Cory Varney: Yellow hearts are beating - The definitive Norwich City story
It was the calculated gamble that led all the way to the Premier League. The stakes are getting very big but tunnel vision is required. Norwich City fan and writer Cory Varney plots the next stage of the journey.
The night of the annual meeting. It is November 2018.
Norwich have returned home from warm weather training in Tampa, picked up a new coach – Christopher John from Paderborn to replace Christian Flüthmann – but have plenty of anxious fans dealing with reports touting sporting director Stuart Webber with Southampton.
“Will I be here for the rest of my life? Probably not,” says the man himself, handed the first chance to respond to the rumours.
There’s been no approach. He will never take the opportunity given to him by Delia and Michael for granted. He does admit he’s got ambitions to work abroad one day.
“What I would say is there is a pretty big job to do. I have been here 18 months and it feels like we have only started. It feels like 18 days sometimes. There is loads to do and from my side, I would like the opportunity to see that through.”
Down to other business, Ed Balls admits the financial situation is very hard for Norwich.
The club’s income will drop to £28.9m with parachute payments ending on the back of a predicted loss of £21.3m.
There is something special happening though, he says.
“Not only top, we are playing some really good football, scoring goals, and you can see the recruitment policy bearing fruit and the academy delivering young stars like Max Aarons, Todd Cantwell, Jamal Lewis. It is not only about money, it is about the type of club you are and planning for the long-term.”
Daniel Farke takes his troops to Swansea.
He preaches the need for the same commitment, focus and quality that has got Norwich to the top of the Championship.
“Now it is important not to fall asleep or to be complacent. We have to show the same desire. You have to be focused and disciplined in your work.”
Norwich win 4-1 in Wales.
Daring to dream
Farke admits that now, Norwich probably don’t have to worry about League One anymore.
“We had three difficult years. We finished in mid-table last season and then had to sell our best players and had to earn so much money because the club was under financial pressure. In this situation you have to be happy not to be in danger of relegation.”
Hull are in danger of relegation and Norwich have them next. A 0-0 draw in torrid conditions keeps the Canaries top.
Norwich announce Ed Balls will step down as chairman on Boxing Day.
“Having had to accept several days ago that I would never play for Norwich City, it’s been the next best thing – and a dream come true – to serve as the chairman of the football club I have supported all my life.”
Balls talks about how much he’s loved watching Norwich play this season and how great it’s to see the changes over the last 18 months bearing fruit.
“We have all worked together to listen to our supporters, make the most of all the talented people at Colney and Carrow Road - players and non-playing staff alike - and give our club a real chance of further success.”
As for what’s next?
“Like every other City fan, I’m now really looking forward to the rest of season. Together, we will all do our utmost to cheer the team back to the Premier League, where this great Club belongs.”
Daniel Farke finally wins Manager of the Month. His Norwich side avoid the curse, bating Rotherham 3-1.
A week later, they beat Bolton 3-2.
It takes another stoppage time winner from Teemu Pukki after Norwich blow what was a 2-0 lead with just three minutes left.
There will be a celebration at the end of the season. It is now guaranteed.
A special celebration match is pencilled in for May 6th at Carrow Road. It is a chance to pay tribute to Russell Martin and Wes Hoolahan for their fantastic service to the club.
Team Wes v Team Russ. A promise of City faces of the past. All benefits going to charity.
“The Club have been great to us and it will be wonderful to get some legends and old players who’ve I’ve played with over the last 10 years together, and I am really looking forward to it,” says Hoolahan.
“For me the game is a brilliant chance to say goodbye properly to the fans and to catch up again with all the people at the Club, the staff and the players, who supported me during my time at Norwich City,” says Martin.
On the eve of a trip to Bristol City, the talk is of comments from Talksport.
Ian Abrahams claims it is “bad for English football” that Norwich and Leeds are the top two in the Championship. The only way for more English coaches to get into the big league, he claims, is through promotion.
Norwich are also, apparently, “largely a bunch of foreign players”.
Farke responds in the most Farke like of ways.
“I don’t have the feeling I am here for a few months and then I return to Germany. As long as someone feels I am doing a good job and I am allowed to be here in England and I can help to improve the football I will do this. I already feel at home. My heart is yellow.
“If I am honest I have a German passport and my education as a coach was in Germany but when our fans are always singing about Jordan Rhodes as being one of us I have the same feeling. I already feel like one of us,” he says.
“My heart is pretty yellow.”
Norwich, bogged down by flu, draw 2-2 at Bristol City and lose top spot. Teemu Pukki scores late again the following week, defeating a Blackburn side who had lost just once in their last 31 games.
“It’s a massive win,” says Farke afterwards. “We’ve had several outstanding performances and brilliant wins, played some nice football with four goals away or whatever but my feeling is this was the biggest win of the whole season.”
With half of the Championship season complete, Norwich are second, five points clear of third-placed West Brom and have a 12-point buffer to their next opponents, seventh-placed Nottingham Forest.
Stoppage time is nearly up at Carrow Road.
Norwich are trailing 3-2 against Nottingham Forest, having been 3-0 down with 15 minutes left to play. Mario Vrancic pulled one back. Onel Hernandez got another.
Surely not. Surely, they can’t do it again.
Pantilimon makes a terrific double save from Godfrey and Klose. There’s just seconds left. The smart money, it seems, is on not.
But everyone inside Carrow Road knows this Norwich City better than that by now. BBC Radio Norfolk’s Chris Goreham calls it best:
Daniel Farke’s watching on his haunches on the side of the pitch –
Great pass from Klose! We’ve had the seven minutes of stoppage time, they might get one more chance, Hernandez with the cross that’s blocked and if Forest clear that might be the game--
They’ve missed it!
Back to Godfrey on the edge of the penalty area, into the box it goes…
It’s gonna run for HERNANDEEEEZZZZZZ!
OH MY GOODNESS!
THEY’VE DONE IT! THEY’VE DONE IT!
THEY’VE COME FROM THREE NIL DOWN TO EQUALISE IN THE EIGHTH MINUTE OF STOPPAGE TIME!
There are bodies everywhere on the pitch! The Norwich coaching staff, Daniel Farke – they’re all there, they’re all on the field!
That is some comeback, even by Norwich City’s standards!
Carrow Road explodes in the final seconds, again.
“If you thought you had seen it all with the comebacks since Millwall and Bolton then think again,” writes the Pink’Un’s Paddy Davitt. “This was the third part of the trilogy. And the best yet.”
Daniel Farke was as animated as anyone has ever seen him when Hernandez blew the roof off.
“Moments like these remind you why we started to play football in the first place and why we love it so much,” he says. “It’s not about bonuses, contracts or even promotion - it’s about scoring goals like that and putting smiles on the faces of the fans. That’s why we play the game - for them.”
The hero, Onel Hernandez can’t quite believe it himself.
“I had a lot of clubs before in Germany but not like this. This is so unbelievable,” he says. “The celebrations… It was just the emotions after the goal and everyone comes to you. You see all the fans. I saw the fans that wanted to leave early, thinking the game was over – and then I saw all the fans at the end celebrating and in unbelievable shock, saying why has this happened again? It’s not the first time.”
Forest may not be the last time Norwich leave it late, but there is no repeat a few days later against Derby County.
After Teemu Pukki fires Norwich ahead, both teams are brought off the pitch when a floodlight fails. When they return, Derby manage to turn the game and win 4-3.
Norwich hit the bar in the closing seconds.
It is their first defeat since early October. They then draw 1-1 at Brentford.
Sheffield United close the gap to two points in third, while West Brom – Norwich’s next Championship opponents – sit three points back.
An FA Cup exit to Portsmouth comes next, with the League One visitors scoring with virtually the last kick of the game at Carrow Road.
It is all on the league now.
Leeds win on Friday. Sheffield United lead QPR. And West Brom lead Norwich with just 10 minutes to go.
The Canaries stare fourth full in the face, until Jordan Rhodes pokes a Kenny McLean cross home before the travelling Canary fans.
“Hopefully that point in the course of things, when we look back at the end of the season, is a big point and one we can look on fondly,” says the goalscorer.
Nip and tuck
Norwich hold onto third. Sheffield United go second on goal difference.
Leeds have gone four points clear at the top.
While Marcelo Bielsa reveals he has spied on every single one of Leeds’ opponents this season, the biggest revelation in Norfolk this week is that Onel Hernandez loves Argos.
“Argos has everything and I’ve never seen this in my life before. When I need something, I buy it from Argos! I live in a perfect area,” he says in the matchday programme ahead of Birmingham City’s visit.
Norwich win 3-1 on the Friday night.
Saturday sees Leeds and Sheffield United both lose. Norwich rise back into second, going three points clear, with Bielsa’s men and the Blades their next two opponents.
“I think it is also the work of the coach, and how he prepares us for the games,” says Tom Trybull.
The midfielder has been at Carrow Road from the early days of Daniel Farke’s reign. He reflects on how far they have come.
“Success does not come from today to tomorrow. You need to work on it, and sometimes it needs a season – then the next season you will see the development in the squad and also in the results. This is what you can see now and what Norwich can see with this squad and this team.”
Trybull says the supporters and the city can be proud of this team, but with so many games still to go and some big weeks looming, now is not the time to get too nervous, nor too excited.
Norwich draw 2-2 to Sheffield United as Leeds win 2-1 at Rotherham.
Things have gone heated between Norwich City and Leeds United.
Spygate and Elland Road masterclass
In light of “spygate”, it was revealed that Norwich were one of eleven Championship teams to write to the Football League, demanding all the details on every one of their spying sessions.
The Leeds fans haven’t taken it well. Norwich have added in extra security measures ahead of their trip to Elland Road.
It’s a sideshow for Daniel Farke, however.
“When I prepare my team for Leeds, we know everything about Leeds because we analyse their games and what they have done. This is another topic that has no meaning. You know even two days before a game what the style is, what their players are doing.
“I am full of respect for Marcelo Bielsa’s working life. He is doing a fantastic job at Leeds. Each and every manager or coach has his own methods and his own style.”
Farke says Norwich are a club of class and style. It’s important they are.
He’s only concentrating on his own topics.
His team do their talking on the pitch.
At Elland Road on Saturday evening, before a fiery atmosphere, Mario Vrancic whips home a free-kick with just five minutes gone. Teemu Pukki adds a second midway through the first-half.
It’s 2-0 at half-time.
Vrancic makes it three in the second-half and Norwich are in dream land. Standing up to their biggest test of the season so far. Not just winning but dominating on that Elland Road pitch.
A Patrick Bamford consolation does little to dampen the mood.
Norwich regain first position, they go top of the league at Elland Road on goal difference. They come of age with a giant statement of intent.
What no Norwich fan would have dreamt was possible at the start of the season starts to look increasingly probable.
“That was massive,” says a happy Tim Krul. “Everybody knew number one against number two was a massive hype. Leeds are a great team, great club, and to come here and to put a performance on like that is something really to be proud of, I think.”
Krul recalls the home game, where Norwich played Leeds off the park for 30 minutes.
Then they shipped soft goals.
“Now we’ve done it again. We literally said Friday’s training session was incredible. Even the manager said, I don’t care what happens Saturday – he was so proud. Literally everyone was at the top, top level.”
Krul says their performance level is something to get excited about, but warns they have to follow it up next week.
Norwich have Paul Lambert’s Ipswich at Carrow Road.
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’