As a relatively new member of the MFW community I felt a piece to introduce myself was in order at some point. I could bore you with the details of my life leading up to my first piece for the site, but that’s not what we’re here for.
I decided the best way to introduce myself was to tell you about the matches that have made my career as a Norwich City supporter to date, starting with the double promotions of 2010 and 2011, leading all the way up to now. With such a great task at hand I enlisted the help of six fans to tell the stories with me.
I started by chatting with Connor Southwell, Norwich City reporter for the Eastern Daily Press, Norwich Evening News and The PinkUn, as well as MFW alumni member, about City’s famous 3-2 win over Manchester City in September 2019.
The first aspect of the game to consider is the context behind it, a context that will likely be lost with time, diminishing the extent to which fans remember the performance as the unbelievable achievement it was. Perhaps the height of an injury crisis to end all injury crises, Daniel Farke reeled off a bulletin of injured crucial players in his pre-match press conference, a press conference Connor attended.
“The infamous press conference. It was like, ‘that person’s out injured and this person’s injured’ and that happened eight or nine times. By the time you left you were demoralised already”, he said. “I remember saying pre-game, if Norwich get beat 5-0 here, I think most people would go, ‘they’ve got off quite lightly’”.
It’s testament to the chances City had going into the game that I almost didn’t watch it. Unable to obtain a ticket for the match, I was consigned to a £10 Now TV Sports day pass, £10 I knew was a risk and would likely be wasted on watching a comfortable thrashing of the team I support. Thankfully, the sly optimist in me won in the end, and I was able to bask in the glory of the eventual wonderful achievement.
Even with day pass in-hand, I felt the chances of the Canaries winning were extremely slim, and that’s why my reaction to the first goal was to laugh – ‘well, at least we got one!’ was my thinking as Kenny McLean slid on his knees in front of the River End.
Connor, nervous at his first game in the press box since starting his new role at Archant (what a match to start with!) managed to miss the goal entirely, informed only that it had happened by the reliable Carrow Road crowd.
“I actually missed that goal!”, he told me, “I made the mistake of having my head in my laptop, I was writing up the events that led to that corner, which I couldn’t actually tell you now. The next thing I know I’m met by a roar from all four sides of Carrow Road.”
“Roar” was the perfect description. That early goal gave a packed yet unexpectant home crowd something to cling on to, and the ability to celebrate in a game in which they never expected to. We’ll never know how things might’ve panned out had City not turned their positive start into a lead as getting the Norwich fans motivated early on was an eventual key factor in the win.
“This result wouldn’t have been possible behind closed doors”, says Connor, “They needed the fans”.
It’s testament to what we’re used to as Norwich fans that, despite the Canaries holding a two-goal lead for a total 55 minutes of the match, nobody inside the ground ever felt comfortable. “I don’t think there was ever a moment where you thought, ‘they’ve got this’”, says Connor. “I don’t think until the whistle went anyone in that stadium really believed they were going to win”.
Reminiscing on this match, which Connor describes as “the best atmosphere I’ve heard at Carrow Road in my lifetime”, was delightful for the most part but was also a painful reminder of how different football is without its fans.
“In a sad way I’m kind of used to football without fans now. Every game feels like a friendly”.
On the pitch, there was another element which City are currently missing the full force of, one that’s struggled especially since the start of the Coronavirus crisis, Marco Stiepermann. The German hasn’t been in full flow since that Manchester City game, injury and illness as well as form seeing him dip in and out of the starting eleven. This was, as Connor describes, “the pinnacle of Marco Stiepermann”.
“I thought he was excellent”, he said, answering my question on Stiepi’s performance on the day. “I remember him being deployed in a slightly different role. He was tasked with sitting on Manchester City’s deep-lying midfielder, to stop them playing through and playing those progressive passes that can hurt sides, and I thought he did a really good job of that, and that’s before you get on to what he did on the ball and his pass that sent Pukki away for Cantwell’s goal. It’s sad because it feels like since that game we’ve not quite seen the best of him. He was superb”.
Stiepermann’s downturn in form is a signal of what followed. Norwich were eventually relegated with 21 points, and the German was replaced by Ondrej Duda in the January transfer window as he struggled to make his mark at the top level.
If City were to complete the “little miracle” they had hoped to and achieve survival, they needed to create the type of magic that led them to victory against the champions more regularly. They struggled to do so, picking up just three more victories.
I wondered if Farke’s classic downplaying reaction to the victory may have been to blame, at least in a small way, for this. I asked Connor whether he thought using the Manchester City result as a springboard, exaggerating its importance, may have been a smarter move.
“Yes and no” he replied. “He would say he was being realistic. I know speaking to Stuart Webber a couple of weeks after the game him being quite shocked at the reaction it got, I think they felt quite offended actually”.
This offence was fair. Although the win was an extraordinary achievement, there had been signs of what Farke’s side could do. They had already performed arguably on a par with Liverpool at Anfield, taken Chelsea right to the wire and played Steve Bruce’s Newcastle off the pitch.
Manchester City also struggled for form following the match. They lost at home to Wolves just weeks later and saw their attempts at a third consecutive league title hit the buffers, losing out to Liverpool by 18 points. A case could be made that this was the turning point for the Citizens, losing their world-feared reputation and membership to a class above the rest of the Premier League.
One man who would not have been expected to contribute significantly to such a colossal win is Ibrahim Amadou. The Frenchman, brought in as a defensive midfielder in the final throws of the summer transfer window, was chucked in at the deep end, making his full league debut at centre-back.
“He was a colossus” recalls Connor, as he highlights an aspect of the match that may have been overlooked. “Him and Ben Godfrey couldn’t communicate with each other, Amadou’s English wasn’t great. When you add that context in it makes it an even better performance, I think.
“He did have quality overall, just a shame that circumstances didn’t allow him to play in that defensive midfield position”.
An underrated aspect of the Canaries’ performance was the style and confidence with which they used possession against one of the world’s top sides (likely the top side at the time). Norwich passed their way through an intense press to create opportunities that looked like counterattacks in highlights, given how high up the pitch their opposition were playing.
This aspect of the win is a particularly pleasing one for a member of the Yellow Army, but one that Connor agrees will be forgotten over time. “If you asked Stoke fans about getting into Europe they wouldn’t talk about Tony Pulis’ style of football, they’d talk about how they got to play some of the biggest sides. If you asked someone of our age what style of football Norwich played when they beat Bayern Munich, I wouldn’t be able to tell you, I think that’s just the nature of football.”
The magnitude of this result cannot be understated. Norwich City went on to no great success because of it, but if there’s anything this pandemic has taught me, it’s that football exists for moments. The match I returned to the most during the enforced break from football was this one. Yes, success is measured in a wider context. Teams that win league titles will always be greater than those who beat them occasionally. But the reason for the wider context is the moments it creates.
Fans don’t remember lifting trophies; they remember the final whistle and the moment that title was confirmed. They remember beating the side in second place to move closer to sealing the deal. They remember beating derby rivals who are above them in the table because it shows that whatever the wider context, who wins in the moment will always matter most.
As Norwich City fans we are yet to, and may never, see our team lift a trophy as English champions, but beating Manchester City felt as good to us as it did to their fans when Sergio Aguero won them the Premier League against QPR.
Connor believes this was the greatest upset in Premier League history. I tend to agree.
Part two of six in Sam’s ‘story will be live at midday tomorrow.