It’s August 2013. Saturday, the 24th of August, 2013, to be precise. I’m not going to flog it any further by giving you the time (but it would have been five-ish in the afternoon).
Norwich City had just played out a flat, uninspiring, 0-1 Premier League defeat at the KC Stadium against a Hull City side who, while not without talent, had played for over an hour with ten men. Hardly the first time those of us with long yellow-and-green memories will recall a disappointing result in seemingly favourable circumstances, but no less disappointing for that.
There are two reasons why I find myself thinking back to that specific moment on the winding yellow brick road we walk.
Firstly, there was a somewhat mystifying quality to that game. Not only were City playing against ten men for two-thirds of the contest, and singularly failed to make any kind of impression, but the team had been refreshed in the off-season with some noteworthy attacking blood – Gary Hooper and Nathan Redmond – and Martin Olsson at full-back.
It was also the summer of the Wolf… victim, it would transpire, of the worst promo campaign in living memory. Or recorded history, for that matter.
Now, while not all those additions were on the field that day, van Wolfswinkel was, so was Redmond and other new arrival Leroy Fer, alongside Howson and the king of the rigging-busters Bradley Johnson.
How is it possible, in those circumstances, we’d fail to land a punch on Hull?
I may be misremembering, having been limited to an online stream of the game (sssh) but it was hardly one of those rousing, back-to-the-wall, heroic efforts from the home side that preserved their victory. I barely noticed we had a numerical advantage.
The second reason why I’m bringing this up now is that in the immediate aftermath my attention turned to the manager, and, as has become famous in our family (principally because I never knowingly miss an opportunity to bring it up) I messaged my brother:
“This is only going to end one way. The manager needs to be replaced, and it needs to happen right now.”
Now, those who know me will recognise how unusual this behaviour was, and still is. In the current taxonomy of Norwich City supporters, I am a self-confessed “happy clapper”. Partly it’s just my nature, partly it’s being so old I’ve been around this particular block too many times to get worked up about any of it. But that’s another column entirely.
What is true is that I would very seldom call for a manager to be fired. And in this particular case, there was nothing about Chris Hughton that deserved it. I remember being generally happy with his initial appointment. He always struck me as a decent guy and a class act. But so does my brother, and I wouldn’t want him in charge of first-team affairs either.
But in that one afternoon, I just had a feeling. Even allowing time for new players to settle in – this was only the second game of the season after all – it just felt obvious to me that the philosophy didn’t match the signings, we weren’t set up right, and that the project was doomed.
I didn’t take any pleasure in being right (OK, maybe I do a bit, which is why I keep bringing it up whenever the opportunity presents itself), but we know how that particular chapter ended – Hughton sacked with five games to go, too late for Neil Adams to effect real change, especially given who those five games were against.
David Stockdale of Fulham turned in one of those all-to-often, performances-of-a-lifetime that opposition ‘keepers seem to save for us in the one game that looked winnable on paper, and even though it took until the final day to confirm it, the writing had been on the wall long before.
It’s not difficult to see why these memories are bouncing around now. Daniel Farke has achieved so much in his time at Norwich City, that perhaps he more than anyone has earned the right to fight the battle his way. But the start to this season has been so desperate that it’s hard to find a bright side.
For me, the parallels to 2013 are startling, albeit the context very different. Heavy investment, compared to the previous attempt, has given us hope and, potentially more damagingly, the expectation that this time would be different.
While we don’t have the billboards exhorting the league to be afraid of the ‘big bad wolf’, we’ve had what my friends in the PR world would call the “sizzle reels” of Tzolis and Rashica ripping various European defences to shreds to get us fired up. We’ve also had Gilmour coming off a breakout showing at the Euros, and the late addition of Normann and Kabak to provide the backbone.
Coming off another dominating performance in the Championship, how could things NOT be different this time?
The worry is that the collective doesn’t look to even be close to the sum of its parts. Disjointed, poorly organised, lacking leadership as evidenced by the penalty fiasco against Liverpool, and there’s little in the way of spark, or desire.
Yes, those first four games, if scattered across the season, would hardly have been surprising defeats but they’re not scattered, they’re grouped together, and, fairly or not, being added to the dreadful run at the culmination of our last Premier League season.
The weight of those 15 defeats has eradicated any momentum from last season’s Championship and apparently stripped away any belief from this group of players.
While it’s certainly a fair argument to say the number of new players deserve, and need, time to familiarise themselves and to build an understanding, the harsh reality is we don’t have that time.
The Premier League is unforgiving, as we found last time we played here. The other teams won’t stand still and wait for Norwich to catch up. And let’s remember, these are good players, whatever the price tag.
When you see someone like Kenny McLean aim a horrendously wild slash at a bouncing ball as he did on Saturday, ultimately teeing up Watford’s third goal, it’s hard to imagine an international midfielder for any other club doing the same.
So here we are, and while I’m denying it out loud, after Tuesday night’s lukewarm capitulation to Young Boys of Liverpool, I have to confess that in my head there is a whisper that this the Hughton moment for Daniel Farke.
I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to bring myself to call for his removal but I want to remember the heart-thumping, cheer-leading, trophy-lifting Daniel Farke – and with each no-show at this level you can feel, more and more, the tide turning against him.
I don’t believe he deserves the vitriol and spite-fuelled campaigns that all too often result from a fan base turning against a manager. And, who knows, if becoming an established “top 26 club” is genuinely the extent of Norwich City’s ambition, then maybe there is no need to remove him, for this squad as assembled would certainly rank amongst the favourites for next season’s Championship.
But if the ambition is greater, my bet would be that, knowing how well-prepared is Stuart Webber, there is somewhere a list of names from which the next man up will come.
Whether the club are prepared to pull the trigger on one of the most successful and, at the height of his powers at least, most popular managers the club has ever had, remains to be seen.