The Norwich City “way”.
We’ve all heard it a thousand times. Heard it, read it, witnessed it eulogised. But what does it actually mean to you as a Norwich City supporter? Is it a well intentioned statement that describes a footballing philosophy?
Or is it a lazy and out of date cliché, one regularly trotted out as part of a general Norwich City checklist, those all important points that have, by law, to be included in any feature about our club.
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- Mention Delia Smith – check.
- Clip of Delia watching match from Directors Box – check. Light hearted quip optional but something along the lines of “I wonder if Delia had one of the pies at half time?” or “There’s Delia Smith. With her husband” are acceptable.
- Close up of Cathedral. Always good for a programme director with half an eye on doing the ‘Songs of Praise’ gig. Then zoom away to view of ground with Cathedral in background – check and double-check.
- Reference to our ‘perch’ – either ‘top of’ or ‘fallen from’, depending on clubs current circumstances – check (but make sure league position is established before kick-off).
- “They like to play good football, Norwich” – check.
Yep, there it is. Point five. There are many more, then and now of course – remember, for example, the obligatory statement that always used to follow once Gary Holt was in possession of the ball?
“Here’s Gary Holt for Norwich. He used to be a chef in the army”.
Do they trot that one out in Scotland whenever Falkirk are playing on TV? A clip of the immaculate Holty, clad in his best suit, exhorting his troops from the technical area.
“There’s Gary Holt, the Falkirk Manager. He used to be a chef in the army”.
I wonder if Mrs Holt greets him every morning in much the same familiar, lazy manner?
“Good morning my darling. Sleep well? Cup of tea? You used to be a chef in the army.”
But I’m getting distracted. Because this is about “The Norwich way” – as in, “…they like to play good football, Norwich”. That must be the ‘Norwich way’?
I certainly heard it said on more than one occasion last season whilst watching us on the small screen. It’s usually uttered doing an all too rare period of yellow and green possession; a hurried, almost casual aside from either the match commentator or his sidekick – one lobbed in to take up time whilst they scan their match programmes to see who the Norwich’s number 27 is. You can almost hear the agonised cry of the producer in Simon Brotherton or Gary Neville’s ears can’t you – a desperate plea for them to say something, anything…
“Ummm…errr…hmmmm, ah, got one….they like to play good football, Norwich.”
“Phew, we got away with that one chaps. Thankfully, Liverpool have now retained possession. As you were gentlemen, as you were.”
So there, in a roundabout way, do we have it. The fabled, much talked about “Norwich City way” is that we like to play good football.
When did our reputation for such a thing begin, what are its origins?
I would reckon it goes back to the days of John Bond. His was the unenviable task of following in the footballing footsteps of Ron Saunders; the manager who led Norwich City to the top flight of English football for the very first time in our (then) seventy year history. But not only that. Because, against all expectations, he not only kept us there at the end of that first season, he also took us to Wembley for the very first time into the bargain.
A Second Division Championship, top flight membership for the first time, survival and Wembley. Yet Ron is rarely at the top of anyone’s list of ‘Greatest Ever’ Norwich City Managers. Which seems an oversight. All three were, after all, massive achievements and ones that went totally against the sporting grain at the time.
We had, prior to that now increasingly distant Second Division Championship success spent eleven consecutive seasons grubbing about in the Second Division, promising very little and delivering even less; our finishing league positions in the five seasons prior to that win being 11th, 13th,9th (sixteen points behind Champions Ipswich Town, bet that hurt?), 11th and 13th.
Not exactly stirring stuff is it?
Indeed, and with very genuine respect to Bournemouth, what Saunders achieved with us in that 1971/72 season and in the year or so that followed is probably equivalent to someone doing the same with the Cherries next season; Premier League survival plus a Wembley Cup final for them into the bargain.
Yet Ron Saunders is rarely, if ever, lauded as a Norwich City great in the way that his successor John Bond is. Nor, for that matter, Ken Brown – yet Ken took us down twice!
Why is that, I wonder?
It can’t be because no-one is left to remember Ron’s Norwich! Any Norwich fan from their mid-to-late forties onwards is going to have memories of his managerial tenure, his players, the way his team played the game, so why aren’t there…
…but wait a moment, let’s rewind that last sentence a bit.
“…the way his team played the game.”
Is that it? Is that the reason why Ron Saunders is respected, admired almost for what he did during his time at Carrow Road but seems is nowhere near as loved as the likes of Bond, Brown, Dave Stringer, Mike Walker and Paul Lambert? Is it because of the football we played under him?
And that, no matter what this ‘Norwich way’ is, we didn’t practice it under Ron?
Norwich were, it is fair to say, a robust team under Ron’s tenure; one coached on a basis of work, work and then more hard work. They rarely clapped eyes upon something as peripheral to the game as a football until they were at least three weeks into pre-season training – and that would have been a medicine ball.
They did spend a lot of time in the fresh air mind, enjoying the sights and sounds of Mousehold Heath, a popular one being the noisy view of professional sportsmen throwing up after yet another bunny hop (as in repeatedly jumping forward rather than walking) to the top of the Heath in what were, more often than not, the lava-like conditions of a Norfolk summer in the early 1970s.
Ron’s players didn’t need heart monitors attached to their sweaty torsos to ascertain levels of performance. He could tell how fit they were by who was conscious and who was unconscious. Much easier.
Such a philosophy was personified in the way Ron’s Norwich played the game. They were as fit as the proverbial butcher’s dog. They were very lean, very keen and very mean. They ran hard, they tackled even harder. And, in Duncan Forbes, they had a captain who, in the manner of Monty Python’s famous Knight would shrug off the inconvenience of a punctured lung, fractured eye socket or broken nose by getting up and carrying on whist casually observing, “…tis’ but a scratch.”
They were, in effect, a team of hard men. All of them. Now I’ll grant you, Graham Paddon, all flowing blonde locks, bohemian looks and untucked shirt might have looked a bit of a fancy dan. But in a one to one with John Terry, I wouldn’t have fancied Terry’s chances at all.
The football therefore was fairly basic. Two big bastards at the back in the form of Duncan Forbes and Dave Stringer plus a mean bastard in attack in David Cross. Plus eight other big and mean bastards in and around them, including Kevin Keelan who in one match grew so weary of the attentions of a Northampton player by the name of Tommy Robson that he took matters into his own hands – tucking the ball away with one hand whilst knocking Robson out cold with the other.
Tough guys who really did play a man’s game. But it was hugely effective even if, in hindsight, it was not exactly what we now see referred to as the ‘Norwich way’; that preferred type of play that the club hierarchy are very keen on making the focal point of the entire footballing culture. A nostalgic throwback to the rather more cerebral passing game that is widely assumed to have been first introduced to the club under the management of John Bond.
If ‘kick the thing and run’ had been the Saunders mantra, then ‘pass and move’ was Bond’s somewhat more cerebral footballing approach; one that his successors, Ken Brown, Dave Stringer and Mike Walker were only too happy to perpetuate (not that any of them would have found it difficult with the type and calibre of players they had to work with).
Bond was richly blessed, as were we all, during his time at Carrow Road in having the likes of Martin Peters, Colin Suggett and Jimmy Neighbour, whilst Brown had Martin O’Neill, Mark Barham, Mike Channon and Kevin Drinkell. Stringer had Dale Gordon, Andy Townsend and Robert Fleck, whilst Mike Walker built his team around the unique and very special talents of Ian Crook.
With players like that to call upon, no wonder those managers were able to preach a gospel of fine football, pass and move, “get it and give it”.
Well now it would seem, we want to get it back and, with that, the much debated issue about the other appointment that the club will shortly be looking to make, that of a technical director, a position that you would think will be ring fenced by the Canaries hierarchy – for managers may come and go, but the club creed, as taught and passed down by the technical director lasts forever.
Stability in other words. Consistency. He and his message are there for the long term and he will outlive any of those more fleeting members of club staff. Like managers. And players.
And that would make sense because consistency and stability works.
Between the date of John Bond’s appointment for example, and the departure of Mike Walker, those four different Norwich City managers had, in total, over two decades in which to build their teams and preach their footballing philosophy. Twenty one years, four managers.
Yet, in the subsequent two decades since Walker left the club for Everton we have had, including caretaker or interim appointments, eighteen different men in charge at Carrow Road, seven of which (if you include Neil Adams) have been in the position on a temporary basis.
That’s works out at nearly a manager a year, every year, over the last two decades. And that is shocking.
What the club has lost more than anything, especially since the launch of the Premier League in 1992 is consistency and stability. And it is those two factors which I suggest are those that would and should reflect the ‘Norwich way’ more than a type or style of play – because surely, please, good football and results best come from a side with a settled management team and a settled squad of players?
When, for example, we finished fourth in Division One under Stringer at the end of the 1988/89 season, he’d called upon the services of just eighteen different players; nine of whom started in at least thirty league games. Eighteen different players over a whole season of 38 league plus 9 cup games. No wonder we had such a good season.
The squad was settled, the manager left to get on with things. In sharp contrast to that, we’d already used just one player fewer than that, seventeen in total, after just three Premier League games this season.
And, lest we forget, take the disastrous 2008/09 season of Roeder and Gunn, a total of 33 players used during that campaign, fourteen of whom were loanees with ten of that entire total playing in ten or less games. No managerial or coaching consistency, no selection consistency and no footballing consistency.
No wonder we struggled. We were footballing bric-a-brac, a bizarre collection of the uninterested, unmotivated and couldn’t be bothered.
An epithet which could well be applied to some as regards last season.
So yes, let there be a “Norwich way”. And let it reflect and pay tribute to the legacy of managers, players and teams from years gone by. But don’t build it from sand; don’t assume that the immediate way ahead is simply the way that we play the game and dictate that is how it has to be.
Because it isn’t and it shouldn’t be.
What really matters is that consistency. And yes, that takes time and patience. But, as we have seen, if it is given, the results and successes that it begets, can be encouraging. Get that bit right and the football we all want to see will surely follow?
An interesting article,I believe it is a figment of imagination how often do we play open and expansive football ? Only when Lambert was at the helm.The academy mantra is the same…it eminates from Colney…my son is in one of the junior sides..they gave us a presentation all about the Norwich way..well it was titled as so..in reality it has never been explained what it actually means…I saw a coach encourage a lad to play from the back..he got caught out by the opposition and was berated the next time he goofed it and consequently got berated .The lad was 10 I would imagine it confused him…when you have that standard of coach entrusted with our youngsters is it surprising that no one knows what the Norwich way is..?”””’otbc
Looking back Norwich had the “boot room” in existence at Carrow Road, one internal appointment followed another after John Bond left, right through to Walker. That all came “unstuck” when Martin O’Neill came with his own “team”. After that all continuity was lost, each appointment bringing their own team” with them. It seems “the modern way” yet it seems to do Clubs few favours in an era when managers don’t seem to last much longer than wine gums! OTBC.
Bob in Diss says
GazzaTCC hits the nail firmly on the head. No longer the Shankly-Paisley-Fagin or Bond-Brown-Stringer type of continuity in the modern game which can perpetuate a footballing ethos.
West Ham fans I would imagine are bereft at Allardyce keeping his job but the ‘West Ham way’ is almost as redundant as the yellow and green version.
Walker (as was Lambert) was a moment in time when a particular manager suited a particular club – Everton and Villa fans don’t hold them in anywhere near the affection we do!
Respect to Neil Adams but he wasn’t part of the first team chain previously – he’d make a great assistant to Malky say but then again Malky has his own man (Kerslake).
Dave B says
I’d say Worthington had “the norwich way”, at least in the prem. We may have been relegated, but we played some mighty nice football that season.
@ 4) Dave B, The one thing Worthington had was time, granted, maybe six months too much time in the end. Nevertheless, he was able to build a squad albeit largely without the hinderance of the transfer window.
I think part of the ‘Norwich Way’ is finding players & managers who embrace life in the County, not necessarily from Norfolk, but settle here and embrace the club’s culture as a whole. I think its why players like Russell Martin & Ruddy have come through questionable starts to their NCFC careers to play the best football of their careers here, and why we loved Eadie but we didn’t love Bellamy for example.
Like Roeder before him, Hughton was always too keen to get back down the M11 whenever they could so never invested the time to understand what really made us tick, never really understood that, despite what the national media think, Norfolk is one Englands genuine football hotbeds.
I agree about the Trowse Boot Room, and maybe ‘the Norwich Way’ isn’t what it used to be – but we still know a ‘low of ol’ squit’ when we see it.
Don Harold says
One of the reasons we need a technical director type is that a club of our size is unlikely to ever again have a manager who lasts more than 2 or 3 seasons; if he’s any good he’ll move on to a ‘bigger’ club, if he’s no good he’ll be down the road. I think the Swansea model, where managers come and go but the coaching staff and football style remain is ideal and their chairman has been ahead of the game for the last decade or so. On a pedantic note, didn’t we play 42 league games when finishin 4th in 1988/89? This would make it even more remarkable to have used so few players.
Hi Don…no, Div 1 was a 20 club league in 88/89 season (had been 21 clubs in 87/88 and 22 in 86/87), remaining thus in 89/90 & 90/91 before jumping up to 22 again in the 91/92 season-2 relegated clubs and 4 promoted in 90/91, hope that makes sense!
Agree on your Tech Director point-the haste with which clubs get through Managers, and we’ve been a good example, seems to make that appointment and ringfencing of same a neccessity in order to try to get that internal stability and consistency we need.
Man City have done the same with their entire scouting network which remains in place no matter what happens with regard to the managerial position.
Stewart Lewis says
Good and (as always) thought-provoking analysis. One thing slightly puzzles me, Ed: your suggestion that of course Bond-Brown-Stringer-Walker played attractive football, because of the players at their disposal. Surely it’s the other way round: they identified and signed those players to play in the style they (the managers) believed in. The continuity of that period is surely central to two things: the relative success we enjoyed, and the establishment of the ‘Norwich way’ concept.
Don (7) makes a good point about Swansea’s re-creation of that continuity, irespective of the manager of the moment. It’ll be very interesting to see our new Technical Director (who knows, it may be a complication over that role which is holding things up).
Fair point Stewart, their signings reflected their respective visions on how the game should be played. Maybe the way the game has evolved means there are fewer players like it today? Wes is seen as a luxury now, the type of player you build a formation around. But nearly every team would have had a Wes once. Giles, Currie, Hudson, Bowles, Worthington, a long list. Lots of athletes abound today-and not all of them are footballers.
Stewart Lewis says
Ed: you’re probably right. Even playmakers need some extra qualities to survive, though. Johnny Giles might have been small but – like others on your list – could take care of himself. He had tricks on both sides of the legal line, as I recall.
Dave B(4) – think those nostalgia goggles need a wipe. We scored a few (14) more goals in the Worthy PL season but otherwise it was every bit as poor as Hughton’s 2nd season. We conceded more (15) in 04-05, had no away wins at all – scoring just 2 more goals than last season and only had 16 points from the first 21 games (up to 1/1/2005), being just 1 point clear of the bottom 3 (20 from 20 – 3 points clear on 1/1/2014). From a previous post of yours, Worthy should have been sacked at that point!
Dick van Dogsdick says
I think it’s certainly a cliché. How many clubs have fans who get all misty-eyed about a golden period of attractive football in that club’s history and claim that style to be part of the club’s tradition? Plenty I would imagine.
But that’s not to say we shouldn’t have the aspiration for “The Norwich Way” to be defined, and engrained in the club. Its one thing to fail, but to fail whilst also boring your fans to death is so much worse. Ultimately Liverpool failed to claim the big one, but at least the fans witnessed their team playing some of the most exhilarating football seen in the Premier League for years.
The “Swansea model” is a good thing to point to, but we should bear in mind that it demands that rare thing in modern football – patience. Liverpool stuck by Rodgers despite the 7th place finish, and Swansea have now backed Monk despite a run of 9 winless games.
Will we be so patient if Neil Adams comes up with similar stats next season?
For me ‘The Norwich Way’ was always based on recognising that we were always going to be punching above our weight in the top flight but that didn’t matter as long as we gave the fans 100% commitment. I call that ‘The Norfolk way’ – not the prettiest, not the most gifted but certainly the most proud. I was only a humble apprentice with Justin Fashanu in the ’70’s under John Bond, a chap called Sainty and Mel Machin. The latter once said to me I don’t care if we lose but I do care how we lose. Last season on TV I saw too many players who needed taking off, taking to the stands and explaining why they did not chase the ball. I have to say I’m expecting any change next season unless we search the lower divisions for guys who know ‘The Norfolk Way’.