It’s guest blog time again and today it’s the MFW debut of Dave Major, who looks back to his formative Carrow Road years of the 1980s and draws some parallels with the Class of 2020.
“I have been particularly impressed this season by the way in which our younger professionals have acquitted themselves on the pitch.”
“Their growing talents demonstrate the effectiveness of our youth policy here at Carrow Road.”
Stewart Webber, right?
Those quotes are from On the Ball, a club-produced magazine in late 1990, and are primarily about Ruel Fox and Lee Power – a makeshift strike force that gave the then (and now) league leaders Liverpool a run for their points at Carrow Road.
While so much in football has changed in the last thirty years, it’s perhaps surprising that so much has also stayed the same (as the saying goes).
This was a time of playing the Norwich way: quick passing football, the dominance of flair players, and a development line from youth to first-team. Rather like now.
At the time, City fans were concerned about their team’s position in the football hierarchy. Maybe not as a “top 26” side, but then as one that could break into the footballing elite. Mike Phelan, Andy Linighan and Andy Townsend had all recently departed for big money, the thought of relegation was nowhere near and there were no two-division plans then – a problem that nearly led to bankruptcy a few short seasons later.
So, what’s changed 30 years on?
- Focus on tomorrow. Norwich have developed an ethos of developing and progressing some of “their own”. That’s not new. For the 1980s we hadFashanu, Barham and Gordon; for the 2020s read Cantwell, Aarons, and Lewis. But the focus is as much on the mid-term, as it is the short – the case in point being the January window where it would appear those inside Colney were as focussed on Sam McCallum as they were Lukas Rupp.
- A plan for each and every individual. If you’ve not yet watched the Sky Sports video of deadline day signing Sam McCullum, the clear Norwich differentiator comes in a comment from agent Olly Henry. “It’s not just about the club. They showed what they wanted to do with him. Not just now but for 6 months … 24 months. They had a real plan for him … It’s not just about getting him there … Norwich was a really good fit.”
- Better people in charge, with football as the central point. I was no fan of Mr. Chase. Him vs Stewart Webber. No contest. We’ll leave it there.
What’s not changed but maybe returned?
- An emphasis on improving what you have; to coach the next 20% out of the players. Hark back to those dazzling days of European Football. Those bought to supplement Fox, Sutton and co weren’t the finished article when they arrived. Mark Bowen, a case in point, wasn’t even considered a full-time full back by Tottenham.
- The willingness to give youth a chance. Read the above statements from Olly Henry. Sam McCullum wouldn’t be at Norwich if he wasn’t going to be given the opportunity to develop and progress at first-team level. It’s what led to Jamie Cureton turning down the overtures of Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United in the early 1990s. “I thought I wouldn’t get the same chance to break through at United”, he said in an interview with the Independent in 2014.
The latter – having “one of our own” to get behind on the terraces brings players closer to you and I. They’ve bought into the club, have played on the pitches of Dereham and Hellesdon. My early Norwich City memories are all about Dale Gordon and, later, Ruel Fox owning that right-wing. For my son, it’s all about Max Aarons and Todd Cantwell.
We’ve had a few false starts along the way. Josh Murphy’s exodus was partly down to an air of expectation never being regularly met among supporters; exasperated by a series of managers not having the faith. Others simply haven’t cut the Colman’s.
So, this year it’s Cantwell and Aarons. Will next year bring a Josh Martin or Adam Idah to the fore? If they’re good enough, they’ll be given a chance. If they come off, they either move us forward or move themselves forwards.
The challenge is keeping pace. Relegation is a backward step a few will not make. It’s why this season, more than most, will be tinged with regret. Last season we had the attacking, free-flowing football complete with more than one of our own. A green and yellow dream of a team.
We now face the prospect of watching that team being broken up. The football, philosophy, and style, however, will remain. The big difference is that thirty years on, these foundations aren’t built on chalk mines.
And it’s that which we should all grab hold of now. It may not be as good as last year on the pitch but we’ve still got our Norwich back. With bells on.