Inevitably, as we continue to discuss the ins and outs at Carrow Road this summer, talk drifts, nervously, to the prospect of losing a few players that we’d rather the club looked to keep hold of, brave new economically sound business model or not.
Not too many yellow and green tears were shed at the end of the season when some of the clubs higher earners were shown the door at the end of their contracts even if, in their pomp at Carrow Road, some of those dearly departed looked to be what they are, and remain (i.e. extremely accomplished professional footballers).
I’ll include Seb Bassong in that category. Indeed, I’ll go as far as to say I think he’s been one of the best defenders we’ve ever had at the club. Not the best and not, for me, someone who’d be in my all-time City ‘dream team’. But not too far off.
My abiding memory of Seb came in the early minutes of his debut for us against Queens Park Rangers at Carrow Road. Norwich were, you’ll recall, fresh from an opening day 5-0 mauling at Fulham; a fact that wouldn’t have gone unnoticed by visiting manager Mark Hughes who clearly told his team to hit the Norwich defence hard, fast and high straight from the kick off.
One early howitzer, of the type that had snow on it, took an age to drop down into our penalty area, its trajectory to earth being observed by Bassong who met the ball on his thigh, killing both its speed and the danger it possessed in one movement before letting it drop to his feet where he took a couple of steps forward before hitting a short pass to one of our midfielders.
It was an act of defensive audacity that had me and the rest of the River End taking simultaneous deep intakes of breath before, as one, turning round and looking at one another in a silent but mutual chorus of, “did you see that?”
Industrial defending it was not.
Back then of course, most of us regarded a back four that included John Ruddy, Michael Turner and Seb as indispensible assets. So typical of football for the proverbial crown jewels to become tarnished and unwanted so swiftly.
And, talking of crown jewels.
He has carried the good form he showed with us for much of last season into the summer with his appearances for the England Under-21s.
Inevitably, that form has now seen him linked with a number of clubs in the Premier League who are all rumoured to have had him in their sites for some considerable time and now seem, buoyed by the effortless way he has stepped up to international level, ready to open the bidding.
They are all confident, no doubt, that, as Norwich are now perceived as a ‘selling club’, we’ll yield at the first good offer that comes along with Southampton, West Brom and Swansea cited as the latest clubs interested in signing him with paper talk currently citing £7 million as being enough to convince us to part company with him.
Only a year, believe it or not, since we supposedly turned down a bid of £500,000 from Reading.
I hope that the club is both resolute and brave enough to repel any and all offers we might get for Jacob between now and the end of the transfer window. And I say that fully and completely aware that every player does have his price and that, if the club gets an offer for Jacob, or anyone, that meets their valuation of him, then he’ll be gone.
Yet, even as we do work to and adapt to the new business model that Stuart Webber and Steve Stone are busy driving through to every nook and cranny of the club, I do hope that the price they’d have in mind for Jacob as well as our other most prized assets is an extremely high one.
And by that I mean a figure that is eight digits long.
Because, regardless of the fact that we are now having to cut our feathery coat to match the slightly more tawdry cloth that we can afford, a line has to be drawn in the sand somewhere. One that the suits at the club need to stand behind, no matter what.
Else we’ll end up being walked all over by anyone and everyone.
Fortunately, Webber seems to have anticipated this and marked out a line. And, brief as his tenure at the club has been so far, you tend to believe him when he says that, “…if in the event someone did come for our highly-talented ones it is going to cost a hell of a lot of money. At that point we have to be realistic. If a top ten Premier League club come for one of our players And offers us £20million no-one is stupid enough to say we can turn that down.”
Which, in one fell swoop, would seem to wipe out the likes of Palace, Southampton, West Brom and Swansea and their hopes of getting him on the cheap. Besides, Jacob can and will, I suspect, do better than that.
Eventually. But not this season.
August 5 offers us one of football’s very best away days – at least socially. Even if performances and results at Craven Cottage rarely go to plan.
I used to live near Putney and got to know the area well. Very pleasant.
When the opening day fixtures were released, most people’s minds flipped back to the opening day horror show by the side of the Thames back in 2012, the game that precipitated the arrival of the aforementioned Seb Bassong to the club.
Our record down at the Cottage isn’t the best. We’ve played them there in a league fixture 21 times now and have won just five of those occasions, the most recent of which was in 1986.
The Norwich side that did the honours on that day is worth savouring for a moment:
Woods, Culverhouse, Van Wijk, Bruce, Phelan, Watson, Barham, Drinkell, Biggins, Mendham, Williams (Deehan).
That 1-0 win, courtesy of a last minute goal from Drinkell came in the midst of ten consecutive league victories that took us from a respectable enough 5th in the old Division Two to top, a position won on December 14th 1985 and retained, with some comfort, until the end of that season.
What price a run of ten consecutive league wins at some point in the 2017/18 season? I wonder what odds you’d get on us doing that. Extremely high I would imagine.
Kevin Drinkell ended that season with 23 goals and the Player of the Year award. But, for me, the stand out performer for me that campaign was David Williams.
When the club announced his signing in the summer of 1985, most fans reactions were, to say the least, fairly bemused.
Williams was 30 and had spent the previous decade of his career at Bristol Rovers in, it has to be said, a place that wasn’t so far away from total obscurity.
Can you imagine the digital fury that would accompany such a signing today?
Williams was one of four new faces who made their debut for the club in the opening game of the 1985/86 season, the other three being Drinkell, Mike Phelan and Garry Brooke, who arrived from Tottenham – a capture that was seen by many as something of a coup.
Brooke had, after all, won a FA Cup winners medal with his former club as well as scoring nine goals in the 33 games he played for them in the 1982/83 season – his stand out campaign at White Hart Lane.
Now, here he was, 25 and fighting fit after recovering from serious injuries received in a car crash and all ready to push on with Norwich for whom he’d signed for just £50,000.
You couldn’t help but think of another midfielder that the Canaries had signed from Tottenham for the same fee a decade earlier.
Yet Brooke struggled at Norwich, making just eight starts that season, one that, it is rumoured, saw him fall out with Mel Machin on more than one occasion.
During Mel’s time as coach at Norwich you either got on with him or you didn’t. If it was the latter then you, quite simply, were gone. As Willie Young, three FA Cup finals and one European Cup Winners Cup final for Arsenal will attest.
Machin had, as was his way, been working his charges hard in the build up to the 1983/84 season. Young, who’d previously protested to Machin that, “I never did any running at Arsenal”, wound up the Norwich coach so much that Machin worked him into the ground until, at the end of one particularly arduous session, Young threw up…over Machin’s shoes.
And he was in them at the time.
Young played five games for Norwich before, with no ceremony whatsoever, being shipped out, fast, to Brighton & Hove Albion where, no doubt, Chris Cattlin had him running all over the South Downs in double quick time.
Both he and Brooke might have been big names. But, when it comes to pre-season shopping, it isn’t always the bright and gaudy parcels that you get from the brightly lit stores that take up half of the high street that bring the most satisfaction. Who, after all, has lavished an expensive gift on a child only to see them derive more satisfaction out of playing with the box that it came in?
The Canaries’ summer has, thus far, been more about getting the hither to unknown bargains in at the expense of the big money signings.
If anyone of them turns out to be as good as David Williams was, we won’t have too much to complain about.
And so much the better if they’re doing it in the same team as Jacob Murphy.