There are moments in every season which define the campaign and set its tone and trajectory. I think John Ruddy’s left foot might well have provided one such moment at Cardiff.
You know the incident I mean. Losing two-nil, Norwich faced another harrowing moment early in the second half. A looping cross from way out on the right evaded the entire Norwich defence and Federico Macheda, arriving wide of the far post, spanked the ball goalwards. Ruddy had scampered across to cover the post and, somehow, reacted quickly enough to sprawl sideways and backwards, stick out a leg and hoof the ball away.
Had Ruddy’s reactions been a slither less superb Cardiff would have moved three goals clear and regained their momentum, poise and belief – and the Canary Call miserabilists would have given that programme’s former co-host a troshin.
But the Ruddy marvel ocurred. So the 1000 or so strong Yellow Army let out an “Ooooh!” in unison and went back, soon afterwards, to singing: “We’re gonna win 3-2”. Of course we didn’t believe it and of course we were wrong. It was 4-2.
On to Griffin Park, where Brentford tackled as if they’d been fed raw meat. They swarmed forward in the first half with purpose and pace. They will beat lots of good teams.
But, as Norwich swatted them aside in that glorious final quarter of the game, there was a first glimpse of Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe plus the now familiar sight of Gary O’Neill trotting on to help secure the midfield and the victory.
Those two prompted two thoughts. Have we got a stronger squad than we had last season in the Premier League? In fact, in terms of depth at least, have we ever had a stronger squad in modern times?
The great club in the fine city is definitely enjoying the fruits of the enforced frugality which began in the summer of 2009; the “pay of our debts asap” policy. Now, we’ve never had it so good.
In the early 90s, when Mike Walker led us to third place in the Premiership and then on an unforgettable European adventure, our attendances were nothing to shout about and the then chairman, Robert Chase, financed life at the top by regularly selling our best players.
In the long years of stagnation in the second tier, City lived hand to mouth. A couple of cash-flow crises were only averted by Delia and Michael paying the wages themselves and the crumbling old South Stand was only replaced by borrowing against future gate receipts. Delia’s name became a catering brand at Carrow Road. But all the extra money generated only fed the ever avaricious appetite of the “playing budget” – the annual cost of transfers and wages.
At every opportunity parcels of land were sold but even one season in the Premier League (2004-05) made little difference. The increased income went on increased wages. In 2006 the club’s annual accounts reported the principle target was: “to ensure the club does not run out of cash”.
By the time Messrs Bowkett, McNally and Lambert took charge, the finances, horribly eroded by relegation to the third tier, were critical. The club – our club – came within days of going out of business.
To those of us not at board meetings, the depth of the nadir the club had plumbed was not apparent. But there were clues.
The first time I heard McNally speak in public – at a meeting of the Capital Canaries days after that 7-1 humbling by Lambert’s Colchester in August 2009 – he banged on about needing to reduce debts. He spoke more about that than anything else.
Hmmm. Was that really the most important aspect of his new job?
Yes. The following January, when the accounts were published, I wrote on this site that they terrified me. The accountants were not sure the club was “a going concern”. They were not certain that the directors’ plans would work. The club had hired property consultants King Sturge to see if flogging Carrow Road might be the answer.
But published accounts are a snap-shot in time, and the picture had already changed. McNally had started a brutal squeeze and chairman Bowkett had persuaded the banks to wait for their money.
Bowkett’s pitch was: “If you want your dosh now, we’ll go under and you’ll get pennies in the pound. Give us more time and, when we reach the Premier League ,we’ll pay back everything we owe in two years.”
McNally’s hard-ball attitude to every aspect of the business convinced the banks Norwich could deliver.
There are other heroes of this story. Delia and Michael, who haven’t ever taken a penny for their time nor any interest on their loans. Michael Foulger, whose own interest-free loan helped buy Grant Holt. Lambert, whose management took Norwich 54 places up the league ladder. And (tin hat on, Dennis) Chris Hughton for keeping us up that second season, despite having a tiny transfer fund because of our promises to the banks.
I apologise for the modern history lecture. No, actually I don’t apologise. Without understanding where we were we cannot appreciate where we are. Because being debt-free now means we don’t have to give the banks a big wodge of the Premier League parachute payment. And we don’t have to stage a fire-sale of players. Instead we can keep the Howsons and the Hoopers, and prove the promise of our squad by starting the season without them.
There was the usual tosh about “lack of ambition” when Neil Adams was appointed and again when Snoddy and Pilks moved on. But then there are always some who are only happy when they can moan.
A friend of a Facebook friend of mine even found cause for complaint after the Cardiff game. Why should he give Adams credit for the fight back, he asked, when the manager had got everything so wrong in the first half?
Me? Well, my glass is normally half-full but it is currently overflowing. I’ve been to three consecutive away wins.
And, thanks to that Ruddy left foot, I am sure the dressing room mood is upbeat too.
I know. I need to calm down. I need to repeat the mantra: “It’s early days”. I definitely do know we will lose games and have depressing days.
But I believe that comeback win at Cardiff not only gave a message to the rest of the division but also one to our own team: Norwich city have the personnel and persona to win the Football League.
And that is down to the tough deal and tough times of 2009-11.