Since English football was postponed in March 2020, and fans indefinitely barred from stadium entry, a huge amount has happened at our football club They’ve played 59 games, been relegated, been promoted, received a record transfer fee, and played the whole of the Championship off the park. The end result, though, is that very little has changed.
Here’s how it unfolded.
After months of boredom and replays from memorable matches, Premier League players returned to training. They were only permitted to do so in small groups and protocols were extremely strict, but the return of football offered hope to all, particularly Norwich City fans. The first 29 games of the season had left the Canaries cut adrift, with 21 points and written off in every quarter. There was ambition that the break could offer City a fresh start, and that the “little miracle” of survival was possible.
As editor Gary put it on the final day of the month, the prospect of watching Daniel Farke’s team play served as “a diversion from the horror of the last few months.”
June was the month when football actually returned. Future City signing Oli Skipp featured as Tottenham were beaten in City’s only pre-restart friendly, an encouraging if misleading 2-1 win. The day finally came on the 19th, a home game against Southampton and the first competitive fixture Norwich had ever played behind closed doors.
What had started as a mixture of excitement and optimism quickly turned to disappointment, a 3-0 defeat in a winnable game acting as a harsh reminder of how low the lows can be in football. The other two games squeezed into a hectic month got City right back on track; that is, they reflected every game that had been played in front of fans almost perfectly.
In 1-0 and 2-1 home losses to Everton and Manchester United respectively, Farke’s men started well but collapsed to eventually lose, knocked out of the silver lining that was the FA Cup in the process.
After a 4-0 thrashing by Arsenal, consecutive games against relegation rivals Brighton, Watford and West Ham all became must-wins, but losses in the first two rendered survival all-but impossible, and a humiliating 4-0 home loss to West Ham removed the ‘all-but’.
After three comfortable losses to round off the season, Stuart Webber wasted no time preparing to bounce straight back. Jacob Sorensen, Bali Mumba, Przemyslaw Placheta and Kieran Dowell all joined in July as City attempted to sign before they sold.
Almost as soon as the season had finished, pre-season started. The Canaries beat MK Dons 6-0 just 26 days after their final Premier League game, completing their preparation by the end of August with five games in nine days (two on the same day with no player playing more than 90 minutes).
Skipp, Xavi Quintilla and Jordan Hugill signed in August while Josh Martin thrust himself into the first team picture with some excellent non-competitive performances.
City returned to league action, but not before being knocked out of the League Cup by Luton Town. After a less-than convincing opening day victory at Huddersfield, points were dropped at home to Preston (with 1000 fans present) and a loss to Bournemouth rounded off a disappointing start to the 2020/21 season.
The Bournemouth defeat was also a flashpoint in the City careers of both Todd Cantwell and Emi Buendia, who were left out due to a lack of focus, distracted by transfer rumours that surrounded them.
“Emi was involved in each and every training session this week, the same with Todd, but I’m standing for several values and these values will always be that I never pick a team because of the name or potential, or value or anyone who has done brilliantly in the past or something like this, I just pick a team that is really greedy to represent this yellow shirt,” said Farke, before the pair bucked their ideas up and were brought back into the fold.
Starting October as they finished September, City lost to struggling Derby in a match they completely dominated. At this point the belief was really starting to drain from a frustrated fan base, Gary again speaking for all of a yellow and green persuasion when he wrote “feeling let down and peed off is what we do. Our shtick. At least it has been for the last seven months.”
It was at this point, however, that things started to turn around. With the respite of an international break and the freedom, provided by such a terrible start, to change as much as he pleased, Farke set about a new-look City. He dropped Teemu Pukki and started Hugill and Adam Idah, coming back from a terrible start to seal a 95th-minute win at Rotherham.
This sparked a nine-match unbeaten run as the Canaries forced their way back into the promotion race, two late winners from Mario Vrancic and an 87th-minute equaliser against Brentford establishing October as the defining month of ‘it’s not over ‘til it’s over’.
The unbeaten run stretched all the way through November, huge wins against Bristol City, Swansea and Middlesbrough completing the rise to the top of the table. November wasn’t entirely rosy, however, as injury struck to throw the season into disarray.
For the 28th’s visit of Coventry City, Marco Stiepermann started up-front with Emi Buendia missing through suspension, Michael McGovern in goal and Sorensen completing his 7th in a run of 16 games in an unfamiliar left-back role.
The injury crisis continued into December, when a second 3-1 loss to Luton in three months brought an end to the unbeaten run.
On the bright side, fans returned to Carrow Road, although only temporarily and in limited capacity. 2000 City supporters were housed in the South Stand for 2-1 wins over Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest, after 1000 Luton fans cheered their side to victory.
Huge wins against Blackburn and Reading put the Canaries in an even better position, before the customary Boxing Day loss – this time to Watford – put a dampener on an otherwise positive month.
January started the way it would continue, with Emi Buendia. The Argentinian scored the only goal of a 1-0 win over Barnsley on the 2nd, the perfect reminder of why stories persisted around his departure from Carrow Road.
Rumours swirled around a potential £40million move to Arsenal, but didn’t actually come close to materialising. Mick Dennis’ article on the state of journalism in 2021 highlighted quite how well social media had done to make a deal that had never really been possible look spectacularly close.
Buendia was again in the headlines at the end of the month, sent off in a frustrating 0-0 draw with Middlesbrough, a week after Barnsley dumped City out of the FA Cup to end a four-game winning streak.
The rough patch continued into February, starting with a dull 0-0 draw with Millwall. The absence of creativity became a theme across Buendia’s two-match ban, also largely to blame for the 2-0 loss to Swansea that, at the time, felt crucial.
After a small meltdown in the City fanbase, normal service resumed, the Argentinian returning with a goal and Teemu Pukki bringing an end to his own dry patch as the Canaries beat Stoke 4-1. This sparked an unprecedented winning run that would see out February and all-but confirm promotion – outside the Norwich City bubble, that is.
The Canaries also won more games at St. Andrews in February than either owners Birmingham or temporary tenants Coventry had managed in any month until that point, beating both away from home.
The nine-game winning run also stretched into March, Brentford, Luton Town, Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest defeated before a dull draw with Blackburn Rovers against a City side that looked like it needed a rest.
Farke’s squad were well represented in the month-ending internationals, Onel Hernandez the most notable as he fought through an ash cloud to make his Cuba debut and score in his second game.
The season had started to feel like a precession at this point.
After an almost unbelievably unlucky 1-1 draw at Preston, the Canaries turned on the style with their finest performance of the season.
A 7-0 thrashing of Huddersfield included a first Teemu Pukki Championship hat-trick and a sumptuous pass-and-move goal finished off by Kieran Dowell, before a rather unstylish 1-0 win at Derby all-but sealed promotion.
The job was done a week later, Watford and Brentford failing to win and therefore handing the Canaries a place in the Premier League. Losses to Bournemouth and the Hornets may slightly have taken the shine off, but a 3-1 win at QPR lifted spirits again.
Starting the month off in style, City sealed the title on their own terms, an astonishing second half resulting in a 4-1 home win against Reading. With little to play for the season, and more importantly behind closed doors football, came to an end with a 2-2 draw at Barnsley, farewells to Alex Tettey and Vrancic helping make the occasion an emotional one, as City lifted the Championship trophy at the end of their best second flight season ever.
And with that, (hopefully) the requirement for City fans to watch from home was finished. A successful period on the pitch intertwining with a frustrating one off it, with the task now not to let the two flip. A campaign including Premier League survival and full houses at Carrow Road is surely the greatest wish of any Norwich City fan.
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