Norwich City: W25, D13, L6.
Sheff Utd: W25, D10, L9.
Leeds Utd: W25, D7, L12.
It is City’s draws that are taking them up. Effectively Daniel Farke’s cut-price heroes have drawn six games that Leeds lost.
The very first match of the season set the tone. At St Andrew’s, Birmingham scored in the 89th minute to take a 2-1 lead but four minutes into stoppage time Onel Hernandez equalised with his second of the game.
That proved to be the first of several draws that represented real resolve.
Battling back in Binland and at Bristol City. Defying Sky’s “They won’t come back from this” against Forest at the Carra. Goals seven minutes from time by Jordan Rhodes at West Brom and Timm Klose at Brentford. They were all “good” draws.
But some were a bit pfffft. Much ado about nothing-nothing in a downpour was scant reward for going to Hull and back, for instance.
Some were downright disappointments. Being pegged back at Frank Lampard’s gaff brought out the moaners.
And, even though Mario Vrancic’s late, late show against Sheffield Wednesday eventually made Good Friday live up to its name, the recent spate of draws have caused more angst than joy.
It’s a sign of how much the bar has been raised that drawing at Stoke crushed spirits.
For about two and a quarter hours.
Our younger son (bit of a plastic, but one of our own) stayed on in the Harvester across the road from the bet365 stadium – and he reports that the bar was very nearly razed when Brentford beat Leeds.
His mum and dad were in a 50 mph section of the M6 while the idiots on Five Live, who kept insisting on yabbering on about “news”, dialled up the dude at Griffin Park and he said something like: “Well the pressure might well be telling on Leeds because Brentford have scored a sec….”
We made too much noise to hear any more. We had the hood down (Poseur? Moi?) and so we were able to punch the air while screaming. I kept one hand on the wheel. Mostly.
Where were you, where were you, where were you when Canos scored?
That was THE moment, wasn’t it? That was when the dark doubts dissipated and the utter, unadulterated bliss surged in.
So now, only now can we understand that the point at Wigan, the point against Reading – all those solitary points gleaned when we wanted wins – were huge.
And this time triumph somehow means more, doesn’t it? It feels like a vindication of doing things the right way.
The 2004 promotion as Champions was a glorious romp, epitomised by Darren Huckerby’s twisting, teasing, terrorising runs. The 2011 promotion as runners-up was the continuation of the charge up the divisions led from the front by swashbuckling Grant Holt. In 2015 there was the wonder of Wembley, which might well stand for all time as the best single day in Norwich history.
But this time we are arriving in the Premier League by a route that is improbable and beautiful.
Norwich had lost their way. But now the Norwich way is a beacon for the whole of football: an exemplar of involving and embracing the fans and the community, of defying heinous financial constraints and of patience in the boardroom and on the pitch.
So let’s pass around some plaudits.
When Ed Balls was chairman I sent him a text one morning as he did the round of breakfast broadcasts to publicise his autobiography.
“Hi. I never try to interfere but social media is going mad about the lack of signings in the transfer window that’s closing and you’re getting terrible stick about not mentioning NCFC at all on radio and TV. Thought you should know”
“Hi Mick. Thanks. I do know. But the chief exec says nobody should comment. We should let it all blow over”
It was January 2017. The chief executive was Jez Moxey. He left as soon as that transfer window was shut.
Balls’s insistence on hiring head-hunters to find a replacement for David McNally had led to Moxey’s appointment, but the say-nothing doctrine grated with an ex-politician who had seen the value of structured, thought-through communications during the rise of “New Labour”.
There were other elements of Moxey’s style which led Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones to decide that he had to go, but the knowledge that the club had distanced itself from the supporters for whom it exists certainly pained the majority shareholders.
Balls was an advocate of the idea of having a properly empowered head of the whole football department, and of separating that department from the business and commercial part of the club.
Enter Stuart Webber.
But, as with everything since November 1996, when Delia and Michael were first asked to bail out the club, their endorsement of what became the Webberlution was required. The backing came enthusiastically and has been unstinting.
Webber has responded by keeping the board “in the loop” about all that goes on at Colney rather than saying, “Leave the football stuff to the football people” – as is the case at most clubs and as has been the case at Norwich during many different eras.
The success of the restructured scouting and recruitment processes are evident every time Emi Buendia skips over an opponent’s flailing leg. But, the story of the Argentine’s arrival “from sunny Spain” was spelled out by Webber to John Percy of the Daily Telegraph. It is very illuminating.
Webber said: “It started with the guys in data, who flagged him (Emi) up for high statistics in a really underperforming team. Kieran Scott (head of recruitment) went to watch him, came back and said he was unbelievable. I then got involved, watched him and then by using my contacts got into Getafe to make the deal happen at a time when they were struggling for money”.
He added: “Buendia was at loan at Cultural Leonesa, who are owned by Leeds United. Luckily we got there under Leeds’ noses”.
Brilliant. The much-feted Marcelo Bielsa sends spies out with pliers to sneak close-up views of other clubs training and we’ve nipped in and shown we know more than him about a club with which he is associated.
Webber also gets top dollar for players he sells. I know Delia and Michael believe that has not always been the case before.
Getting very good fees for the Murphy twins, Jonny Howson, Alex Pritchard, James Maddison and sundry others has enabled Webber to make a profit of about £60 million on transfers while cutting the wage bill from £55 million to £25 million.
Let’s just pause and think about that. Dropping out of the Premier League with a huge wage bill has bankrupted several clubs. Slashing the salaries bill and having to sell the best players has plunged countless clubs into prolonged mediocrity or sent them tumbling down the divisions.
We’re top of the League.
And I think you can see part of the reason by watching our throw-ins and our turn-overs.
Throw-ins? Yep. Watch how we don’t chuck the ball up-field hoping to win a header or the second ball. Watch how, instead, players dance around until one can come and receive a short throw to feet. He returns the ball to the thrower who begins another triangular session of keep-ball.
Turn-overs? Yep. That’s when the opposition think they’ve got the ball but we nick it off them. Watch how often we do that in and around the opposition penalty area.
Our players are exceptionally well coached and drilled.
That’s down to Daniel Farke and his coaching staff, and he must also get the credit for the bravery and belief he showed by pitching Max Aarons, Ben Godfrey, Jamal Lewis and Todd Cantwell into the first team.
You win nothing with kids, somebody once said. But we’re top of the League.
And off the pitch Comms Director Joe Ferrari has given bloggers and vloggers access that is not replicated anywhere else I know of. Director Tom Smith attends pretty much every function put on by the wonderful Fans’ Social Club and the magnificent Community Sports Foundation, and the outstanding work of Along Come Norwich and the Barclay End group has made a visible, noisy difference which the club enabled.
Oh, and there are some other people who have played a part.
In 2009, director Michael Foulger said that, if supporters did not take the discount offered on season tickets following relegation to League One, he’d match them pound for pound. The money raised bought Holty.
Ten years on, director Tom Smith went to the board with the idea that a bond scheme might finance the complete revamping of the Colney complex – a rebuild Webber said was vital. Again, it meant supporters putting their hands in their pockets. Again many of us did just that.
This time, we were promised a return on that money, with a bonus if Norwich reached the Premier League. Ha! That wasn’t likely, was it?
We’re top of the League. And quids in. Thanks to those draws.