It is, as I say, already a remarkable achievement – whatever this weekend brings.
Re. Owls & Blades in Division 3. I had to go all the way to wikipedia to find out:
“The Boxing Day Massacre; a Football League Third Division match which took place at Hillsborough on 26 December 1979. To date, it is the only season (1979/1980) the two clubs have played each other outside of the top two divisions. A record Third Division crowd of 49,309 supporters watched Wednesday beat United 4–0, a match which became part of Sheffield Wednesday folklore.”
Fab article Rick, a very underestimated achievement 🙂