A couple of weeks on, and it still hasn’t sunk in. Norwich City, the heroes clad in yellow and green, Delia Smith’s barmy army, the Canaries, the Mustard, the ‘budgies’ as our friends in Ipswich like to call us, are actually about to rub shoulders with some of the most rich, skilled and prestigious teams in the land. In simple terms, Paul Lambert’s irresistible forces are about to meet the immovable objects in England’s top division. And we’re loving it.
After 8 days of celebrations which began on the night our promotion was confirmed against Portsmouth, continued on Saturday with our last game of the season and 2nd place trophy presentation, and culminating with the civic reception and open top bus parade through the city on Tuesday, we can now relax and look forward to our first Premiership campaign in six years.
It certainly won’t be an easy task to stay in the division, as we know only too well after our last tenure amongst England’s elite back in 2005: Having battled valiantly for most of the season, a good run late on actually saw us go into the final day of the season sitting one place above the bottom three. Sadly, by the end of the final afternoon, a 6-0 defeat by Fulham saw us finish the season in 19th, thus relegating us and causing absolute misery all across Norfolk.
But that was then, and this is now. And in my opinion, we’ve every chance of avoiding relegation after another single season spell in the top division. Here’s why.
1) The board room
Upon our relegation from the Championship a couple of seasons ago, one of the major changes the club made with a view to turning things around was a reshuffle of the board. Gone were chairman Roger Munby and chief executive Neil Doncaster, and in came new chairman Alan Bowkett, and new chief executive David McNally. McNally in particular has had plenty of experience in his profession, having been in prominent positions at both Celtic and Fulham. It didn’t take long for him to make an impact, dismissing then manager Bryan Gunn after just one league game and then prizing Paul Lambert away from Colchester United. While Paul Lambert was working his magic on the training ground and grooming the players into League One title winners, McNally was helping the club avoid going into administration, balancing the books and getting the club back into ship shape. It did the the trick, and on a shoestring budget, the club still achieved back to back promotions. Now with money to spend and a great rapport with the coaching staff, it seems that the club can’t do any wrong with a man like McNally pulling the strings behind the scenes.
2) The manager
What more can possibly be said about him? What an absolute genius we have on our hands. Lambert has taken a string of largely unproven, untested, yet determined and hungry players and has turned them into world beaters seemingly overnight. His presence is akin to that of a Brian Clough, Sir Alex Ferguson or Pepe Guardiola. No, I’m not joking with that comparison. Look at how his squad play for him; they keep going right until the end, absolutely refusing to settle for anything less than all three points. It’s how we’ve scored so many late goals this season and the main ethos behind which our promotion surge has been built on. The players respect him, would take a bullet for him, they believe in him and his style of football.
The man is destined for great things in the game. It pains me to say it, but I think one day we’ll lose him to a bigger club in the higher echelons of the Premiership. And good luck to him too, for he will have certainly deserved such an opportunity. Lets just hope it isn’t for a few years yet.
3) The midfield
It goes without saying that we’ll need to strengthen the squad to give us any chance of staying up. Key areas that we’ll need to cover are the back-line and going forward, as well as a backup goalkeeper with some experience under his belt. But one area in which I think we’ll be able to thrive next year is in the middle of the park. Lambert’s diamond formation has worked wonders during our rise up the divisions, the likes of Wes Hoolahan finding a new lease of life and showing outstanding creativity along the way.
Andrew Crofts for me is perfect for the Premiership; he’s very much an all rounder. He’s got a good turn of pace, a sharp strike at goal, a good eye for defensive play, reads the game well and also possesses a good tackle or two. Throw in the likes of the exciting Andrew Surman, the crossing abilities of David Fox and the reliable Simon Lappin, some fresh blood like Korey Smith and the odd transfer addition, and you’ve got a midfield which most teams in the lower reaches of the Premiership wouldn’t mind having on their own books.
4) The supporters
If ever you needed an example of football’s famous “twelve man”, then City’s fans are surely it. We may not be the loudest, and our numbers are dwarfed by the likes of your Chelsea’s, Manchester United’s and your Liverpool’s of this world. but when Carrow Road is rocking, if it had a roof it wouldn’t last long before being blown off. Home and away, our attendance figures are staggering, nearly always filling up our allocation as we follow City over land and sea (And Ipswich, as the song goes). What makes our figures even more impressive over the last few years is the lack of certainty over which division we’d find ourselves in. Case in point, during our miserable Championship season in 2008/09, we actually sold 18,000 season tickets almost immediately despite finding ourselves near the bottom of the league.
I genuinely believe that as well as the never say die attitude which has been programmed into the players, the crowds spurring them on have played just as much part in doing so, helping them see the game through right until the end. We’ll need that more than ever upon our return to the Premiership, but you can bet your bottom dollar we’ll be giving it our best shot in doing so.
5) Grant Holt
Maybe a slightly controversial one here. After all, just three seasons ago this guy was plying his trade in League 2 for Shrewsbury Town. Many moons before that, he was a tyre fitter. Fast forward a few years and now he’ll be at the wheel of a Premiership vehicle for the 2011/12 season.
Amazingly, Holt has played in all three Football League divisions in the last three years, being his side’s top goalscorer for three years on the trot and now becoming a two time player of the season award winner on the trot at City to boot. But the Premier League will be an all new challenge for him. He’d barely played in the Championship prior to last season, let alone even come close to a sniff of life in the top flight. Does he have any chance of making an impact again?
I believe he does. He won’t score nearly as many goals as in previous seasons, but Holt is much, much more than just a goalscorer for this club. He’s a great leader, a master manipulator and a real headache for any opposition defenders. Whisper it quietly, but sometimes this could be through somewhat nefarious means, or “taking the odd tumble” as he put it in one press conference last season. Still, his leadership will go a long way to helping us keep grounded on the pitch, keep our wits about us, and hopefully annoy the opposing team to the point where it hinders their game plan. Mix that with the odd goal here and there, and Holt might just be the surprise package of next year’s campaign.
It’s tough for anyone to make predictions before a ball has been kicked in the new season. Hell, this season isn’t even finished yet as I type this, with the Championship play-offs still to be played and the Premiership table still to be finalised. But with a bit of luck, good will and those five aspects above all coming to fruition for us again, we’ve every chance.
Norwich to stay up?
By Nick Sellers – Norwich City fan