Cory Varney: If you build it, they will come - The definitive Norwich City story
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It was the calculated gamble that led all the way to the Premier League. Bricks and mortar were required on and off the park. City fan and writer Cory Varney continues his journey, with a focus on the re-build.
November 2017. Norwich face some harsh financial realities when the accounts are released.
Income has fallen £25m year on year. A profit of £9.4m in 2015-16 is wiped out and replaced by a loss of £2.7m, for the year ending June 30 2017.
“It becomes more challenging next summer if we don’t get promoted,” admits then chairman Ed Balls.
At the weekend, Norwich lose their third game in a row.
After coming so close at the Emirates, Norwich have suffered something of a hangover. They didn’t quite have the legs left to avoid a 2-1 defeat to Derby, they were simply outclassed against league leaders and eventual champions Wolves. Now, they’ve lost to Bolton.
Perspective and realism remain the watchwords. It’s a process, it’s a journey and Stuart Webber and Daniel Farke are still putting building blocks in place.
And building blocks are the focus – literally – in mid-November.
Webber, speaking in tandem with academy manager, Steve Weaver, maps out plans to redevelop temporary buildings at Norwich’s Colney training ground.
“For a club the size of us Colney needs to be upgraded,” explains Weaver. Part of that upgrade plan includes a purpose-built academy within 12 months. There’s been a real support at board level.
“What we can’t do is say we haven’t got any money and give up,” begins Webber. “No, let’s try to do something about it because if we truly believe in youth development, we’ve got to develop facilities to produce the best young players and develop the staff to produce the best staff. Or else, it doesn’t work.”
Webber’s ambition is for the training ground to be one; no longer an academy and a first-team, seamless all the way through. A cultural shift.
After a long review of the academy, Webber knows the change hasn’t been nice, nor has it been easy. Simply put, though, they knew something had to be done given the academy had not been producing for the level of investment.
“So, we felt we needed to change it,” he says. “We felt we needed to do it now, because in youth development, people have got a horrible habit of always talking about the future – the under-12s are great, the under-14s are great. We actually need to produce a lot quicker than that.”
On the pitch, Norwich struggle to produce as they return to league action.
A 1-0 defeat at Nottingham Forest, a performance Farke calls Norwich’s best away one of the season, is sandwiched between 1-1 draws at home to Barnsley and Preston.
Come the night of the AGM, Balls is in reflective mood.
There have been mistakes.
Appointing Jez Moxey was one. Not shifting to the new structure in the summer of 2016 was another. But now it’s here, it gives Norwich ‘the best opportunity to get to the Premier League at the earliest opportunity.’
Results have not quite hit the levels everyone would have been hoping so far and sure, a ‘substantial financial challenge’ awaits next summer if Norwich fail to earn promotion.
Balls reiterates it takes time to deliver the cultural and football change on the scale that Norwich are attempting to do.
Norwich lose 3-1 at Cardiff. It is now seven without a win.
“I’m desperate to bring success to these players and our supporters. It’s what our supporters deserve and what the lads deserve. That is the pressure for me. Not from the table,” says Farke. “In life, not just football, you have setbacks. That is time when you go further on, believing in your confidence.”
He speaks ahead of a home game against Sheffield Wednesday.
Mr Pritchard. Discuss
Alex Pritchard returns from injury and links up with James Maddison to inspire a 3-1 win.
It’s respite. But it’s brief.
Norwich go down 1-0 at Leeds. Their inability to turn good performances into points is becoming a concern.
“If that happens two or three times over Christmas, then this City will be in serious danger of getting dragged into a battle at the bottom,” says BBC Radio Norfolk’s Chris Goreham.
“In the brightest phases you get a glimpse of what is possible and what Farke is desperately striving to achieve,” writes Paddy Davitt. “But the shafts of light are eclipsed by a gnawing sense of underlying vulnerability.”
Norwich’s final game before Christmas is Brentford.
The Independent newspaper report a ‘player revolt’ days before it. It claims accusations of over-training, which some unnamed Norwich’s players hold responsible for poor form, apparently. First-teamers are unhappy with ‘excessive workload’. They fear more injuries. They are feeling ‘particularly fatigued’.
Fatigue and fury
Farke’s job isn’t at risk claims the report, but the Carrow Road hierarchy are aware of ‘increasing displeasure’ at his coaching methods.
The head coach comes out swinging. There have been no arguments, nor any displeasure expressed.
“I am a big believer in hard work,” he explains. “I will always believe you get what you earn. Look at the statistics. Last season, we were the poorest team in the last 15 minutes of games in terms of conceding goals. Right now, we have been the best for so long and we are second best in terms of our goals scored and conceded record.”
Rather than get the win that would have been the perfect retort Norwich lose 2-1 to Brentford. The attendance was booed. The full-time whistle was booed. Some fans chant for the owners and the board to go.
It’s another cold December’s night at Carrow Road, almost exactly a year after they went down to Huddersfield.
Farke blames himself, not the players. He jumps to the defence of the owners and the board.
“I get this feeling at the moment the public is crying for some investment. We have a different culture in Germany. If we had people who have been there in the difficult times, working with all their passion and motivation for 25 years for this club and trying to give it the best, all I can say is, as a German, that would be the way for me. Delia Smith and Michael (Wynn Jones) are not responsible for this group of lads. I am responsible for what happens on the pitch. They are people who try everything to bring success to this club with all their heart.”
Norwich have now taken five points from 30.
Bottom-of-the-table Birmingham await on Boxing Day, followed by Burton and Millwall coming to Carrow Road to open up 2018.
Losing any of them is unthinkable.
Cory tweets about Norwich City on @iwritethings23 and @coryvwriter for business. He has also written a short film which explores mental health which you can support through the crowdfunding site for ‘I Love You Guys’