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.
“Why should he give Adams credit for the fight back, he asked, when the manager had got everything so wrong in the first half?” – they obviously know nothing about football.
So on that basis Ferguson should never have been rewarded or praised for winning the champs league against bayern as they weren’t in the game until the the 90th minute…the final whistle is when things really count as there’s no going back then.
Football, like anything in life, is about how you respond to adversities. Sounds like that Cardiff game was a succinct representation of everything the club has achieved in recent years (from the guys upstairs down to the players on the pitch). Fall hard and fight back with twice the endeavour (and ghouls in this case). I, for one, am loving this season to date, and fully agree we have the best squad we have assembled in recent times. I genuinely believe teams will struggle to keep up with us this year based on our quality and depth.
Douglas Millar says
Great exposition of the path travelled by NCFC over the last few years, City may be favourites for promotion but we should remember that we were only a Ruddy foot away from defeat at Cardiff. Without that save, City might not be in the top two and Cardiff might not be looking for a new manager.
The wins of Forest and Derby and Watford’s form with 11 men on the pitch demonstrate that automatic promotion is far from a probability.
The team is showing resilience and grit – much needed under the assault from Brentford. But City seem also to be getting some good fortune, notoriously absent in the Premier League. A sending off, some penalties not awarded against us are all welcome. Provided the team build on the confidence thereby created, they will go from strength to strength. we may also (touching wood heavily) get a win at Fulham.
At least we can look forward to the winter. OTBC
Brian Coombes says
Excellent article. We should all appreciate the efforts of those who have worked so hard to get us where we are today.I think you have encapsulated many of our supporters thoughts there , well said.
Ian Lamedi says
article subtitle – “Back from the Brink”.
The business of football is a murky one indeed and with any business, there are heroes and villains. We are fortunate to have some of the good guys at the helm at present – fans of Portsmouth, Blackpool, Leeds, Blackburn etc etc look on enviously but it takes just one wrong fork in the road to glory for it to go pear-shaped.
With sensible(ish) player wages, no debt and almost full houses every other Saturday, hopefully the Delia/hubby-McNally team will keep their hands on the tiller at Carrow Road for many years to come.
It’s as well to be reminded of how we’ve come to this point in order to be able to appreciate it. All clubs have their share of supporters who think the ordinary rules of business don’t apply to football. They do. And we should appreciate the good football and business sense of McNally, Bowkett and Delia. Yes, we’ve had some good fortune this season but teams create their own luck. This season is certainly more exciting and enjoyable and it’s great to have a manager who’s as genuinely passionate about the club as the fans. Good times and long may they continue.
Hughton did a good job? *check*.
Have a pop at some supporters for absolutely no narrative reason? *check*.
Generally a decent article, but Hughton a ‘hero’? Ridiculous. The man who wasted £10M on RVW. The manager whose team was coached so as to prevent any of our strikers scoring any goals. We had a good enough squad last season and any decent manager would not have got us relegated.
Dan R says
Great article as usual Mick. All looking rosy at the moment, and I agree, our Squad this year looks much better than last years. Any chance of getting Holty back as Player/Coach? My Latics mates can’t stand him up here.
Frances Lewis says
Thank you Mick, once again an excellent article
Rod Ring says
Re(6&7) – Mick dangles out the Hughton bait and a couple of carpers are duly reeled in. You should be thanking Hughton – his ultimate failure allowed Neil to get the job! Ricky could have happened to anyone – he’s not set Ligue 1 on fire either. All managers can be accused of buying an expensive ringer at some point in their career (inc. Ferguson, Mourinho etc).
Unlike 6&7, I won’t ignore the rest of Mick’s article which rightly celebrates the current health of the club off the pitch. Clubs like Bolton and Blackburn (not to mention Ipswich) with 30k+ stadia are currently attracting 15k crowds – you can almost see the tumbleweed blowing across the pitch. We should be very grateful (Hughton or no Hughton) to those in power for their financial prudence and allowing us to support such a vibrant club.
Paul Francis says
I have always felt the board since Delia and Michael joined have always been well intentioned to the club and we owe them great thanks. At times their decisions may have been misguided but always well intentioned.
One thing that has annoyed me over the years and is mentioned in this article is that when the club were looking to buy Grant Holt, the offer was for fans not to reclaim their season ticket rebate and Michael Foulger would match their gift to the club. But he didn’t gift the equivalent to the club, he lent it to the club and as a loan it could be repaid. The fans who gave up their season ticket rebates gave it, did not loan it.
Keith B says
What Mick wrote was “….Chris Hughton for keeping us up that second season, despite having a tiny transfer fund because of our promises to the banks” and that’s what everybody forgets about CH, he didn’t have the wages budget to attract sufficient quality, especially in midfield. Big money spent on transfers make the headlines, but it’s the underlying salary budget that really matters.
I fundamentally disagree that our squad was good enough last season; Pullis might have kept us up had we grabbed him early. It lacked genuine Premiership quality and experience. I don’t believe any other manager potentially available would have done, and that includes Adams. It says a lot that only 2 players have left for Premiership clubs, and one of those (Fer) to one no better than we were.
However nor Hughton have Lambert’s ability to get more out of ordinary players than you might expect, and that’s why ultimately he failed. Few managers do have that ability, that’s what makes picking a boss for a club like us so difficult. Nor did he play attractive football, so he put himself in a lose lose situation.
As for McNally I’ll bet Fulham fans wish they still had him. Whatever else we at least aren’t a basket case club!
Stewart Lewis says
An important analysis that every City fan should know and understand. A lot of good comments, as well.
A quick word about managers because it relates to our current situation. McNally and Bowkett saved the club from disaster. Beyond that, our present financial health reflects our staying in the Premiership until 2013-14 when the new, hugely improved, TV deal came in. That meant surviving – against the odds and with one of the lowest-budget squads – two years in a row. We did it with flying colours, under two managers who deserve our gratitude for that achievement. That’s the point of Mick’s comment on Hughton, I think.
Dave B says
We are clearly in a much better position than five years ago. No doubt about it. Frugality helped us rid ourselves of debt.
Make no mistake though, frugality can take you back into debt just as quickly. We would have been in a better financial situation to still be in the Prem, even if it had cost us to stay there.
At christmas we had the chance to sack Hughton, put Adams in position, and purchase a couple of players. We didn’t. Instead we kept him (I assume part of the reasoning being not wanting to pay him off) and brought in some mediocre loan players. Frugality bit us in the ass.
Upon relegation many declared the championship to be much more entertaining and how they looked forward to it. On the surface that would appear correct. But the championship is only so entertaining when you have a vastly inflated budged due to the Prem. I have no doubt that if we’re still in the championship when the parachute runs out, we won’t be buying the same calibre of players, we won’t be playing the same football, and we may wish we’d have been a little less frugal last season.
Stewart Lewis says
I’m still mystified at the confidence of some fans that Adams (one point in his five Prem games) would have somehow saved us from relegation if appointed earlier. He’s doing a great job with a top budget in a weaker league; that’s all we know. One day, hopefully, he’ll get a chance to lead us in the Premiership with a competitve budget for that league.
The same people who say we kept Hughton in December (when we were just below halfway in the league) out of financial meanness would surely have said the same about appointing Adams back then. As Mick says, we’ve continued to hear the ‘lack of ambition’ tosh, despite so much evidence to the contrary.
Seems to me if a club is owned by the extremely wealthy it becomes a rich man’s plaything. A toy at the mercy of a massive ego. Clubs who don’t belong to oil billionaires are run more like small family businesses, like you see on those trouble-shooter shows. Passionate, well-meaning people, who don’t really have a clue what they’re doing.
We should be extremely grateful that Michael & Delia had the sense to bring in the likes of McNally & Bowkett, who have ensured we don’t fall into that second category. Professionism, clarity of vision, and an accute business sense has to go hand-in-hand with the passion, flair, and excitement on the pitch for something as great and iconic as NCFC to thrive.
Stability is key. One only has to look at the likes of Cardiff and Fulham, both run by axe wielding meglomaniacs, to see the consequences.whilst getting rid of Hughton earlier may have helped, equally it may have accelerated the spiral of decline a la Fulham., akin to the gambler spending good money after bad. Personally I think it laudable that the powers that be at the club allow time and opportunity to the individuals they have appointed and in whom they have invested trust. The alternative is to do away with the ethos of values and decency which I believe the club should stand for, which to me are as important, if not more so, than on the field success.
Ben K says
Great comment about the January window in 2014. No one ever seems to mention it, but it was a pitiful effort from the club. We needed a shot in the arm and only got the bare minimum.