When you watch the match again – and I know you’ve kept the full 90 minutes and the highlights programme, of course – have a good look at the moment when Delia Smith has a TV reporter’s microphone brandished at her.
The impromptu, heartfelt salute she gave the Yellow Army sums up why I am still high on euphoria about the Wembley triumph over Middlesbrough.
Delia gestured at the delirious, bouncing, screaming mass of Yellow behind her and said: “The biggest thrill I have today is for them. We are Norwich City Football Club. We were relegated down to League One. Our supporters never stopped coming. They never stopped buying their tickets. They followed us everywhere in huge numbers when we were nothing. And that is why I am so pleased for them.”
That fact – that Norwich fans stayed loyal in League One – has become an accepted part of the narrative of our club. We take it for granted now. But it was an extraordinary thing.
The season when Norwich slid into the third tier, Middlesbrough slipped out of the Premier League. But while our fans were renewing season tickets and, in many cases, forgoing a price rebate, the Boro unfaithful were turning their backs on their club.
The following season, in the Championship, Middlesbrough’s attendances slumped by 8,481 – very nearly a third. The following season, another 3,000 deserted. The season before last, crowds at the Riverside were down to 15,748 on average – a massive 12,881 reduction from the figure they’d achieved in the Premier League. Even last season, when they lead the division on occasions and had superb home form, the Riverside average remained below 20,000.
Meanwhile, in the Suffolk town that wanted to be a City, there were more than 10,000 empty seats on average in the season that has just ended (a week earlier for them than it did for us). And, don’t forget, we gave them two full houses to push up their pitiful average.
Yet our crowds went up in League One! We had the 19th biggest crowds in the land. The increase was due, in part, to David McNally’s determination to find somewhere – anywhere! – to stick extra seats. Some credit has to go, as well, to the man McNally replaced: Neil Doncaster. On his watch, and at Delia’s bidding, an enormous amount of work was done to make the match-day experience at Carrow Road safer, more family-friendly and more enjoyable for everyone (even when the football was dreadful). But by far the most credit must go to … us.
Now, I have to be careful when I say anything about supporters being special. I upset Newcastle fans enormously by deriding all that tosh about “the Geordie Nation” and their claims of being really, really passionate – and, incidentally, pointing out that when they were last relegated, their crowds fell by 5,000.
All clubs have passionate fans. All clubs are special to those who pay to watch them. And it is arrant, offensive nonsense to claim any one set of fans “deserve” success.
But the steadfast, stoic loyalty Norwich supporters demonstrated in the summer following relegation to League One was truly remarkable. And, as I have written many times on this site, even the 7-1 home defeat which welcomed us to League One could not deter us. Three days later, an unexpectedly large contingent travelled all the way to Yeovil for a Tuesday night League Cup tie.
As Malcolm Robertson said in his MyFootballWriter piece ahead of Wembley, you have to experience the crushing lows to value the vaunting highs. And, as Delia told the TV audience, Wembley was particularly rewarding for us because so many of us carry scars from dismal disappointments.
So allow yourself that smile that keeps coming back. Because, boy, it was good! City marmalised Middlesbrough. Playing on the front foot, hitting crisp passes deep in their territory and exuding quality in every position, Norwich City gave those of us who care about them an unforgettable day.
Now though, I’ve got work to do. I’ve retired from the Express, Sky Sports News, talkSPORT and all that. At 63, it’s time to spend more time with my money – I mean family! But I’ve taken on one project that I am loving. I am editing a book of Norwich City essays by club legends and famous fans (plus me). It will be called Tales From The City.
Iwan’s chapter is a masterpiece. Holty’s irrepressible ebullience shines through in his chapter. Gunny’s essay has a surprise revelation. Michael Wynn Jones takes us to the absolute heart of our club. And so on.
But I extended the deadline for those, like Sky’s Simon Thomas, who needed to see how this season would end before committing to print about Norwich City. So now I’ve got to get a move on so that everything is ready for the October launch (tickets went on sale this week, what a co-incidence!).
Chris Goreham, whose job it is to sum up the Canaries’ adventures for Radio Norfolk, crystalised the way we are feeling in one word. He emailed me about his chapter in the book 24 hours after putting down his microphone at Wembley. The subject line of his email just said: “Wow!”