Harold Wilson was nearly right. A week may be a long time in politics, but it’s equally true in football management.
This time last week we were gearing ourselves up for another home ‘must-win’ in the knowledge that, despite the miserable away form, Chris Hughton and Carrow Road had generally proved to be a successful combination.
One no-show later and the resentment that had been bubbling just below the surface exploded. Those who had been bursting to vent their spleen, but were unable to do so because of the decent home record, at last had carte blanche to unleash. And they did.
In scenes reminiscent of the infamous Nigel Worthington/Burnley afternoon it became clear, in the swish of a clapper, that Hughton’s time was up.
David McNally knew it, Delia and Michael knew it, 25,000 clad in yellow knew it, and I suspect, deep down, Hughton knew it too. There remained of course the option of permitting him the final five games to pull City out of the mire, but never would ‘dead man walking’ have been more apt.
As it happened Sunday night’s announcement caught me a little off-guard. Despite the grimness of Saturday, and the deflation felt by all, I expected the board to honour their ‘keep us out of the bottom three and your job is safe’ pledge until the end of the season. The fact said statement made no allowance for City dropping into the final three in the last couple of games was presumably why the power-brokers decided to act.
Mick Dennis’ fine piece gave us a fascinating insight into the behind-the-scenes events that led to the decision to call time on Hughton’s tenure and reminded us again what a ruthless business it is – and has to be. And which makes it even harder when the subject of said ruthlessness is a gentleman.
Hughton is indeed one of the game’s ‘nice guys’. There are no excuses for not knowing that; we’re constantly reminded by those who claim his treatment to be unjust. As ever, those for whom a trip to the fine city is regarded as a pleasant, twice-yearly jaunt to the country, claim to know more than those who watch City week in week out.
Alas, being a nice guy, whose dealings with the media are a pleasure for all concerned, doesn’t automatically equate to being one equipped to steer City to mid-table mediocrity. Neither does it automatically make your team one that’s prepared to fight tooth and nail for Premier League survival. And, perhaps more critically, it doesn’t naturally engender a style of play that strikes perfectly the balance between solid defence and free-flowing attack.
What it does prepare you for is dealing with press conferences and interviews with absolute aplomb. Which he did. And the same with every supporter, critic and abstainer that crossed his path. And if we needed reminding of his niceness, his statement released by the League Managers Association did just that.
Love him or hate him, the man has genuine class and for all the brickbats hurled in his direction over the last 22 months not once has he flinched. Even when confronted by a baying mob and flying clappers he showed the good grace we have come to expect, and for that reason alone I hope his tenure as City manager will not be remembered solely for its turgid second season.
Instead I’d like to think he will be lauded for the magnificent achievement of 11th place in his first season and remembered as the thoroughly decent human being he is. It’s all a little raw right now but I’m hopeful the passage of time will allow us to focus on the highs and move on from the lows.
Naturally there is no getting away from how disappointing this season has been. Not particularly because of City’s lowly position in the table – heaven forbid we should aspire to a top half finish (one for the national pundits/journos) – but generally because of the fare on offer.
Hughton’s instinctive desire for caution was always going to be a problem given the gung-ho Lambert years on which we had recently gorged ourselves, but his natural penchant to retreat further when the chips were down became almost too much to bear – especially away from home.
While I was emphatic in my support for Team Hughton (unreasonably so according to some) in the first half of this season, the doubts had started to creep in by the time Fulham (who else) staged their Boxing Day smash and grab. Those doubts turned into alarm bells when only that Elmander-inspired late rally saved a St Mary’s massacre.
Even at that stage I was of the belief that the board’s patience may yet yield a turnaround, but in the last few weeks it has become clear the effect of the increasingly bleak away-days was taking its toll.
In hindsight my unswerving faith was ill-judged. But only in hindsight. I kept the faith because I genuinely believed that stability at managerial level was the best thing for Norwich City.
The players too have a case to answer. While there is no suggestion Hughton had ‘lost’ the dressing room, it became increasingly clear his message was either falling on deaf ears or was not being implemented as he would have wished.
A few whispers have leaked out regarding the unhappiness of one or two with regard to tactics, but the failure to pass the ball with precision to a team-mate is not something that should be laid at the door of the manager. For every failing on the part of Hughton there have been an equivalent number from the players.
But, now is not the time to apportion blame. Instead, it almost goes without saying that every breath and sinew must be strained to its limit in support of Neil Adams. And it will be.
For all the rights and wrongs, Sunday evening’s announcement created a buzz across the Canary nation unlike any other in the last 22 months. If part of McNally’s rationale was to re-energise the flagging Yellow Army it looks to have worked and we head to Craven Cottage with a spring in the step that wasn’t there at 5pm last Saturday.
Whether Adams can work his magic on a squad of seasoned pros remains to be seen but, with confidence and belief at an all-time low after the West Brom game, the sound of some different pre-match tones could well be what’s required to refresh some jaded minds.
Clearly the task of getting the message across to a bunch of impressionable 17 and 18 year-olds is different to instructing a dressing room full of established Premier League players, but Adams has passion, belief and a tactical nous that was showcased in last season’s FA Youth Cup final. He will also have a united and raucous Yellow Army behind him.
It’s been a traumatic week – one that will remain in the memory for some time – but, like all of us, I’m hopeful it can end on a positive note.
I dare not consider the consequences of Felix Magath’s men giving us the Craven Cottage treatment, but even if the worst were to happen the Canary nation will still be unswerving in its support of those in yellow for the remainder of the season.
Instead, I’m content to dream that City are yet capable of overcoming the Fulham hoodoo and do to the Cottagers what the Baggies did to us six days ago.
Let’s keep believing.
David Bowen says
Well said Gary, I would imagine most of us expected him to stay on for the remaining five games, I can only think the sight of all the clappers being thrown at the end of the game was the catalyst that hurried his demise! We now have to hope that “Neyul” can work some voodoo breaking magic!
Just how that magnificent ten game unbeaten run descended into 13 points in the next 19 games we’ll never know, but for many, that’s when “the writing was on the wall” and the last two “on the beach” games were always going to be dismissed as irrelevant by those then intent on change, justified or otherwise.
Add in the splashed cash following the clearing of debts, expectations were always going to rise and the lack of quality shown on the pitch just compounded the lethal cocktail which was finally set alight last Saturday.
Like time, football waits for no man, so here’s wishing Neil all the best, if only to prove those pundits wrong! OTBC
Good read Gary. The vibrancy and renewed energy around our fine City is tangible.
Gary, I think we need to keep this in perspective. I was in the ground long after the final whistle went last Saturday and I saw little of what I would call a ‘baying mob’.
As for being a traumatic week, the decision had to be made and was. Hughton’s management had worked in the 1st season, not in the second. Sport is all about such ups and downs, that’s what makes it so appealing. Those involved seem to understand that and some of them are more than amply rewarded for those ups and downs. There are a lot of nice people who work well and hard who lose their jobs through no fault of their own who do not receive such rewards and do not find new employment so easy to come by.
Although of course the media will keep the story running my view is that, rather than traumatic, this week has allowed the build up to tomorrow’s game to be interesting and exciting for a change!
This article makes me wonder how much now the players realise they can’t hide behind the manager. If they don’t give it their all on Saturday they really will be exposed. Regardless of what we hope/expect, it’s a fascinating study of the psychology of a football team. I just wish there wasn’t so much at stake!
Morris C. says
For all the ‘feel good factor’ that is going around supporters, the harsh reality is (as Gary said) can Adams make the managerial (Grand Canyon)-like leap from youth team to first team in the PL? ‘Club legend’ status aside, he’s said all the right things on camera so far but can he get Gary/Ricky firing or iron out those defensive holes which have appeared more often than the potholes on my road?
I note his winning % for the YT this season is about 40 (11 wins/5 draws/12 defeats) – same % would just get us safe (to 38 points) but that record does include home and away defeats (with a 0-6 aggregate) to….Fulham’s U-18s!
I have to say, I’m sick of hearing what a nice guy he is. Last years finish was good in terms of the position, but it was masked by some very poor sides as the second half of the year was woeful watching to say the least. Personally, I hope he is remembered for sucking every bit of enjoyment out of the game for us, and not warped with ‘what a lovely chap’ he was…and funny enough, I was also with Hughton until Christmas when all my friends mocked me. I have never been so disinterested in NCFC and football in general, and personally I blame Hughton’s lethargic football.
Not one other person in football would get this degree of grace after losing so many away games in such meager fashion. Our goals scored is what he will, and should, be remembered for…not the fact he’s ‘nice’ because he doesn’t drown kittens.
Stewart Lewis says
Graz (11): as others have said, it’s time to move on from the pro- and anti-Hughton arguments. But you’re extremely harsh. I think history will be much kinder than you are towards Hughton’s tenure at Carrow Road.
As for ‘splashing the cash’ referred to by Gazza and others – well, perhaps the City manager this summer wiil (for the first time ever) be given an average Premiership budget. And maybe even something to spend in January.
Anyway, for now: OTBC
Derek P says
Spot on Graz (7).
Has everyone suddenly forgotten the perilous position we are in? And that is the responsibility of just 1, maybe 3, men.
He’s off now to think of his next job, with a pay-off no doubt from us, while we contemplate Fulham (A), a match we never win, followed by the Final Four.
I wish Neil Adams all the very best tomorrow but I am still angry at how we are in this position.
Keith B says
One thing has not changed, and was never likely to change this season. We still have one of the lowest wage budgets in the Premiership. Consequently we still have a squad that is in many respects, especially midfield, no better than a top Championship team.
Adams – who I think “achieved” successive Premiership relegations as a player with Oldham and ourselves – may be able to get enough out of the players to save us. I doubt if it will be pretty though; the Youth Cup win was largely down to hard well-organised defensive work supported by the outstanding threat (at that level) of the Murphy twins. Good for him for achieving it in that way, but reality is that we are unlikely to see a return of Lambert’s approach any time soon.
He will surely set up to avoid being overrun at Craven Cottage but he won’t have anyone close to outstanding at this level available to him. And that’s our problem.
Until we are able to start payimng the sort of wages the likes of Scott Parker, Stewart Downing, John O’Shea, Darren Bent, Adam Johnson or Tom Huddlestone command we are always going to struggle in the Premiership.
Whilst Hughton did not, in the end, do a particularly good job, when you look at the players that Fulham and Sunderland have at their disposal you realise that luckily for us his various opposite numbers did considerably worse.
Many wanted a managerial change earlier, and it’s easy to understand why. But had Hughton left in, say, October I do not believe anybody coming in would have us safe by now except, possibly, Pullis. He alone is probably vastly overachieving with the squad and budget available. But would I want him as our permanent manager? No way.
Arnold Layne says
(7) – pity with such a big game on the horizon you couldn’t contribute a more positive comment. I genuinely hope that your nasty antagonism towards Chris Hughton reflects a very small minority of ‘fans’..but I see 9 agrees.
(10) valid points – ‘silk purse out of a sow’s ear’ springs to mind. I hope Adams and more importantly the players prove my negative outlook wrong.
Stewart Lewis says
Keith B (10): Thanks. Ours is obviously a minority view – but it’s nice to know it’s more than a minority of one.
Our resources are in the bottom three. The ‘perilous position’ we’re in – five points above the bottom three – may be disappointing, but surely doesn’t warrant the outrage we hear from some of our fellow fans.
I just hope they don’t expect Neil Adams – who is clearly a talented and committed guy – to perform miracles.
Gary Gowers says
Peter C (4) – Point taken. Traumatic – perhaps not, but certainly eventful. Agree that in the greater scheme of things it’s just a bloke losing his job for not achieving the targets put before him, and it happens all the time (in football and *normal* walks of life). Most are not played out so publicly. And yes, we shouldn’t feel too sorry for him for the reasons you state!
Graz (11) – Point taken also. His niceness is/was irrelevant when it came to setting up a team to win games of football, but probably afforded him a bit more slack than would have been given to someone like, say… Glenn Roeder. It probably accounts for some of the national media’s sympathy too – which is also irrelevant. As you say, ultimately it’s the lack of goals that’s been his defining failure. For all the dearth of entertainment, if RvW and Hooper had jointly contributed 15 goals we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation – but they haven’t and we are!
But… you can’t deny he is a lovely chap 😉
Derek (9) – Am feeling your pain. There is probably an inquest to be had – but now IMO is not the time. Three points tomorrow and I’d love to think the pain and anger will subside just a little.
Thanks for your comments chaps.
I’m afraid I too will always remember the Hughton era for how it rendered me more disinterested and apathetic about NCFC than at any other point in my 30 years following the club. And now it has been replaced by a feeling of excitement and anticipation ahead of tomorrow’s game that I haven’t felt for two years. For that reason alone I’m glad he’s gone, nice guy or not. OTBC.
Does anyone know if the current Colchester manager is any cop for next season? lol OTBC
Ferus Lupus says
We all know this is a massive game and we all back Neil and the team to the hilt, it goes without saying, but (responding to 11) it doesn’t mean as readers of this excellent site we have to leave only positive comments – this isn’t an Orwellian nightmare ( bar the football served up this season). Chris Hughton was known as a nice bloke because commentators didn’t know what else to say about him. He turned off fans previously sympathetic to Norwich as an attractive passing team (David Baddiel on football focus accurately described his style as turgid), and much like ladies who might be recommended for having a great personality, he was described as a nice guy as, football wise, there was nothing else to say, or recommend when watching his team play. As a club, we are fortunate it’s finally over. Lets hope it’s not too late!
14 _ Matt
Sums up how i have felt the last 18 months or so. Exiled in Australia since 2004 i, even in the depressing championship seasons, would be up listening to the games on the radio every saturday night.
These last two seasons, even with every game available live on tv, my interest had waned to the point that i didnt bother with the away games anymore.There just seemed so little point as our clear lack of ambition yielded so little. I have a view on how football should be approached and our approach in the last two seasons has depressed me to tears.
Im excited that we might go away and have a crack this weekend too. I feel an optimism that has been missing for quite some time.
I wish CH the best personally, but have no sympathy for him professionally.
10) nice to see that NA hasn’t even got through one game yet and he’s already being judged on getting relegated as a player over 20 years ago. That’ll help!
Stewart Lewis says
Good point, Cityfan (18)! Plenty can be said about the change, but just two things to say now: Hello Neeyul, and On the Ball City!