So 2024 is almost upon us. 2023 is soon to be history. And thank your god (if you have one) for that. What an absolute shitter of a year.
That’s not to say 2024 will be any better but at least it starts with a clean slate, and I can think of one very good thing that looks almost certain to happen in the next 12 months.
But anyway… let’s take a retrospective look at 2023 and, amid the gloom, try and pluck out a few moments of mirth.
City started the new year managerless. Dean Smith had fallen on his sword after a Boxing Day horror show at Kenilworth Road and in charge of first-team matters was one Allan Russell – our unsuccessful set-piece coach who, despite talking a good game, was also an unsuccessful head coach.
Stuart Webber opted against an exhaustive search for a new head coach who would fit the model (Dean Smith didn’t fit it either) and instead went for the first name in his book of contacts who also happened to be one of his mates.
Despite losing his first game – a home FA Cup tie against Blackburn – David Wagner started well in the league with two away wins, at Preston and Coventry.
On a personal level (yep, you’re going to briefly hear about my miserable year too) I was undergoing tests for what transpired was an angina attack in late December. And was feeling crap. Given that said attack occurred on the walk back to the car after a game, Carrow Road had temporarily lost its appeal.
Wagner’s honeymoon period lasted for two games and what followed over the next two was a subtle sign of things to come. While the 3-0 home defeat by Burnley was not wholly unexpected, given they were flying high in the table, the listless 1-0 away defeat at Bristol City that followed was not the response the head coach (or anyone) had hoped for.
But City went undefeated for the rest of the month and managed, in the process, to stay in touch with the top six. Wagner was lauded for playing an identifiable style – something that played no part in the Dean Smith era.
Me – still feeling crap. No test results and still no Carrow Road.
The month started well with that more-than-decent 3-2 win at Millwall, which concluded with the olés at the away end, but that was almost as good as it was going to get. It was followed by three games without a win and the natives were starting, understandably, to get restless.
But Wagner’s stock remained reasonably high, with most of the angst aimed at Stuart Webber, who by now hated almost all of the City fanbase with a passion (at least that’s how it felt). Wagner, at this stage, was being afforded the benefit of the doubt due to the squad being one supposedly built around the ill-fated concept of Smudger-ball.
Me – still feeling crap. No test results and still no Carrow Road.
Seven league games. Four defeats, two draws, one win. Goals for 6, goals against 12.
This was when it *really* started to unravel and Webber *really* started to feel the heat. By now the playoff places were only a figment of our collective imagination as the top six soared off into the distance. Wagner, for all the reasons above, still felt very little of said heat and was able to successfully hide behind the ‘these are not my players’ card.
Me – It wasn’t just City for whom things were unraveling. In addition to the ongoing tests on the ticker, a seemingly innocuous outer ear infection, which started at the end of March, raged well into April, and after numerous failed attempts by numerous doctors to control it, I was admitted to the N&N for a two-night stay. Oh, and the car engine blew up … literally on the way to the N&N.
Then, less than two weeks after arriving home I picked up my first-ever bout of Covid. The late Queen would have called it her ‘mensis horriblis’. Still no Carrow Road.
The season concluded with the most miserable of 1-0 defeats at home to the already-relegated Blackpool. But for it being Teemu Pukki’s farewell, Carrow Road would have been a seething mass of venom but for the sake of a club legend, by and large, a lid was kept on the fury and angst.
The club owners and high-ranking officials breathed a collective sigh of relief. None of those whinging, moaning, ungrateful supporters to have to put up with for three months. Phew. But Webber still came out swinging punches in a post-season round of interviews, with the whole of the ungrateful fanbase in his sights but especially “a few divorcees in the Snake Pit”.
In one final, bizarre twist, he said that in his end-of-season address to players and staff, he congratulated them all for what they had achieved, which was (apparently) raising the expectation level of the fans to such a level it couldn’t possibly be achieved. Or something like that. Maybe it was my medication talking but it made little sense. He sounded like a bloke who was about to quit … which, as it transpired, he was.
Seldom had morale been so low and seldom had the gulf between club and supporter been so wide.
In other news, it was announced that Ashley Barnes would be joining City on July 1, when his Burnley contract expires.
Me – another trip to the N&N – this time for an angiogram. Still feeling rubbish. No Pukki farewell for me. Oh, the joy.
No footie, of course, but a big announcement: Webber (Stuart, not Zoe) confirmed he was finally leaving. Except he wasn’t. He promised Delia and Michael – who were devastated at the news – that he would stay until a successor had been appointed and there had been an official handover. There was also confusion around when he handed his notice in. Depending on who was answering the question, it was either January 2023 or March 2023. To this day we still don’t know.
In other news, the signings of Shane Duffy, Jack Stacey, Borja Sainz, and Kellen Fisher were announced ahead of their official unveiling on July 1.
Me – still feeling crap but, as a result of the angiogram, new meds had been prescribed.
By now, the residual anger from the pathetic non-season called 2022-23 had started to subside, and, just as the board had hoped, those pesky fans were starting to look ahead. Webber, in that infamous round of post-season interviews, had promised to address the issue of the lily-livered-ness and in doing so turned what was an inexperienced squad into what some neutral observers described as a ‘Dad’s Army’. But still… we were looking forward and not back, so it was a question of wait and see.
The pre-season schedule of games was interspersed with a German training camp, where they were joined by the latest new signing, Swiss international Christian Fassnacht – another who did little to bring down the average age.
While pre-season results are largely meaningless, City went unbeaten in their seven games, including wins over Toulouse and Olympiacos – which was nice.
Me – feeling a bit better. Perhaps medication was starting to work? Used a trip to Silverstone for the F1 as a dry run for a trip to Carrow Road. Went okay – still breathing.
Season 2023-24 began with the rarity of an opening-day win. It was an unconvincing performance against a decent Hull side but no one remembers the performance when you grab a late winner, which is precisely what Adam Idah did.
City went unbeaten throughout the whole of August, which included a couple of away wins in the Carabao Cup. Perhaps Dad’s Army was the way to go? The Gegenpress, led from the front by Barnes and Josh Sargent, was in full flow and seemed to be having a positive impact. The only downside was that in the final game of the month – the 4-0 away win at Huddersfield – Sargent rolled his ankle. We hoped at the time that it was nothing long-term. We were to be disappointed.
Two new players arrived, both thirty-somethings, of course: Millwall keeper George Long and Leeds United sick-note Adam Forshaw.
Ipswich started well, but we assumed was just the product of what’s commonly known as the ‘promotion bounce’. Couldn’t possibly last.
Me – A turning point. I made it to Carrow Road for the opening game of the season. Felt weird but exhilarating … but not too exhilarating. Too much exhilaration is, I’m told, not good for a dicky ticker.
Hhmm. By the end of this month, the hope and expectation we felt at the end of August had long gone, and it all began with the most underwhelming Deadline Day known to Man. Given that Sargent was likely to be out months rather than weeks, a new striker was a must, and with Andrew Omobamidele departing for Forest, a nice, shiny new centre-back was the order of the day. Some exotic names were mentioned – expectations were high.
We ended up with Danny Batth from Sunderland and Hwang Ui-jo on loan from Forest – both thirty-somethings (obviously).
It was at this point that it became clear the club had not a pot to pee in. Further down the track, this was confirmed when it was revealed that Mark Attanasio had loaned the club £10million to help with running costs.
What a mess.
On September 23, we were humped 6-2 by newly-promoted Plymouth.
Questions were being asked of Wagner’s methods and tactical acumen but, as became a habit, with the pressure mounting, he somehow conjured up a timely 2-0 win over Birmingham.
Me – not feeling too bad if I ignored the mess my club had turned into. Heart still beating.
Those of a nervous disposition, please look away now.
If April was my mensis horriblis, this was Wagner’s. Five games, four defeats, one draw, and the football was terrible.
It was the type of run and form that would see a manager sacked in 90 per cent of clubs – but not Norwich City, who prefer not to judge their head coaches on results or style of football but on whether or not they are nice people. And, let’s face it, Wagner is a nice bloke, so Delia and Michael had (and still have) his back.
Alongside all the chaos on the pitch, off it, there was an extraordinary meeting arranged where shareholders were asked to approve a new share issue that would see Attanasio eventually own 40 per cent of the club – deliberately the same as Delia and Michael.
It was complicated and meant that shareholders had to approve a waiver that removed the requirement for the American to offer to buy out their shares. It was riddled in red tape and still rumbles on to this day but, presumably, some time soon he will be our new joint-owner.
Me – not great, but still managed to get to Carrow Road. So much bad news. Nerves shredded.
Wagner’s knack for picking up wins when everything for him looked lost continued – particularly the away win in Cardiff where his on-pitch celebration told the story of a man who had just seen his job saved. It was followed by a turgid 1-0 home win over QPR to further cocoon the head coach from any pressure, but they reverted to type with a stinker of a performance in front of the Sky cameras at Watford.
Amidst all the unraveling, Webber’s role in it all was called into question – it was he, after all, who put together said Dad’s Army – and the ridiculous plan for him to sit alongside his replacement, Ben Knapper for a few weeks/months to show him the ropes was thankfully shelved. He departed after the win in Cardiff – where he was given (wait for it…) a guard of honour! – and Knapper started two days later.
The month concluded with the AGM, and oh my god…
The meeting itself was an unsurprisingly tetchy affair – why wouldn’t it be with the club in crisis – and a few tricky questions were asked and duly answered. But it was the round of interviews given by Delia, Michael, and Attanasio afterwards that made the headlines.
Delia, evidently rattled by those probing questions in the main meeting, came out swinging punches. I’ll not bother repeating it all but you know the score:
“Whingers” … “moaners” … “they haven’t a clue” … etc etc
She hates (some of) us … just as the Webbers did (and still do).
Me – a truly awful month. We tragically lost dear Martin after his battle with cancer and, even closer to home, my dad suffered a mini-stroke. My health problems persisted but paled into insignificance.
Luckily for Delia, the results improved in early December – even if the performance level was nothing to get excited about – and, as ever, if there is something to like on the pitch, all of the problems off it (like a joint-owner who hates “20 per cent” of the fans) are temporarily shelved.
Wagner’s stock rose a few points when he took us to Portman Road where the busting of our 14-year unbeaten run was supposed to be a mere formality. Man they were they excited … over-excited… but their best team for two decades still couldn’t beat our worst team since Glenn Roeder’s Class of 2009.
It was funny. Although they pretended it didn’t matter, they are still pissed two weeks later.
Me – to compound an awful year, a close family bereavement was an imperfect accompaniment to all the existing stresses, strains, and uncertainties. Life is truly shit but still we plod on.
Thanks for reading – without your support, MFW wouldn’t exist. Simple as that.
I hope 2023 has been kind to you and that 2024 will be kinder still.
On the Ball City.