One of the many cheering memories of the three-season romp Norwich enjoyed under Paul Lambert is the recollection of how our stroppy manager pugnaciously confronted the match at Colchester in January 2010.
Before kick-off, he strode out, acknowledged the roars of approval from the Yellow Army behind the goal to his left, and then responded to the spite of home fans with a cheery wave.
It was a moment of pure Lambert, all brassy bravado. And so was the performance of his team which followed.
In front of the only full house Colchester have ever had at their out-of-town home, Chrissy Martin ploughed through the mud to plunder two goals before half-time. The Doc – oh, Ginger Pele, we remember and salute you – thumped in an improbable third just after the break. Oli Johnson slalomed his way to our fourth. Then, in the last minute of normal time came the cherry on the icing on a particularly sumptuous cake – Grant Holt mastered the treacherous conditions while defenders slithered despairingly and gave Norwich a 5-0 triumph.
I was working at that game. And, bad form though it is to say so, part of my profound enjoyment that day was to see how crestfallen local reporters were.
The Essex County Standard’s pre-match edition had carried a bellicose piece by the chairman of the Colchester United Supporters’ Association in which he said he had no respect for men like Lambert.
It was bliss seeing how little Lambert cared about that, and unconfined joy watching revenge for the 7-1 mauling with which the season had started.
Looking back now, there are some lessons ahead of City’s reunion with Lambert. We certainly need to remember how we got him before we allow ourselves to be consumed with angst about how we lost him.
And we need to realise that, once he moves on, there is no sentiment in his soul. We were beneficiaries of that and we should not worry a jot about it on Saturday.
Personally, I will always be thankful that he was our manager for just under three seasons. I spoke to him on the night that he agreed his deal with Villa and, when I saw it was his name on my mobile, opened the conversation thus:
“Paul, which ever way this conversation goes, and whatever happens in the next few years, can I start by saying, as a fan of Norwich City rather than as a reporter, Thank You.”
Lambert led our club up 54 places, from the lowest ebb for half a century to the game’s sunlit uplands. It was utterly exhilarating. I say it again. Thank You.
Interestingly, looking back now at the early days of Lambert’s reign, there are some lessons as well about how we regard Chris Hughton.
Lambert didn’t think much of Wes Hoolahan to start with. In the home defeat by Colchester, Hoolahan had operated on the left of an orthodox midfield four and made no impact at all
Lambert did not pick him to start a League game for a month. Then Wes got in the team, made his point and Lambert was big enough to realise he had made a mistake and keep the little maestro in his plans from there on in.
But Lambert still left him out on numerous occasions, principally when the manager wanted a system in which he did not think Wes was effective.
Those who bemoan the fact that it has taken Hughton until now to see Wesley’s value, should realise those facts – and prepare for further occasions when the manager opts for a system to which our play-maker is not suited.
One of the difficulties Hughton has encountered is that he is being compared with Lambert. But we’ll never know how Norwich would have fared under Lambert this season. I suspect they would have lost some of last season’s momentum.
And, of course, those who fill message boards with knee-jerk pessimism about Hughton were probably the same folk who greeted each reverse under Lambert with moans about his choices and tactics.
It is only with twenty-twenty hindsight that we can really put a manager in perspective. I tried to do that in the match-day programme for John Bond after his sad death.
There is no doubt in my mind that Bondy helped invent the modern Norwich. He took over a club with decrepit training facilities, no proper youth team and – what shall we call Ron Saunders’ tactics? – a robust, straight-forward approach.
Bondy wanted the ball on the floor but lifted the club’s horizons. He signed players like Martin Peters and expected his team to be able to compete with the very best in the land.
Against Arsenal, we saw that Hughton has the same expectations. And, just as Bond galvanised the entire club, so Hughton’s Norwich got Carrow Road jumping.
Hughton’s signings are starting to make their mark. I don’t think I have seen a better Norwich centre-back than Sebastien Bassong, ever.
Alexander Tettey is an athlete with deceptive acceleration because of the length of his stride and, as he demonstrated against Doncaster and Arsenal, once he gets within range, he can spank in low, difficult shots.
Michael Turner needs to win over fans after a couple of shockers, but Hughton knows a good defender when he sees one and Turner was literally at the centre of the resolute defensive organisation against Arsenal.
Above all else, Holty is back. To be honest, I wondered if he had discovered cakes or lost his mojo. I apologise unreservedly. I sang a rude song to mark the error of my ways on Saturday.
We’ll be all right. Lambert has moved on, with our thanks. But so have we.