Memory Lane: Nigel Worthington in the hottest seat of them all
Eastern Daily Press © 2003
The 2006-07 season is fast approaching and Nigel Worthington is a manager under pressure – he spoke to Chris Lakey about the task ahead of him
It’s a roasting hot summer’s day at the Colney training centre when Nigel Worthington opens his door to life as manager of Norwich City Football Club – a far cry from the dark days of last season when the storm clouds whipped up by irate City fans seemed to follow his every move. Worthington looks relaxed as he prepares to start his sixth season in the hot seat – and hot it has certainly been.
He is the man who divided a city, the man who prompted the most vocal barracking a Norwich manager, and at times his team, have had to face for many a year. And still he is manager of Norwich City. Because that’s the way things work at Carrow Road. The club policy, surely written in stone somewhere, is that there will be no knee-jerk reactions, that stability is priority, that change is not made for the sake of it. That the club knows best.
Some accept it, some don’t – and you get the feeling that only if City are promoted at the end of this season, will they be able to forgive and, possibly, forget, the last 12 months.
So just what did he think of the behaviour of some fans towards him?
“That’s understandable because people just want their own teams to win, win, win, and managers and coaches are no different. But a fact of life is it doesn’t always happen, and we have had five excellent years at this club out of six, one way or t’other.
“I understand the frustration, but there has to be a bit of realism in there. I think some of it was unfair at times, other times it was fair.
“How did I take it? Do I like it? No. Do I deal with it? Yes. Has it made me a stronger and better person? Yes, because I have gained that experience. I think the biggest thing of all, you are looking to learn off it as well.
“It is part and parcel of life in football. I was looking at the World Cup on TV and some of the abuse through the media, by staunch England supporters, I was absolutely amazed. It seems to be part of the way of life in football now. Everybody is entitled to their opinion. I think as a manager you have got to stay focused, stay strong and lay down the principles of what you are all about and what we are all about is being honest, working hard.
“Our challenge is promotion, our goal is promotion, all I can guarantee is we will work as hard towards trying to achieve that because, put me at the head of it, I am number one as far as wanting to be in the Premiership, that is my ambition and I will try and do everything in my power to make sure everything is right in the players and staff – and the board of directors are exactly with me on how we want to get there.”
Luckily, promotion is the one hope and craving that everyone has in common – be it player, manager or fan – whatever their views on the personnel at Carrow Road.
In the final year of parachute payments it would seem paramount that City go up – we all know what a little bit of financial laxity can lead to – but when the footballing stakes are so high, it’s probably no different from any other campaign.
“This season is just as important as the last six that I have had at this football club and the reason I say it is just as important as the last six is because it’s about winning games, the challenge of promotion – our goal in every single season is to achieve promotion or trying to stay in the league you are in if it’s the Premiership. Those challenges and goals are always there and as far as the importance of it, like the other six years, very important.”
A season is a long time in football, and perhaps a change in the parameters will suit City better. Whether, as a fan, you like the man or not, consider the points he makes when asked just what went wrong in a season when City finished not just ninth, but 28 points off the second automatic promotion spot and 13 off the final play-off place.
“I think the five years we had previous, where you are looking at the play-offs, finishing eighth, promotion, a year in the Premiership – when we missed out by a point having spent the least amount of money within the division – and then if I put my finger on it, I think there was a mood of the relegation, which did take its time for people to get over.
“On the other hand there was a huge expectation, which is part and parcel of the game. You have got to live with that, and we never really reached the expectation that we should have done, one, through indifferent performances, two, through some injuries, and there was a third which I think some people tend to forget – because we are one of the teams that has just dropped out of the Premiership, there were a lot of teams coming to Carrow Road, which is now an excellent stadium, wanting to take the Norwich City scalp. Again, yes, it is a fact and something that we could have dealt with better.
“There is a saying ‘never ever be afraid to fail’. I think because of the expectation there was a little bit of that in our play sometimes. Instead of making a decision and being positive about it, we thought about it and we got punished, and that is something that we must have in our locker this year.
“Never ever be afraid to fail. If you are afraid to fail, 99.9pc of the time you certainly won’t succeed.
“So what I am saying to the players from day one of pre-season football is go and enjoy their football, go and express themselves and go and do what is asked of them — hard work, quality on the ball and be positive, be ultra positive.
We have got good players, we have got good ability, let them go and express themselves and don’t be afraid to fail.”
Worthington was accused of employing Hoofball tactics last season and, while he admits it did happen at times, he gave his critics something to look forward to: “I think there were times last year we maybe went a little bit longer than what we have done in recent years. We are trying to rectify that in this pre-season. We will try and get the passing game going as much as we can. After that we have got to have a lot of mental strength, mental toughness out on that football pitch to compete in the Championship, hence the reason for going to Scotland where you are going to get good British old-fashioned games where Scottish teams love to kick the English teams and that is part of our preparation for the Championship.”
The team have the backing of a stadium that rarely has empty seats in it — unlike many in the Championship and a few in the Premiership – and a set-up that would be the envy of many a rival board of directors.
“The facilities at the training ground are second to none, the stadium itself has come on in leaps and bounds in the last few years. It is magnificent and still being added to, and the fan base — we have sold out all season tickets which is absolutely magnificent, and I honestly believe and, so does the board, if there was maybe another tier on the Carrow Road side we would be filling that with supporters too.
“They are all part of our goals, to try to keep achieving, keep winning games. Promotion is everybody’s goal, that is certainly ours.”
This is an extract from an article first published in the Canary Preview Magazine 2006/2007. Reproduced by permission of Norwich City FC.