There gets a point in any summer when punters and ‘experts’ a-like start to run the rule over the runners and riders for the forthcoming Premiership Survival Derby.
Having spent much of my summer ensconced with someone of fair repute in this neck of the woods for reasons that might become apparent around the ‘What to get Dad for Christmas…’ time, we talked about it the other week.
It was also a common topic for conversation at Colney yesterday as one of City’s early Press conferences attracted the usual raft of curious Premiership Press types who had managed to spoof a decent day out on the Xs in a one-off visit to this place called Norfolk.
Anyway, the general consensus was that since the Canaries last tasted top flight football the landscape has changed significantly.
Back then, the argument – and, indeed, the reality – was that it was three from four to go down. It was a final day toss up as to which of the three promoted clubs made the cut. Or would yo-yo again in the manner of a West Bromwich Albion.
Now – as ‘Survival Sunday’ merely re-iterated – you could realistically point to eight or nine clubs for whom a trip to the second tier of English football could be a very real possibility. Getting promoted to the Premiership a la Norwich this summer doesn’t always come with a return ticket attached.
The interesting bit, however, is why this should be the case. And, to my mind, nine times out of ten it is as much about the basket cases that certain clubs become off the field as much as what happens on it.
On paper, managers and squads look decent enough to give it a go; in reality, it’s the poison and discord that seeps out of the boardroom that can fatally undermine a club’s hopes of avoiding the drop – despite the most fervent of hopes from both die-hard supporters and decent managers.
Both end up getting right royally shafted by persons beyond their influence or control.
I’ve spent an equal amount of my summer up on Tyneside where the love for the works of Mike Ashley continues to be in short supply.
Chrissie Hughton was widely deemed to be a decent man who had done a decent job pulling Newcastle back out of the fire of relegation at the first time of asking.
As Manchester City, Leeds, Charlton – and, indeed, Norwich – supporters know, get aboard certain runaway trains and the next stop is Yeovil (a); the fact that Hughton delivered the immediate return to the Premiership in the manner that he did was widely respected and appreciated in the Gallowgate.
Just not in the boardroom. Where Ashley, it appears, long-held other plans.
With United’s transfer policy leaning heavily towards relative unknowns of a French origin, it might need the surprise capture of a Peter Crouch to convince the Toon faithful that Ashley has a plan to avoid a repeat trip to what lies beneath.
The other club where the hopes of both supporters and managers alike appear to counting for diddly squat in the boardroom is at QPR.
How representative this blog piece in The Guardian is of the Rs faithful is up for debate; those that comment invariably have an axe to grind.
The fact that Kyle Naughton was whipped out of Neil Warnock’s hands and delivered unto those of Paul Lambert probably said something; as does the signature of Kieron Dyer.
Unless the one-time Ipswich boy-wonder has had a total medical transformation over the summer and is a player re-born, he wouldn’t be one to pin your survival hopes on. Jay Bothroyd, likewise, can blow very hot and cold.
That there is a player there is not in doubt; it’s just getting him to show on a consistent basis that has always been the challenge.
More alarming, however, is the clear divide and disconnect that exists between the long-suffering Rs supporters and the club’s owners, the F1 pairing of Bernie Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore.
Even from a distance you sense there is little love lost between the two parties; with Warnock – in every likelihood – likely to feel more empathy with the supporters than his employers.
Warnock knows what he is doing. He’s a decent manager. Whether he will be given a chance to prove that point or will suffer a similar fate to the luckless Hughton on Tyneside is, right now, a moot point.
The contrast between both clubs and the situation at Norwich could not be more stark. The club’s owners – Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones – have been to near-hell and back as events plummeted the club into League One.
But they have hung in there, struck gold in terms of boardroom and dressing room appointments and can now look forward to a summer of love in Norfolk as top flight football returns to Carrow Road.
And all at a price that those 22,000 season ticket holders appear more than willing to stomach.
It’s why – even before a ball is kicked in anger this season – I’d fancy Norwich to more than last the course.
Togetherness is a wholly under-rated virtue and it is all too easy to forget that such unity has to extend to the relationship between owners and supporters for clubs to really work.
The other club that was thrown into conversation as more than ripe for the drop this summer was Blackburn Rovers. They, it appears, are also worthy of further investigation…