Those Norwich City supporters of a ‘certain age’ will easily remember a footballing era when promotion to the top division of English football didn’t result in an immediate siege mentality attitude from players and fans alike.
Since Paul Lambert compelled us to promotion last year, the over-riding theme, last season and this has been one thing. Survival.
The hallowed position of 17th place in the Premier League is seen as reason for celebration. Most fans readily admit it. As do the players.
Following the win over Stoke City, Bradley Johnson confessed as such himself, admitting: “We just want to stay in this league – if we do it by one point then we will be happy with that.”
Johnson is being a realist; his assertion seems completely fair and reasonable. How can we expect to compete? The riches in football now – TV deals, sponsorships and the relative wealth of club owners are all figures measured with nine, not six noughts at the end. Norwich City have to run flat out just to have a chance of standing still.
Translate that thought to cartoon form and we are Wile Y. Coyote, chasing that unattainable Roadrunner.
In competitive terms, we’ve ran off the edge of the precipice but are continuing our progress, albeit on thin air. As long as we don’t look down and see the fatal drop beneath us, we won’t fall. That’s our footballing predicament at the moment.
Don’t. Look. Down.
That fall to the bottom, as we all know, is long, terrifying and potentially fatal.
In impossible circumstances, when everyone is tipping you to take that one way ticket back down to Earth, you hang on for grim life. You dig in. As Reading proved, sometimes it isn’t pretty. But, if that means 17th place in the most cash rich, hyped, egotistical and self-centered football league in the world then so be it.
That troubles me. I don’t want us to continually do nothing more than look to survive for another year. Where’s the football in that?
Might we, at least, have a regular chance in the FA Cup? Dream on. Over the last 25 years, four clubs – Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool – have won it 20 times between them. Those sides are invariably accused of not being interested in the competition. When they can still dominate even when they’re ‘not bothered’, what chance do we have?
It didn’t used to be like this.
If the current qualifying rules for the Champions League had applied at the end of the 1992/93 campaign, we’d have been in the tournament the following season; 42 (not 38) games in the “world’s best league” and we came third. Previous years saw similarly good finishes, all of which would raise more than eyebrows now. A tenth, a fifth and a fourth.
Plus two FA Cup semi-finals. It CAN be done – we’ve proved it. But can those heights ever be reached again – or is Bradley Johnson telling a hard, but simple truth?
I’d like to think they can. That 1992/93 squad was, as is the case now, an aeon away from boasting the quality of player that teams like Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal had. Much like today.
We’ve got Grant Holt. They’ve got Luis Suarez, Robin Van Persie and Lukas Podolski.
We had Mark Robins. They had Ian Rush, Eric Cantona and Ian Wright.
You can play that comparison game right through the sides – for that season and this. The perceived difference in quality and squad strength were, and are, enormous. Yet, 20 years ago, we didn’t let that stop us from playing with the confidence and belief that the Premier League status we shared then was one in which we could compete and do so much more than “stay in this league” – and get the results to prove it.
Reflect on the words of Jeremy Goss, talking about that season and he and his teammates thinking.
“There was a belief in all of us; the work ethic; the way we played, we believed we could do it. We weren’t just happy to be there, merely taking part in the new Premier League. We wanted to make an impact, not just make the numbers up. We were thinking, we really can do this…”
Now compare that to what Bradley Johnson says. If the game has changed in two decades then so has the attitude of some of the players.
And that’s a shame.
Because if you ask any professional footballer about the value and qualities of having an unshakable self-belief, a conviction that they are amongst the very best at what they do and that nothing is going to thwart them from achieving their goals, they will, as one, nod their heads in assent.
For, even in the harsh reality of things you aren’t the best in the land at what you do, it doesn’t really matter. Because if you believe it regardless, the reality is irrelevant.
Because you are the best.
Take some time out Bradley. Look up Gossy and a few of his mates from that season. Tap into a little piece of that self belief. They too, had been written off before the season even started, but look where it took them. And think where it might take you.