Someone recently said to me: “You must really be happy – City top of the league, and you predicted it all”.
They were referring to an article I wrote here on 5 September after the 1-1 draw at Portman Road. In it, I argued for patience with Daniel Farke, saying that I saw some signs of improvement in the first six games of the season. A tentative suggestion, nothing more.
That didn’t stop some robust replies:
‘Farke is a nice guy but he won’t get City promoted, no matter how many games you give him’
‘He’s clueless – maybe better if he went back to coaching the youngsters’
‘There’s no progress. We’re in a relegation battle’
‘Another propaganda piece from a happy clapper member of the Delia cult’
At least I was a bit more accurate than them, but I can’t claim much else. If I’d predicted we’d be top of the league, that Teemu Pukki would have scored 23 goals, that he’d be contending with Max Aarons and Marco Stiepermann as early POTS candidates – if I’d predicted all that, I might be in full “told you so” mode and naming-and-shaming the above commenters.
None of us could foresee how the season has transpired – all the more credit to Daniel Farke and his staff. I’m not one for hyperbole, but if they get City promoted this year from the hand they were dealt, Webber and Farke will have delivered the greatest achievement in the 50 years I’ve been supporting the Canaries.
And with a style of football that’s a joy and a privilege to watch.
While we’re focussed on the next two-and-a-half months, it’s perhaps worth casting a quick look over our shoulders at the past decade.
For some clubs – including Forest, Derby and of course our good friends down the road – it’s been an uneventful decade of Championship fare.
Not for us.
A decade ago, in the summer of 2009, our club was in greater trouble than most fans realised. On the field, we’d sunk ignominiously into League 1 with a bunch of mediocre and uncommitted loan players. Off it, the club was a dangerous mess. If our finances are fragile now, they were much worse then – and the creditors were coming for their money.
Delia and Michael took counsel from a wise friend, a certain Roy Hodgson, who recommended we hire David McNally as Chief Executive. The rest is history: McNally acquired Grant Holt, brought in Paul Lambert (with Ian Culverhouse and Gary Karsa, of course) and a sense of purpose returned.
Just as important, the new Chief Exec grabbed every aspect of the club’s operation and made it the effective machine it needed to be for our survival. If McNally’s micro-management later became a source of frustration and humour, in 2009 and the following years it saved our club. That’s not an exaggeration.
Two successive promotions followed, then two mid-table seasons in the Premier League (as I speak, I can feel the waves of envy flowing up from Suffolk).
An interesting tangent is that we tend to remember the first one under Lambert, forgetting the second under Chris Hughton. If I mention that we beat Arsenal and both Manchester clubs, most fans will tend to assume it was under the swashbuckling approach of Paul Lambert. All three were actually under Hughton.
Then we had the sour relegation season under Hughton (and Neil Adams – no time to go into that one now), followed by the glorious charge and sensational Wembley triumph under Alex Neil.
A disappointing 2015-16 saw us relegated, having failed to strengthen the squad as we needed to. The worst and most damaging season – at least in my view – followed in 2016-17. Over the years we’ve been used to seeing other clubs with over-paid and under-performing squads; now it was Norwich City.
The failure of that season left us in a pile of brown stuff. We had a squad in need of fundamental overhaul, and a gaping financial hole to fill while we tried to do it.
At that point, our Board took the bold step – to patronising tut-tutting from down the road and elsewhere – of restructuring the club and appointing a Sporting Director to work with a Head Coach. I’m convinced it’s the way of the future, but we were among the pioneers.
Against the background of such fundamental change – including a whole coaching staff and set of players new to the Championship – last season’s performances left the jury firmly out. The negative reaction to losses at the start of this season wasn’t surprising and is hard to condemn (hence my not naming-and-shaming earlier).
It’s turned around, though, and in the most spectacular fashion. Even if we don’t go up in May, it should be remembered as a very special season.
But, of course, we want more. If we get it, it will be the sweetest of some pretty sweet moments during the past decade.