Well, has there ever been a higher level of expectation in Norfolk?
Perhaps not since the county’s most famous son ran his ‘England Expects’ message up the mast before a particularly crucial local derby.
(If he were alive today, by the way, where would Horatio sit at Carrow Road? Let’s see: a one-eyed view of the game, a belligerent nature, partial to a drop of grog, likely to give the bloke next to him a manly kiss at the final whistle… I’m thinking the Snakepit.)
I can’t remember feeling like this about the team at the start of any other season. There have been individual signings of whom I expected a lot – Darren Beckford, for example, who had been a prolific scorer at Port Vale and raised expectations even higher with a pre-season hat-trick after joining us in 1991.
But even with the teams we had in the late 80s and early 90s, I approached each campaign (there’s a word Nelson would have liked) with a sense of hope rather than confidence that we would carry on doing well.
As with most things in football these days, our current mood comes down to money. We’ve never spent this much before – so now we want to see a return on it. Whereas in the past we would make allowances for the club’s tight finances, the multi-million pound signings are making us think about the top ten and maybe even Europe.
It’s all very exciting. But…
Without wishing to be a wet blanket, perhaps we should pull our expectations back a bit before they run away from us.
(For some reason, I’ve just remembered the incident in a Blackpool-Newcastle League Cup match in 1987 when the Toon Army’s new hero Mirandinha was in the box waiting for a corner to be taken. Just as he was about to make his run, a hand appeared between his legs and grabbed his Brazil nuts. “Where do you think you’re going, Poncho?” asked the defender.)
Let’s just take a moment before it all kicks off to take stock.
First, how much do any of us actually know about our new signings? I’d never heard of van Wolfswinkel or Fer before the club was linked with them. And how many of us have seen them play in a competitive game? (NB: friendlies don’t count.)
Neither they, nor Redmond and Hooper, have ever played a match in the Premier League. Will they hit the ground running or just hit the ground?
However much you spend on a player, whether it’s Fernando Torres or Darren Beckford, there’s no guarantee that the move will pay off. Beckford’s finest display in a City shirt was arguably when he put Bryan Gunn’s on after the latter was sent off at Sheffield United.
And however much ability a player has, there’s bound to be a settling-in period – not just within the team but in their personal life. We’ve just moved house, and I’d forgotten just what a huge upheaval it is. You can’t find anything in your new place, nothing around you is familiar and it’s all very disorienting. If I have my way (ha!), we won’t be doing it again for at least another ten years.
We also have to remember that it gets increasingly harder to move up the table the higher you go. That top group of clubs is still some way ahead of us; the twelve-point gap between Liverpool in 7th and West Brom in 8th last season is going to take some bridging.
We’ve lost a huge presence on the pitch in Grant Holt. It was always reassuring to see him addressing the other players in the pre-match huddle, and now he’s gone. Those are big boots to fill, not to mention a big shirt.
And then there’s the question of how the club as a whole will cope with being expected to do well. It’s a different level of pressure. Some people thrive on it, some falter; which will it be?
It truly feels like a new era for the club – and in some ways it feels like Hughton’s first season here with what can really be called his team. Yet there is continuity with the signing policy which has served us so well in recent seasons.
Paul Lambert, as we know, went for hungry players with something to prove. Messrs Hooper, Redmond, Fer, van Wolfswinkel and Olsson may be more accomplished than the players he signed, but they are (or should be) just as hungry to make it to the next level. With the World Cup finals coming up next summer, they all have a great chance to stake their claims to be there.
They’re not older professionals who think they’re doing us a favour by coming here, which I fear would be the case with Fabio Quagliarella. They’re going to go for it.
Hmm, I can feel my expectation becoming tumescent again. So much for trying to cool myself down.
By Saturday, I’ll doubtless feel as feverish as the temperature usually is on the first day of the season. But to quote Lord Nelson again:
“It is warm work; and this day may be the last to any of us at a moment. But mark you! I would not be elsewhere for thousands.”
And finally… I was surprised to see while on holiday the other week that there’s a French streetdance crew who have named themselves after our friends from down the A140. No really, look.