The anniversary of that day is just three days away (or, if you’re reading this on MFW catch-up, on Wednesday May, 25, 2016).
It doesn’t seem like a year. It is still fresh in the mind. It really does feel like yesterday.
Luckily, despite what has occurred since, the memories of that day will stay with all of us forever and nothing should detract from what was the most glorious of glory days. (And if you feel the desire to relive that feeling I’d heartily recommend revisiting Jon Rogers’ beautifully crafted and moving At The Game.)
It was the small things that made that day… like Alex changing from suit to tracksuit in the time it took Russ to toss the coin, like David McNally nudging Delia to tell her she was on the big screen and, subsequently, those classic quotes from the various match commentators.
Last season the play-off final was before the FA Cup final and I can vividly recall feeling a tinge of envy as the fans of Arsenal and Villa headed to the scene of our triumph; one of whom were to experience something akin to what we had just five days earlier.
But there was also a feeling of ‘it won’t be as good for you’. We had after all won the £950-trillion game and were returning to the Promised Land and all its riches – they were just going to win a trophy.
(As it transpired, for Villa fans it definitely wasn’t as good for them).
Yet, while the wonderful memories remain, to ponder on what was a magnificent achievement does ultimately leave a feeling of emptiness, swiftly followed by a gnawing pain – one of those niggly ones that refuses to go away – and then so many ‘if onlys’ the pain becomes almost tangible.
You’ll be delighted to hear I’m not about to unpick the ‘whys’ – the MFW team have expertly done that far better than I throughout the week – but there is no escaping that much of the hard work that began when David McNally made that first phone call to his Hamilton Academicals counterpart has now been undone.
The Championship is notoriously an absolute beast to get out of – at least via the right end – yet armed with a squad technically capable of doing just that, we had managed in the nick of time to get our house in order sufficiently to achieve it.
Based on the stats, there is more chance of being sucked into the second-tier maelstrom than being able to escape it at the first attempt but some how we managed it. By retaining the nucleus of the previous season’s PL squad, by a few astute additions and (eventually) by finding a manager with the necessary qualities we fought our way back.
And to top it off, we did it in the riskiest but the best way possible – via Wembley.
All of which makes our current predicament that little bit harder to stomach. A feeling of back to square one.
Clearly behind the scenes there were problems brewing, even as we partied at Wembley, but they were so far in the background it was impossible to even get a sniff. And besides, in moments of elation – like winning at Wembley – no-one gives a flying fig if everything is not tickety-boo.
As Delia strolled across the Wembley turf to thank the fans, flanked by an applauding Michael and a fist-pumping McNally, everything in the garden really did appear rosy.
We were reportedly debt-free (I promise never to use that term again) and were, in the 12 months to follow, to be in receipt of several obscenely large sacks of cash marked BT Sport and Sky. What was not to like.
Yet, all was not completely well. The boardroom, it appears, was not as harmonious as one would expect or hope and the behind-the-scenes structure was, as we now know, not wholly fit for purpose.
Of course, none of this would have mattered if what happened on the pitch had delivered us a Premier League place of 17th or higher – and I’m positive that fractured boardrooms and creaking structures are two a penny – but because only Villa managed a worse league record it really did matter.
I wrote a piece a few weeks ago about how, in order to avoid becoming a yo-yo club, Norwich City needs to either consider the prospect of external, maybe even oversees, investment or else do something extraordinary and/or innovative off the pitch.
As it transpires, while the former appears well and truly off the table for the foreseeable, the latter too appears a million miles away right now; hence us now preparing for a second season in three in the Championship.
So, while the search for a new CEO is clearly under way – for a ‘footballing’ person by all accounts – it really can’t happen soon enough. Equally, it’s such a crucial appointment to rush the process would be riddled with similar levels of risk.
For the club to progress it has to be the right person; one who, amongst other things, is a hard-nosed negotiator, an experienced man-manager, has a sound footballing background and is, importantly (for me anyway), an innovative thinker.
If we’re happy to bob along betwixt top and second tier, then more of the same will be sufficient.
But if we’re serious about giving the Championship a good run for its money and then proceeding to go about tackling the Premier League’s middling members on an equal footing, then we’re in need of a proper off-the-field shake-up – from the top down.
Much rests on the shoulders of Ed Balls, Delia and co. Please don’t get this one wrong.