In professional football, it’s not very often that fairytales become reality. Less than 24 months ago, Norwich City lined up at home against Colchester United in their first game of the season in League One, following relegation from the Championship just two months before. The club had appointed former fans favourite Bryan Gunn as manager to mount their challenge for promotion. A popular appointment with the fans, and the mood was that of cautious optimism.
To say their opening game of the season was a disaster would be an understatement. A 7-1 defeat at home to Colchester United was more than some could take. Two fans ran onto the pitch, throwing their season tickets at the bench in a mixture of shock and anger. The owners rightly concerned, swiftly dropped the axe on manager Gunn as he was sacked just days later.
His replacement? The manager of the opposition who so brutally put the Canaries to the sword on the opening day of the season – Paul Lambert. Lambert had impressed in his time at both Wycombe and Colchester , and was fast becoming one of the country’s brightest young coaches. Lambert was an immediate success. After the disastrous start, the club defied all the odds and ended the season as champions of league one, with a total of 95 points. Ten ahead of 3rd placed Millwall.
After the start the club had to the 2009-10 season, it’s fair to say that most Canaries fans would have been satisfied with simply retaining their championship status during the 2010-11 campaign. Few would have predicted that the fairytale would continue.
Despite an opening day defeat at home to Watford, the club won 3 of their next 4 games to secure themselves firmly in the top half of the table. Their form across the first half of the season was mixed but the club were gaining plaudits for their positive and progressive play. Manager Lambert’s stock was still on the rise, and as Christmas approached Norwich were firmly in the play off places. If they could stay there, surely this would be a miraculous achievement and a strong platform for Norwich to build on the following season?
Lambert and his players had other ideas. Defying the odds yet again, the club went on to secure automatic promotion, finishing in 2nd place behind QPR on a total of 84 points. The Canaries only lost two league games after the festive period.
Less than two years after the disastrous 7-1 home defeat to Colchester United in their opening game of the League one season, Norwich City are a Premier League club. Back to back promotions. A truly amazing story.
Norwich fans would be forgiven for fearing that the last two seasons have been a dream from which they will wake at any moment. But fear not, come August 13th the Canaries will run out at the DW stadium to face Wigan Athletic, hoping to mount a successful campaign which as with any promoted team into the Barclays Premier League will simply equal survival.
So how will Norwich fare in their first Premier League season since 2004-05? With manager Paul Lambert at the helm, you feel that whatever squad he has come August 31st, he has proved over the last two seasons that he has the ability to get the most from the players at his disposal. This alone gives Norwich a chance of still being a Premier League club come August 2012.
Norwich do not have the financial clout to spend vast sums on transfer fees and wages, and their transfer dealings to date highlight the owners reluctance to put the future of the club at risk and rightly so. Just look at where Hull City and Portsmouth are as a result of reckless overspending.
Not that the Canaries haven’t been busy in the transfer market. Last week Norwich confirmed their seventh signing of the summer in highly rated Tottenham fullback Kyle Naughton on a season-long loan. Naughton’s arrival squad follows the arrival of James Vaughan, Steve Morison, Elliot Bennett, Ritchie De Laet, Bradley Johnson and Anthony Pilkington.
Last season, Norwich were praised for the style of football they played and I’ve no doubt that Lambert will be aiming for his team to continue this into the Premier League. The manager is also a realist and has admitted that they may have to play ugly at times to get results.
Lambert has said “We are going to have to hang in unbelievably in certain games, but also we have got to try to win games. That is the main point, you play football to win. You can do it and be playing great, I am just not so sure you can keep on doing that, sometimes you might have to win ugly, which you will take.”
One worry that Canaries fans will have is the limited amount of experience that the squad has at the highest level. The players that achieved promotion last season, rightly deserve their chance to prove themselves but it remains to be seen whether they can make the difficult step up.
I was intending to finish this article by giving my prediction for where Norwich will finish in the Premier League next season, but really what’s the point?
If any club has proved that predictions at this stage of the season mean absolutely nothing, then it’s Norwich City.