Chris Hughton lost his job because of his answers when he was quizzed by Delia Smith and two other Norwich directors immediately after the home defeat by West Brom.
Delia and her husband, Michael Wynn Jones, were with chief executive David McNally. The three of them had backed the manager all season in the face of growing discontent among supporters.
After Saturday’s defeat, when that discontent turned to despair and then exploded into open anger, Delia and Co needed to gauge whether Hughton could and would re-energise a team running on empty for next Saturday’s showdown at Fulham.
Only four people know what was said at that fraught meeting but it certainly ended with the three Norwich power-brokers undecided about which of two gambles to take: stick or twist?
Next came an obligation to attend a grim charade: the away fans’ party. Chairman Alan Bowkett had gone home immediately after the game, but the rest of the board duly appeared at the world’s most funereal “party”. So did Hughton, his management team and every member of the first team squad who had been at the ground for the game.
Hughton was dignified and kept his emotions buttoned up, as always. He talked to every supporter who wanted to speak with him. Some of them must have been among those chanting for his sacking earlier. But there were no confrontations. All the exchanges were polite. Decent folk behaved decently.
Only a dark hurt deep in his eyes betrayed the bleakness Hughton was feeling. Only private, whispered conversations revealed Delia’s mood. She was in pieces, but with practised sincerity, she produced smile after smile as countless fans asked her to be in their “selfies”.
When I wrote about how the Roeder family felt as the Norwich family turned on Glen, many supporters felt that was treachery on my part. It wasn’t meant to be. It was meant to be a portrait of events which I watched from a privileged position.
So this time let’s agree, please, that Hughton and Delia are honourable people, and that they were hurting on Saturday, like all of us.
At some stage that evening, Delia, Michael and McNally weighed up Hughton’s replies in their meeting. They concluded that not enough would change for the vital Fulham game unless the manager changed.
Hughton was told the following day, the world was told a few hours later and his replacement, Neil Adams, was produced at yesterday’s Press Conference.
I wouldn’t have sacked Hughton. But the opinion of every single one of those who lost patience with him months ago is as valid. And I wasn’t in that meeting with the three directors.
I concede, without quibble, that my support of our manager had become a minority view.
There were still quite a few who did share my perspective; who remained convinced about Hughton’s strengths and qualities. I know, because as perhaps the most visible and strident “inner”, I attracted comments from like-minded souls.
But there were far more uncomplimentary remarks from those who wanted a new man to lead the team we all care about and the mood had definitely become blacker and blacker.
I understand that. I don’t enjoy making two trips to Manchester in a week to see my team concede 11 goals without a whimper of a reply, nor relish the long drive to Swansea or a trip to Southampton to see City swatted aside so easily.
You all know, however, that I could argue my corner, insist how Saturday’s performance and result made a nonsense of 4-4-2 with Wes and so-on, assert that it is daft to think Hughton wouldn’t play to RVW’s strengths (has he got any?) … etc, etc.
I’m not a booer. Never have been. Never will be.
I am friendly with all three of the people who met with Hughton on Saturday night. I have a long association, going back to my days as sports editor of the (London) Evening Standard, with Hughton himself. I know some of his family.
I make no apologies for any of that, nor for stating my position unequivocally on this site and elsewhere in recent months.
But I lost the argument.
And I reject the view, espoused by too many of my Fleet Street contemporaries, that Norwich fans who pay to watch their team are not entitled to express exasperation and, eventually, anger in a season which promised so much more and has delivered so many crushing experiences.
I disagreed with how some of the disappointment was expressed and with some of the appraisals of how and why City played as they did, and how they should play.
But I lost the argument.
And all that matters to me now is what matters to you all: that Norwich stop losing.
Neil Adams will have one huge advantage, which might just outweigh his inexperience. The Yellow Army will unite behind Neil – and that gives him a chance. Because when we march together, we are freaking awesome.
This season is not over yet.
Douglas Millar says
The article shows how difficult it is to arrest a slide in form and what a gamble it is to make a change. But the time has come to get a result. Cardiff will struggle to get our current total of points. Sunderland too after tonight’s defeat also look gone. The big danger is fulham and if they win on Saturday they will be breathing down City’s neck. Having also been to Southampton and at Carrow road on Saturday and seen most home and away games, drastic measures were needed to enable the team to make a fresh start.
I shall be at Fulham on Saturday hoping to cheer Neil Adams’ green and yellow army to victory. OTBC
I was never a huge Hughton Outer, but his tenure as manager has been of the most uninspiring nature. Hughton’s negative cautious unambitious style coming right Lambert probably made things worse.
I think the writing was on the wall for Hughton almost from the off, he never believed in the club or its players. We were always little Norwich in his eyes. Now that lack of belief has transferred to the players who no longer believe in themselves.
Stewart Lewis says
Two things about ‘the argument’:
1. We’ll never know how Hughton would have finished the season, so the case will remain open
2. As Mick says, there’s now a much higher priority than arguing – showing Neil and the players that we’re all 100% behind them. None of our opponents, however mighty, will enjoy that.
Mick, you know which Chris I am and know that I speak as a ‘neutral’ (ok, maybe not…but you will know where I am coming from). Found Saturday’s atmosphere bewildering. Norwich were not as poor as the outpouring of emotion suggested. Granted, I am not a regular at Carrow Road, nor am I a Norwich City expert. But I understand football. And I’m going on Saturday’s game. I saw players playing for a manager. I saw a side who, if they could finish, would have been on a par with West Brom. Perhaps even beaten them. Norwich hit the wood work twice and where last season Foster played badly, this time he played well. Very well. But it was far from ideal. And the goal was a mess. Did I think Norwich were negative? No. Did I think Norwich did enough to get a point. Maybe.
But I found the ‘turn’ in the fans more startling than the performance in front of me. I wish you luck for the rest of this season.
My sentiments entirely Mick, it was becoming more and more difficult to defend Chris (but I tried) and I can’t boo either. Really disappointed that it didn’t work out for him but it was blindingly obvious at the end of Saturdays game that something had to give and doing nothing just wasn’t an option.
At least now the poisonous atmosphere won’t be simmering under the surface ready to erupt and we can all get on with dragging the club from the mire. I for one haven’t given up on those last four games, there may just be more pressure on the gooners to deliver than us on that last day and yesterday at Goodison showed us all that they can be rattled.
Kevin O says
Thank you! Tremendous piece reflecting what many of us have felt as the vitriole mounted. As someone who has never left a game early in forty years, I dreaded the final whistle on Saturday and left close to tears. I was particularly worried for Delia and Michael because they have have done so much to try and keep the important community feeling of NCFC together. I really wanted Chris Hughton to succeed but must admit to having become a doubter rather than an outer. Don’t know whether I’ll ever feel totally comfortable with some aspects of the City ‘support’ ever again. The rudeness and lynch mentality has soured my trust in our fan base. I have a huge respect for Neil Adams as a player, coach and analyst of our game. It’s a huge ask but let’s trust that he can galvanise all aspects of our fantastic club so that, at least, the gunfire doesn’t turn next on those who have worked so hard to save it from oblivion i.e. the board and the chief executive OTBC
Ps. The clappers are rubbish. Your football club don’t need that. Carrow Road is as good an atmosphere that you’ll find anywhere in the country. Love going there. Enjoy the intensity of matches there. And I spoke to an ex-player who said it was a venue loved by home players, not so by away footballers. Hence why gimmicky giveaways are simply not needed. You have fans who generate enough noise
i was worried by the U.S. tour,very poor, but even more baffling was the total lack of alarm or overt response. The 5 nil at Fulham was no surprise and i was an “outer” from then on. The previous season was scratchy and things have only deteriorated. Our chances of staying up have improved but only from impossible to improbable. I predict 2 more points.
Rip Van Winkle looks like a league 1 player and has lost all conviction and confidence. The whole senior squad are quickly following suit.
A fire sale would raise no meaningful income.
You didn’t lose the argument,rather it was rendered irrelevent by crushing formulaic and predictable dross that never gave your point of view a chance. Hope springs eternal……
I do hope that Chris can leave Norwich with some sense of pride. Last season was our 2nd highest finish ever in the Premier League and Norwich also took some notable scalps last season too.
IMO, it’s a massive shame it didn’t work out; i would have liked to but it didn’t and I think it would have got worse for everyone if he had kept on.
I really do wish him all the best in whatever new job he takes, as long as it’s not at Ipswich.
Great piece as usual Mick.
I stayed with Hughton almost as long as you, but after Saturdays woeful, clueless and tactically inept performance it became blatantly obvious that something had to be done, I like many others felt we would have gone down with him, so whilst I understand the risk, I feel we have nothing to lose with Adams in charge, and as you say it’s now time to unite and get behind the boys till the end of the season.
Great piece Mick. I respect you for holding your ground, over the last few months.
Mr Hughton is clearly a gentleman, and his achievements last season will stand the test of time.
I am very pleased for Neil Adams, and think he is exactly the man for the last few games. He has already stated we are going to Fulham to win. That belief is something that has been missing from the management team for a while. If he can instill that in the team then I agree with your last line – this season is not over yet!
I totally agree with Chris re the clappers. None of the cause/blame for our results this season can be down to the supporters.Your article was as excellent as always. For the future, if we go down with Neil we should still stand by him and give him the chance to produce a team next season that the Yarmy will he proud of. OTBC
Rick Lime says
Farewell-good luck/good riddance to Chris Hught-on,
Worked his socks off but far too few games were won,
Old boy Adams plunges in the deep end,
Players’ egos and form, he has to mend,
The run in so tough – squeaky seat-edge cheeks – no fun.
Burn the clappers! Bring back the inflatable Canaries – classier and they can’t be thrown at the dug out.
Nice to see some of the more reasoned support voicing itself here for a change as opposed to the more vociferous/bulgy veined lot. McNally said that in the end he had to listen to the fans – that’s fine to a point but you only tend to hear those shouting the loudest by that approach.
If we stay up, Adams gets the credit, if we go down, Hughton still the blame..We’ll see just how much responsibility the players hold for the situation over the next 5 games.
(8) it’s bonkers to judge a team by it’s pre-season form. We had some great results (not enough obviously and mostly last season) but to say you lost the faith in the manager after the first game of last season is stretching belief!
Adrian Thomson says
A good read Mick, but do you think that knowing some of the individuals affects partiality? It must be very difficult to disrespect or criticise people you know and say you are “friendly” with. Us mere supporters can have a narrow view, but it is objective. No-one wanted Hughton to fail, but the warning signs were there early on and a big fear was that McNally, having appointed him, would not want to risk being seen to fail by having to remove him. The Board almost certainly left it too late after humiliation was heaped on humiliation, had Adams had the benefit of the last few games then we could well have been safe by now.
Michael D says
Thanks Mick, and all hear for the balanced set of sane comments, in a difficult time! I echo Kevin O’s sentiment about having been a doubter rather than an outer, and like many others, I get hoping that Hughton would develop some tactical adaptability that meant we could reproduce performances instead of just having one offs.
For me, I must admit it was Swansea rather than WBA which was the final disappointment. After the stirring Sunderland win, I couldn’t believe that Hughton would go into the Swansea game with exactly the same team (except for one CB) and game plan and expect it to yield results, and then for the team to fail to reproduce any of the Sunderland endeavour at all. That really was a game I had expected us to go into with renewed spirit, and for the relapse to happen almost immediately there, I think was the final bit of doubt needed to know that CH was never going to have the motivational and tactical acumen to turn us into a team that consistently played with courage and some tactical adaptability.
Neil Adam’s main task now is to instil some self-belief back into the team and may that bravery and better tactical awareness return at Fulham. One note of caution. We need a manager with more experience, so I hope come the end of the season, we do bring someone else in with appropriate experience – but I hope too that Neil is looked after and retained by City – since I would like to see him being able to contribute to Norwich over the longer term too!
ron obvious says
Wonderful, heartfelt, totally honest piece. Shows how football can inspire the best of feelings in the worst of circumstances.
I personally wish Chris Hughton nothing but the best in his future career. I pray even more that we survive this season!
As mentioned above we will never know whether Hughton would have kept us up. Equally we will never know the outcome if he had been replaced earlier. What we do know is that the Board made their decisions to the best of their judgement and in good faith. We now go forward, I expect a lot of us are exited as to how the team will look and play on Saturday. It might not work out over the next 5 games, that is the beauty of sport, but whatever league we are in we will need to build again, blending our promising youngsters with experience. Let’s now put this unhappy chapter behind us and wherever the outcome start enjoying ourselves again (although I accept some of us are never more happier than when we are moaning!).
Arnold Layne says
Decision made – fate to be decided. Some of the affronted reaction from City fans to the opinion of pundits is quite amusing though – there is a fine line between a ‘siege mentality’ and an introverted ‘who do they think they are mentality’. The accusation is they haven’t run a football club. Maybe we should hear the views of Ken Bates or Peter Ridsdale?!
Lineker was a crisp finisher (and still is!) and one of the land’s finest. He’s a pants presenter but probably his opinion reflects a defence of someone who he must know Hughton well from his Tottenham days.
What of that beloved son of Norwich, Danny Mills?
Simon Bellas says
As always an excellent article Mick, we have had our differences over the season but it gives me no pleasure to say I was right and you were wrong so to speak, all we want is whats best for NCFC and sadly as many could see a long time ago Hughton was not that man!!! Hughton maybe a nice chap as you say, i cannot comment never having met him, but that was perhaps the biggest problem, never appeared to be ruthless enough with some underperforming players. It is not totally down to him of course, but he seemed to shackle the players many times with his cautious approach, lets hope that as you say Neil Adams can galvanise the yellow army and we do indeed pick up 3 points this Saturday. whatever happens at the end of the season, and which division we are in next season i just hope that the board pick a more attack minded manager, and crucially for me do not pick a “nice” man in the mode of Hughton, but someone who will gee up the players when needed. OTBC!!!
Excellent piece, Mick. My view is that the players bear a lot of the responsibility for the current position and Hughton was certainly not one of our worst managers.
I do think though that current form suggests that we would have been unlikely to get anything from the Fulham game and that teams that do change their manager do get better results in the short term. I feel with Adams we have a better chance of getting a few points from our remaining games.
I do hope though that Adams is not doing a Gunn and taking one for the club. He has been a great servant and would be a loss to the club if we were to lose him at the end of the season.
I was also at the after game party and it was pretty funereal. Had a chat with Hughton and found him to be hugely dignified but generally pretty deflated. Top marks though to him for fronting up and staying til the bitter end, after most of the players had gone. My view was that I couldn’t see him motivating the players to the win at Fulham and I suspect the board felt this as well. He seemed to have run out of answers. We had a brief chat about tactics and I did actually agree with him that it was not about 4-4-2 either, it was about getting forward as a team, regardless of formation.
All the endless passing across the back 4 on Saturday did it for me. No wonder we had 70% possession.
Top marks to Snodders, Martin O and Jonny H among others for making an effort. Black mark to Pilkington who couldn’t have looked less interested. Whittaker was more concerned he wasn’t getting a game but I suppose that’s footballers for you.
I did have a difficult job explaining to my 6 year old son on Monday morning that the man who he had his photo taken with was no longer the manager.
Great article as ever Mick
This season has seen me slowly move from the ‘inners’ to the ‘outers’ as I realised that wanting Hughton to work and the lack of a realistic replacement were not strong enough justifications.
The results against Southampton & Swansea made me realise the 2 fundamental problems with the Hughton regime;
1) In the most succesful managers we had in the 25 years (Stringer, Walker, Worthington & Lambert) have all ‘got’ what our great club is about and understood that most Norwich fans go to games (unlike a lot of PL fans) & know what they are talking about (we don’t want no squit buh). Hughton made a massive mistake not moving to Norfolk. He might have been polite, but was he really listening?
2) We don’t have a billionaire benefactor, we are never going to outspend 80% of the PL. The clubs of our size who sustained a decade of Premiership football on small budgets (eg Wigan, Bolton, Stoke) achieved it because the were prepared to adopt unconvential approaches to either tactics or recruitment policies. Southampton led the adoption of the high pressing game & are giving talented English players are chance (but let’s no forget they are still owned by a Swiss Banker). Swansea have a distinct passing style & were finding Spanish players years ago. What is Norwich’s style? – I’ve no idea, Where are Norwich scouting for talent? The same places as everyone else. This raises huge questions about McInally (but he has enough of track record to be given time) and was the cause of Hughton’s downfall.
If we stay up, we have to create a Norwich way, and play to our strengths, not just try to copy everyone else with slightly less money.
Andrew Gillie says
i have been an “outer” for a long time, but this doesn’t mean I disliked the man. Trully admired his dignity and courage to attend the “Away Supporters Party”, though I didn’t speak to him.I still don’t know if we’ll beat the drop, but I really believe we’ve improved our chances. It will be a trully united Norwich City on Saturday, and beyond. On our day, we are more than a match for ANYONE when that happens. To the players? Wear the shirt with pride. Play to your best, and do not stop believing. ON THE BALL CITY!
Good piece Mick.
Frankly the writing was on the wall for Chris Hughton a months ago when race got dragged into matters. For some reason he wasn’t black when he was the manager of Newcastle, and the band wagon was rolling for Paul Ince being the first black manager… no one mentioned the game at St James’ Park as the first game between too black managers… despite both being as white as they are black…
But for some reason it gets mentioned now.
But then I’m not surprised at the reaction, nor the idiotic meme doing the rounds of ‘what do Norwich fans expect’… not least because the same people were predicting us to go straight back down in the first season…
The fact is Hughton hasn’t delivered… and I take on board the article about statistics and possession a few months ago…. there has been no progression and his signings have not worked. And that is what a manager is judged on… not his race or how nice he is…
If I find his press conferences dull and inspiring then what must the players be thinking?
Ok we are sort of in a Terry Connor/Alan Schearer moment… the difference being that Terry Conor had longer to muck things up that Neil Adams has got, and Neil Adams doesn’t think he is God… and in all honesty we have been down for weeks, so there isn’t much to lose… Liverpool will probably put seven past us as usual… we never get a result at Fulham… but the other three games?
Excellent article Mick, I enjoyed the read a lot. The first issue I have with the comment of ”eeore” stating that Chris Hughton is as white as he is black. Try telling that to Chris or the morons who racially abused him from the terraces in the 70s and 80s. Chris considers himself to be black and proudly so. And for that reason he is black.
On to his sacking, perhaps it was inevitable but only becausehe was rounded upon by a Norfolk Lynch mob which grew in number game by game and I understand why it did because sometimes I watched in disbelief some of the lack lustre performances; however, those performances were delivered by the players as well but they seemed to be immune from criticism by the self proclaimed ”outers”. A perfect example was the West Ham game at Upton Park. We totally slaughtered them and their keeper made around 8 brilliant saves. John Ruddy had a mad moment for their goal and their second was a breakaway when we threw everyone forward. The following day everything was Hughton’s fault due t the substitutions made. He did make bad and strange substitutions but all to often that was just used to beat the man with when they could find nothing else.
The West Ham game was lost by Ruddy but as usual Hughton took the punches for his under performing stars. Not so brilliant stars in many instances this season.
I still think we will stay up but the board have hung their hat on not losing to Fulham. I hope they are right because if we lose to them. They will think ”Game On” with only a 2 point gap. Next up is Liverpool and if They come to Carrow Road in any sort of form and we take a hammering then who knows where our confidence levels will be.
Hughton may have had some poor games in charge but when a big performance was needed, even against Man City and Spurs he got it from the players. Adams is untried in those situations and for me for that reason the board have taken a massive gamble.
Perhaps Chris Hughton should have been sacked but for me if it was going to happen, it should have happened at the end of the season.
Peter Whittaker says
Good article and I agree that booing is never an option. I also agree with one of the posts that at times we didn’t play badly on Saturday, particularly in the first half, when the movement was good. However, the decision had to be made when you look at the following statistics.
Against our rivals in the bottom half since Christmas we have Played 11, Won 2, Drawn 2 and Lost 7, Goals for 8 and Goals Against 19.
That’s 8 points from 33 and relegation form. Despite two good results against top teams the games that matter have been disastrous overall. Whether this is down to poor tactics, team selection, the much discussed “plan B” or simply poor players is debatable. What isn’t debatable is that the stats suggest we would have been relegated.
The board had no choice although they should be congratulated for trying to stick with the management team – it’s just a shame it didn’t work out.
OTBC and lets hope we change history at Craven Cottage.
The Boy Billy says
On the subject of Board members, where does Stephen Fry fit in to things these days?
I thought he was a full Board member but he never gets a mention these days and is rarely seen.
By all accounts, Bowkett had seen and had enough last Saturday and didn’t show up at the away fans party – but Fry??
Where was he and does he fulfil the role of a proper Board member?
Can anyone enlighten me?