Some things in life simply don’t make sense. I’ll never be able to explain, for instance, why Kylie Jenner has 103 million Instagram followers. I can’t explain why people listen to Coldplay. And why would someone watch Mrs. Brown’s Boys? We may never know.
What I truly cannot understand, however, is why Norwich City are still 13th in the Championship. It doesn’t seem fair. From our last seven games, we’ve won 16 points. And we’re still below Ipswich? Something isn’t right.
Even more perplexing is the mood around the club at the moment. We’re in the bottom half of the Championship, but Norwich fans are happy. Players and supporters alike go into every match believing we will win. And the show of solidarity last Saturday (and rendition of On the Ball City immediately after the minute’s standing ovation) was truly stirring. The club’s fanbase hasn’t been more united since Norwich last earned promotion. (I won’t touch more on Saturday because Connor (Southwell) covered it extremely well earlier – and if you haven’t read what he had to say yet come back to this once you have!)
It feels almost as if something truly special is about to happen, but alas – we’re still eight points off the play-offs. I understand the cries for a recount, but I can confirm the reason for this is Fulham’s second mid-season surge in as many seasons (if I had any money I’d put it on the West Londoners finishing second.)
In the present positive climate, however, (and before we play away at Derby) I feel obliged to remind you of the exploits of Norwich City’s class of 2002.
This was the Division One table at the end of play on Saturday March 16, 2002 (on the Friday City had lost 1-0 at home to Birmingham, effectively ending our play-off hopes):
A couple of interesting side points quickly:
- One week before this, Wolves were top of the league and 11 points clear of West Brom but finished third (losing to guess who in the play-offs). I’m not sure there’ll be many Wolves fans with half a memory thinking they’re already home and hosed this year!
- Does anyone else remember Coventry being in the play-off race at all? The reason you may not is because they won just one point from their last six games and finished 11th.
Crucially though, City were five places off the play-offs with seven games to go (Burnley in sixth had a game in hand) and had a significantly worse goal difference than every other team in contention.
Despite this, City made amends for their defeat by Birmingham with a 2-1 win over Gillingham in midweek – Clint Easton and Darren Kenton scoring after Norwich went into half-time 1-0 down (something we’ve become far too used to this season.) A goalless draw at a capitulating Wolves followed before City again came from behind to undeservedly beat Crystal Palace 2-1 and eliminate the Eagles from the play-off race – Norwich were up to ninth.
The Canaries followed that up with their first away win of the year, ironically on April Fools’ Day (their previous away win was a 5-0 defeat of Sheffield Wednesday in December 2001); Paul McVeigh scored in the 86th minute after a match entirely dominated by 15th-placed Bradford.
A 1-1 draw with Grimsby followed after the Mariners snatched an 86th-minute goal of their own, putting City’s play-off prospects in particular peril. However, a 2-0 win at Oakwell a week later left the table like this on the eve of the final day:
Burnley were, at this point, ahead of the Canaries simply by virtue of goals scored. Norwich knew they would have to outscore the Clarets in order to make the play-offs but were helped by the fact that they only had Stockport to play at Carrow Road (to be fair, Burnley had the woefully out-of-sorts Coventry).
(Another small side note – this is the first Norwich game I can remember attending, and I didn’t particularly notice that Stockport goalkeeper Andy Dibble was sent off after 42 seconds.) However, I am reliably informed that Dibble’s replacement, 17-year-old James Spencer (who at 32 now plays for FC United of Manchester), made a string of superb saves.
Norwich did score twice however, with Phil Mulryne – perhaps receiving divine intervention – putting City ahead through a deflection, before Malky Mackay powered home from a corner. Burnley, as I’m sure you know, beat Coventry by just one goal, and Norwich were in the playoffs.
It was a miraculous end to the season – and one that started an obsession with the Canaries in me that hasn’t gone away.
What Daniel Farke has fostered in his first 30 league games in charge of City is something in the same vein as the squad put together by Nigel Worthington 16 years ago. They may not be the most-talented squad in the division, but they have an unshakeable team spirit and a rigid determination and organisation that makes them extremely hard to break down (even if they similarly can’t score). And, finally, the supporters have bought into it too.
I’m not saying Norwich will make the playoffs this season – but don’t tell me they can’t.