So there we have it.
After months of hoping, believing, willing and praying it’s finally staring us in the face. We’ve had ample time to prepare ourselves yet now the time’s almost arrived the pain is still real and raw.
And to top it all Jonny Howson is out for the final two games and our chief executive has been at the centre of a Twitter storm. The antithesis of one of those Carlsberg ads.
While relegation is yet to be officially confirmed, anyone who witnessed Everton’s lamest of lame surrenders at Leicester’s title celebrations will be in little doubt that the Toffees will be mere lambs to the slaughter in the Stadium of Light on Wednesday evening.
Allardyce will be all smiles; the Mackems will be whooping; it’ll be horrible… and painful.
Meanwhile we’ll probably huff and puff against the Hornets, miss a chance or two, drop a clanger in our defensive third and concede a second-half ricochet that will fly in off Deeney’s backside.
Cyncial? Maybe, but having suffered a run-in where the goals have completely dried up and where decent defending gets continually undone by at least one cock-up per game it’s a little challenging not to be.
And we watch as Leicester City – a club always deemed to be of a similar size and history to our own – celebrate the greatest season in their history while we slide ignominiously to the second tier.
There are evidently to be none of the ‘twists’ that we have been promised. Just four defeats on the bounce during which we have not scored a single goal. In a second-half yesterday, while ‘fighting for their lives’, David de Gea (unless I’d dozed off) didn’t have a single shot to save.
Yet, I refuse to believe those who still accuse the players of lacking effort. They are committed and they do care but they continually come up short because collectively and individually they are not good enough.
Yesterday’s and last Saturday’s starting XI contained eight of those who started at Wembley. A fit Alex Tettey would have made it nine. While a crude barometer, that tells us we haven’t progressed at a rate necessary to compete at the elite level. In fact it doesn’t just tell us, it booms it, very loudly, through those speakers used at Metallica concerts.
In the adrenalin-fuelled aftermath of Wembley we (well me actually) bullishly proclaimed the squad as one that could compete in the Premier League but in reality some fairly major surgery was needed. Not just to the back-four – although that was priority number one – but throughout.
Of course as we now know, the surgery wasn’t even minor. It was more of a sticking plaster.
How and why we ended up with a squad that wasn’t fit for purpose is the big question and one that’s flooded social media since 2:45 yesterday afternoon. The recriminations have been flying thick and fast with the loudest voices hurling abuse – some of it way below the belt – at the board, Alex Neil and, most notably, David McNally.
The precise detail of what went wrong last summer is only know by a few but it seems bids, costly ones, were lodged for a number of players, but most – if not all – didn’t come to fruition.
There’s of course nothing to say that if they had been successful in getting their men they would have been successes on the pitch – God knows we’ve learnt that the hard way – but it’d have meant the board would have delivered as requested. That they didn’t – for whatever reason – now leaves them wholly exposed and, yes, accountable.
(That still doesn’t excuse those who fire bile at McNally and co – some of whom should know better – however broad his shoulders are supposed to be).
But something did go wrong off the pitch and in terms of recruitment, with the exception of the signing of Timm Klose, it has verged on disastrous. And at a time when in order to survive that difficult first season back it needed to be good. Better still excellent.
Instead, a squad that had ‘Championship’ written all over it still has ‘Championship’ written all over it even though it’s been trying, and invariably failing, to compete against the best in the English game. From the outside looking in there must have been an inevitability to it.
Finances dictate of course, and three teams have to go down, but we were promised that lessons had been learned and every sinew would be strained to survive. Yet here we are.
To enter last summer’s transfer window minus a robust plan was not only a recipe for disaster, it also suggests that actually there was at least one lesson swilling around that hadn’t been properly addressed. To appoint the head of recruitment from Burnley, where the biggest problem had been poor recruitment, simply didn’t cut it.
Those who call for McNally’s head ignore that during his tenure the club has transformed from one near the brink to one that’s now debt-free, in which time promotions still outnumber relegations, but he does have questions to answer (especially now), as do Team Neil and the board.
Throw the surprise departure of Alan Bowkett into the mix and something smells a little off. And before issues on the green stuff can be properly addressed, so too does any division off it. A lack of reliable leadership on the pitch has been a recurring theme; for this to be replicated in the boardroom offers nothing but a sinking feeling.
Let’s hope the latter is addressed quickly and decisively, so a post-mortem on the former can get under way.
But, when all said and done, this is football. Teams get relegated. Some bounce back. Some get relegated again. And, through it all, Norwich City will still remain and we’ll all still be there.
When the inevitable is confirmed this will be the eighth relegation I’ve witnessed first-hand and they don’t get any easier to stomach. But equally, once the furore has died down and the recriminations have run their course it’ll be a case of counting the days until season 2016/17 begins.
Because that’s what we do. And perhaps that part of the problem.
Jon Dunn says
“Those who call for McNally’s head ignore that during his tenure the club has transformed from one near the brink to one that’s now debt-free, in which time promotions still outnumber relegations”
Cold comfort there, Gary. Who cares about whether their club is ‘solvent’ and ‘free of external debt’ (woohoo!) when it can’t sort out affairs on the pitch / in the dugout, which is where both solvency and the abyss both emanate from.
Wealthiest club in the Chumpionship? How gratifying – NOT!
Well written, I started watching in 19661/62 (I think was 10 so can be forgiven for grey areas) I have seen so much of the relegations and promotions. the relegation that hurt the most was down to L1. Gretting relegated from the Prem always has Inevitability about it. When we get promoted to the big boys league we are always ill prepared, which contain the usual excuse of Money. At least this time there is another excuse doing the rounds. But in truth each an everytime a manager takes the brunt of the abuse and blame. But in recent time the one common denominator is the board … Alex Neil wasn’t here when Chris Hughton was nor was here when Nigel Worthington was……but those upstairs were
chris f says
Jon Dunn : “Who cares about whether their club is ’solvent’ and ‘free of external debt’ (woohoo!)” ?
I do. And all canary fans should too.
The reality is here that the club is in great condition. Yes, we’re being relegated and that’s very disappointing. But the future is about competing & getting back up.
I spoke to a Villa fan recently – he thinks his club is in such poor condition that they’ll ‘do a Portsmouth’ and drop straight through to L2.
And looking backward – we were very close to administration and financial disaster a few years back. We’ve had some great time since then. Thanks to McNally & the board. As Gary points out there are lesson to be learnt and questions to be answered, but let’s no throw the baby out with the bathwater.
When will it be the managers fault? All of what you say is true Gary but ultimately the buck stops with Alex Neil….doesn’t it ? ,he has failed to motivate the players in our most important games against those teams around us and please don’t tell me the players are not good enough, Swansea, Bournemouth, Watford etc etc have similar squads and have done much better.He must have the final say on transfers and apart from Klose and Brady they have all failed to improve us, I have yet to hear any of the local media really press him on this and ask him directly about Dorrans, Molumbu, Pinto, Naysmith, Bamford,Jarvis etc.No doubt someone will point out he will be good and he’s learning his trade….maybe but it’s at our expense and we (Norwich City ) don’t get many chances at the Premiership, this is the hear and now
Clinical and painful appraisal as ever from Gary. No-one can argue that Davy Mac hasn’t been a lifesaver for the club but isn’t too much now made of the club being debt free? It has clearly not been a recipe for success and consolidation. Surely loosening the purse strings and assuming some measured debt in order to finalise a recruitment or two would likely have secured another term in the top tier and reaped huge reward for the club. How galling was it to see Bournemouth swoop and scoop Afobe in a matter of days while Norwich played hardball. Consequently, many will feel, as I do, that a golden opportunity has passed us by and some key personnel have not been fit for Premier League purpose, and not just the players.
Stephen Moore says
We need to face facts, the board of NCFC are and have been the last 7 years very conservative with their transfer dealings, players want to come here but the club won’t pay for them. However much they’ll scream “we’ve never spent so much” they have taken in probably just as much in sales, the club is happy to balance the books above any success. Us the fans have two choices “accept it” or “speak up” but while the terraces are full season after season the board are happy just to tick over. The business plan they put in place when we dropped into League One has now run its course and a new one is required, the club has “yo you’d” as they wanted but not as they wanted so its time for change from board level down to the playing staff.
Its time for change either together or apart but we all know where “apart” got us previously!!!
Stephen Moore says
Oh by the way Gary another good read!!!
Jon – the money stuff is absolutely fundamental to on field success. You might not be excited about it but that’s the truth. You’ve either forgotten about or don’t know about the post-Chase years of servicing debt. If you don’t know, ask yourself why the club managed just one play-off appearance between 1994/5 relegation and 2003/4 promotion. And while you’re doing that ask yourself what happened to our well regarded and successful youth system that produced the like of Eadie, Sutton, Fox and Bellamy.
And Martin, Alex Neil is good and he is learning his trade. Without him this premier league season wouldn’t have happened at all. The squad is still largely one that he inherited. You ask why we should be putting him through his apprenticeship but how many 34 year olds have got two promotions and top flight managerial experience? Why should another club benefit from the experience he’s gathered at our club. Who do you think we should get in to replace him? We’ve tried the experienced (Hughton) and didn’t like the pragmatic approach required with a limited squad. So just who do we go for who is experienced and exciting and successful and happy to work with a limited budget in the face of wildly optimistic supporter expectations?
“Because that’s what we do. And perhaps that part of the problem.”
A lot of people don’t do subtlety, Gary, so perhaps you should just come out and say what you mean with this sentence – seems to me as though you are advocating that people should stay away next season in protest?
Stewart Lewis says
Great summary, Gary. Probably too bleak for the taste of some, not critical enough for others – suggests you’ve got it about right.
On ‘debt-free’, I completely agree that wouldn’t be consolation for football failure. But remember when McNally took over, we weren’t just on the verge of bankruptcy – we were disorganised, demoralised, and in League 1.
Justin Barber says
A fine article, for sure – but I really want to comment about some of the responses.
Those who admonish the board for not spending more in the transfer market have to understand that NCFC is a business, forbeit one that relies on the passionate support of fans. Any transfer fee is, essentially, a risk – and the board will determine how much they are willing to risk. The risks are high (RVW being a case in point), in the PL with its price inflation even more so.
When you look at where this club was a few years ago, and you look now at a club which, in performance terms, falls between the bottom of the PL and the top of the Championship – whilst being external debt free, generally well run, a happy place to visit with wonderful support – personally I am grateful. Grateful that this club has been pulled from the brink of administration, grateful that there is a solid platform there that they can continue to build on with AN as a young and exciting manager.
I appreciate that relegation hurts, and that the board’s seeming lack of “oomph” with transfers hurts. But look at what could have been, look at Carrow Road turned into condos or the team playing in front of 5000 people in League 2, remember how bad things could have been if it weren’t for these people stepping up and working hard – if they hadn’t done what they have done there was a very good chance that the club would barely exist any longer. Portsmouth have been mentioned in a comment here – does anyone really want to risk that happening to our club?
Yes, it hurts and we all have the right to be angry. But memories in football seem staggeringly short. Personally, I will take long-term stability and the periodic moments of joy that brings, rather than risk everything for a moment of brief glory followed by years of struggle for existence.
Another excellent piece of journalism Gary. Like you
I have wintnessed the ups and downs, comings and goings over the last thirty plus years. Like you I too thought we had a reasonable squad to start the season. Just like the story of Leicester how wrong we were!
As to the blame game, supporters can only look on trusting the actions of the people in charge so long as there is openness and honesty, two commodities that are in short supply in the football world. Apologies and resignations are all well and good but in the end it remains in the hands or should I say feet of the eleven who cross the white line each match and as you say so elegantly collectively and singularly they have fallen short of what was required to satisfy supporters ambitions.
Time to look forward and to hope that new faces of the right quality will be sourced and success is only another kick away.
Supporters can only keep doing that, – supporting.
And there it is everyone, happy with little ole Norwich City and very short sighted, on giving mcnally all the credit for saving us.what about bowkett he was the main reason I think for getting us out of debt.
Well said Justin (11).
Comments about the board’s spending are pointless because none of us know the facts. Also remember the money we earn is the only money we have – almost every other club in the Prem has a sugar-daddy who tops up the funds. Afobe to Bournmouth? Both clubs offer the same fee but the agent presses for higher wages – Bournmouth’s owner wins every time. Our owners have no money – they spent what they had on keeping this club alive.
So we have to deal with what we do know.
One thing we should clear up is that Alex Neil stated very clearly that Martin & Bassong would be his first choice centre backs very soon after our promotion. So the only business they were looking to do in defence was only as back up to them. That hallowed centre half we still bang on about was never on the cards until AN realised he’d made a mistake. When he did, look who the board got us – an £8m defender who if not injured may well have kept us up.
The other major fact is AN’s refusal to accept his two main strikers aren’t good enough. Why sign Bamford, a man who was brilliant last season and left Palace, came to us on the premise of playing games, and not play him? He could never be worse than the other two and here was a talented player with absolutely everything to prove. Yet he started what, two games? How is that logical?
One more thing – do you think this team would have done any worse than the eight ‘championship’ players Gary mentions above, that AN has relied on so heavily? Why doesn’t he trust all his signings?
Stephen Moore says
Agree with many of the points but regardless of how Robert Chase ran the club our owners have only ran it well since relegation to League One when they had no choice but to hand it over to experienced business people and take a back seat. The owners may have saved us from Chase but its the business people such as McN and co who brought the club back into the black and now the club are now at a crossroads with their business plan, as a fan who bleeds “yellow and green” of course i want the club stable and safe but i also want to be entertained and that takes some “speculate to accumulate” forward thinking action. Dropping into the Championship will again see the club struggle against the lesser clubs “who remembers Charlton at home”?? There will be four or five games where the fans will see some decent football but the rest will be dross because “do NCFC ever put anyone to the sword”? very rarely!!!!
I’ll support my club whichever division they’re in but its time for NCFC “including the fans” to make some decisions what suit us all and stop just ticking boxes!!! OTBC FOREVER
Stewart Lewis says
Chris (13) – Bowkett had a specific role in helping us manage the debt.
He used his City contacts & knowledge to persuade lenders to re-schedule our debt repayments, on the basis of McNally’s ability to get the club’s finances under control and appoint people to get us up the leagues.
Bowkett’s case, and the lenders’ acceptance of it, were well founded.
I refuse to accept that there aren’t any reliable investors to take over this club. There has to be someone on this planet for Christ’s sake!
Bob in Diss says
We’ve lacked sufficient quality and character. The first money can buy but is no guarantee (see Newcastle), the second is indefinable.
Despite all of the defeats, only the Newcastle thumping was a real let down and maybe had a greater psychological effect on Alex than first realised.
I’m sure he is a better manager for the future after the blows we’ve taken.
Arguably, the two with the most character in our squad are Tettey and Klose – their long term injuries have been crippling (to them and the team) – that’s genuine bad luck to lose both for the run in (now Howson although he’s more quality than character!). By contrast Sunderland’s injuries all cleared up in time and a striker of Defoe’s quality has saved their North East bacon.
No point in feeling sorry or angry – neither emotion moves things forward in a meaningful way. Need to finish with a flourish for some positive vibe going into the summer even if on the back of relegation.
Jon B says
Last week the fat lady was warming her vocal chords and now she is walking on stage……
Good piece as ever Gary. McNally’s tweet hasn’t helped his cause, all rather messy but as already stated his heavy involvement in club rescue, financial stability and some great times for the club and fans should not be under estimated.
Yes, maybe the club should have stretched £1m or £2m more on the odd transfer fee and 10k or 20k a week on the odd salary, but we’re done, so let’s get supporting again ( including those who keep blaming the manager, the board, etc ) come August and review progress, what, mid October.
Dave B says
McNally, Bowkett, Lambert, and Holt were our Beatles. A magical combination that created a glorious time for the club.
Sadly I think we’re less The Traveling Wilburys and more Ringo Starr and his All Star Band nowadays. Perhaps it’s time to usher in a whole new era.
Gary Gowers says
Thanks, as always, for your comments folks; *every* single one a valid response to the predicament in which the club finds itself.
Clearly the issues are wide and varied and – as ever – a malaise of this ilk is not down to a single factor, rather a combination of many. But, in my view, it needs a top down appraisal of where we wish to go – a new seven year plan if you like – with individual roles in that plan being made crystal clear.
We simply have to make hay of the financial advantages we’ll enjoy next season; not to do so could see us endure another Ipswich style spell in the Championship wilderness.
There’s a nettle to be grasped, and it simply has to be.
PMC (9) – Nope, not advocating anything of the sort. Just alluding to the fact that the board must not permit complacency to set in just because, for now, we enjoy regular full houses at Carrow Road. Few, if any, in the Championship can say the same and 27k every week should not be taken for granted.
If we are to reflect as a club on this inevitable relegation, perhaps it is time to look at one of those footballing enigmas, a director of football.
I can understand Neil keeping faith in the players and in particular the defenders that had served him well enough going up to the PL, but I don’t think there is a City fan out there who would have shared his faith having witnessed the previous relegation and there is the problem. Each manager comes in and has limited time to build and assess, he may not truly know how inadequate a player may be for that higher level. A director of football may have had the continuity of knowledge to actually say to him “really Alex? Rusty and Bass are good honest Championship players, OK as backup but we’ve been here before, lets reinforce from the back”.
Is it not better to build on rock than quicksand? Getting rid of Neil is tempting. These last 4 games have been high on effort and inspite of the score line against Sunderland we have not really been totally outplayed in any of them. The problem is, we don’t look like we have the slightest plan or idea of how to attack and break down our opponents. Neil and the team have looked increasingly lost and I just can’t see how we are trying to play any longer. He needs to take a long hard look at this season and figure out fast what went wrong, because whilst he just about warrents a shot at the championship. He has to hit the ground running because anything less than top 6 at Xmas and I think it will represent failure. We are well resourced at that level and to accept anything less would be crazy.
So the baying mob got its wish.
Three promotions, two relegations, four seasons in the Prem, financially sound, unlikely to do a Leeds anytime soon because we are a solvent club and one of the top 20 teams in the country.
I’ll take that.
Watford fan just looking at your site before Wednesdays game but I feel obliged to comment on the outside looking in. I don’t agree that your squad is not good enough to stay up and I don’t think it was inevitable that you would be relegated. I thought that last season’s Championship was one if not the best contested I could remember. All three teams deserved to be promoted.
As for the Norwich squad, Watford bought 15 players last summer, most of whom have not been involved in the first team and some were moved on in January. Yesterday we started with 7 players from our team that was promoted and that has been the story most of the season. Therefore I don’t agree that making large changes to the sqaud was required to stay up.
So why has there been a difference in results between the two sides? I think one reason is the less preparation time your squad had in comparison to the rest of us. I know it was only a few weeks but having to get through a play off takes necessary preparation time away from the management. We suffered twice previously in this way.
It is absolutely no fault of the manager but outside England (and perhaps inside as well) very few people have heard of Alex Neill. Therefore when trying to sign players they are less willing to join when they know nothing about the manager. Our manager has hardly been inspirational but due to his reputation of winning a Europa Cup with Atletico Madrid he has had little trouble signing players from abroad. In fact if reports are to be believed our wage bill is much lower than Norwich but players were willing to sign up.
The other problem Norwich suffer with which again is no fault of yours is your location. I know that Norfolk is a beautiful part of the country but how many footballers will do so. They want to be in London or close by. Failing that they want to be near Manchester, Liverpool etc. Norwich is seen as being “out on a limb”.
I don’t want to come across as boastful that Watford survived as I genuinely hoped you would stay up. I am not sure I have any answers but from an outside perspective it will be ever more difficult for Norwich to compete unless they spend mega bucks like Manchester City or they get a tight squad like Leicester and in all honesty that probably happens very rarely.
While I didn’t want us to be the ones to finally relegate you I will be hoping my team do win on Wednesday. Good luck for next season wherever that is.
24) eminently sensible, more so than many of our own fans, in fact.