We Norwich fans have gone through the ringer, haven’t we?
We are holders of (probably) the worst accolade available: the Premier League’s most relegated club. Five times we’ve gone down. Five.
I’ve been around for four of those campaigns so you’d think I’d be used to such disappointment by now. But I’m not. At the beginning of every Premier League season, I proudly boast to my mates (who all support big clubs from the comfort of their sofas – but that’s an argument for another day) how we’ll stay up and defy the usual pre-season predictions of relegation from much of the mainstream media. Except last season, they were all so irritatingly right.
So, out of those five relegated seasons, did we deserve to go down in all of them? And before you come after me with pitchforks and torches, I know a season is 38 games and every team plays the other twice blah, blah, blah. But, hear me out. Have we?
In the last ever Premier League season with 22 teams, only Leicester and Ipswich (some things never change) finished worse off. It was a season that began with so much promise, with us placing as high as seventh by Christmas. But, where did it all go so very wrong?
That summer saw us sell Chris Sutton to eventual champions Blackburn Rovers, while an injury to first-choice and Canary icon Bryan Gunn coincided with a run of one win in 20 games (the win being a 3-0 over Ipswich, if you were interested), saw us dip into the second tier for the first time under the new branding.
We finished five points adrift and 13 draws in all didn’t help our cause.
Final position: 20th (out of 22)
Ahh, my first true heartbreak. Thanks, Fulham. It took us nine years to bounce back to the top flight and it ultimately proved to be a short stay. A season where it took Nigel Worthington’s squad until matchday 14 to win a Premier League game and a failure to win an away match all campaign proved to be our undoing.
However, it was a credit to a fine end of season run that brought key wins over Newcastle, Manchester United, Charlton and Birmingham that saw us go into the final day hovering above the drop in 17th, but you don’t need me to tell you what happened next.
Final position: 19th
Verdict: Not clinical enough. Slow start and failure to win away cost us.
Now, this season was an interesting one. Having sustained our Premier League status over the past two years with two very respectable mid-table finishes, it seemed in the summer of 2013, we were ready to break into the top half.
Manager Chris Hughton signed Ricky Van Wolfswinkel, Leroy Fer, Nathan Redmond, Gary Hooper and Martin Olsson for considerable outlays and it looked like we were in for a great year when Ricky netted in a 2-2 draw with Everton on the opening day – but of course, he wouldn’t score again until a League Cup tie against Rotherham two years later.
We were towards the bottom for the majority of the season and with a looming end of season run-in against Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal, the writing was on the wall. Perhaps a strange decision was to sack Hughton with just five games remaining and leave Neil Adams to magic a miracle. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen and we made it relegation number three.
Final position: 18th
Verdict: Needed to be more decisive in decision-making.
We’ve reached the Alex Neil years. After the elation of that Wembley win, we were promoted again after a thrilling Championship season. With less time to prepare for an upcoming campaign than the other two promoted teams, we made just three first-team permanent signings in the summer of that season; Graham Dorrans, Youssouf Mulumbu and Robbie Brady, while letting 15-goal midfielder and Player of the Season Bradley Johnson leave for Derby in the Championship on deadline day.
Although we made a slow start to the season, a Christmas period of three wins from four, including a memorable win over Manchester United at OId Trafford provided cause for optimism. Neil and David McNally spent big trying to keep us up, with Timm Klose, Steven Naismith and Ivo Pinto arriving in multi-million pound deals in January.
However, it was unsuccessful and defeats to Crystal Palace and relegation rivals Sunderland sent us tumbling through the trap door yet again.
Final position: 19th
Verdict: Lack of preparation.
So, we’ve reached the final stop on this relegation tour. A season unlike any other. The longest, most turbulent campaign (I hope) there ever will be. But, cast your mind back 12 months and think about 2018/2019 first. It blew the Championship to smithereens. It oozed class through Emi Buendia; pace from Max Aarons, clinical finishing from Teemu Pukki. And that’s not to mention the supporting cast. But, our Premier League season was poor. It wasn’t near good enough at the end.
It’s easy to say it could have been different with us filling Carrow Road. It’s easy to say it could have been different without VAR and that Pukki goal against Spurs being allowed to stand. It’s easy to say it could have been different if Leno hadn’t pulled off that worldie from McLean’s goal-bound effort in the home draw with Arsenal. See where I’m going with this?
In so many different matches and circumstances, I’m constantly wondering “why are we so unlucky?” Because, to us, we are.
Final position: 20th
Verdict: Not good enough.
It’s been interesting trawling back through seasons gone by and looking at results and thinking “if only we’d have won that game” or “if only we hadn’t conceded there”. But, that’s the life of a football fan. And I’ve come to learn that it’s completely normal and an integral part of the game we love. What is football without fans? A shell of its former glory.
I began this article with the negative of outlining the fact that we are the Premier League’s most relegated club. And as true as that is, it would be amiss of me to not mention we are also the joint-most promoted club too. For every 2019/20 season, there’s a 2018/2019. Supporting Norwich City is a rollercoaster, but I’m not ready for the ride to end.