Cory Varney: A little miracle that stands the test of time - The definitive Norwich City story
PUBLISHED: 17:00 11 April 2020 | UPDATED: 17:23 11 April 2020
It was the calculated gamble that led all the way to the Premier League. A sprint, then a few stumbles before a glorious title triumph. City supporter and writer Cory Varney on the fulfilment of a bold Canaries’ vision.
Norwich City sit eight points clear of third and have surged seven clear of second. There are just six Championship games left.
Teemu Pukki’s confident they are going to make it.
The newly-crowned Championship player of the season says: “Of course, we know there are still six big, big games to go and we need to be focused and ready in each of the games.
“But if we play at our current level, I don’t think there is a team that can beat us.”
At the same awards night Max Aarons wins young player of the year, spanning all three divisions, and joins both Pukki and Jamal Lewis in the team of the season.
Chris Wilder wins manager of the season, but the Sheffield United boss is certain who’s winning the league.
They are eight points clear of third and have surged seven clear of second. There are just six games left.
“Daniel has done a remarkable job to win eight straight games at this stage of the season. I would be very surprised if they do not win the division,” he tells the Sheffield Star.
More late drama at the Carra
Yet, Norwich don’t make it nine wins in a row.
After trailing Reading for so long, the game is turned on its head in minutes. Ben Godfrey blasts home an equaliser with 86 minutes gone. Carrow Road finds its voice. Norwich win a corner just two minutes later.
Christoph Zimmermann rises.
Carrow Road explodes.
They have done it yet again.
Another comeback. Another late winner. Another iconic moment.
And then, with the last kick of the game, Reading equalise.
“They are young lads and they are emotional but it was even like the older guys had tears in their eyes,” reflects Farke afterwards. “I will put my arms around the young lads and we will speak with them because the commitment was there. We have to accept football is not always fair. We will be disappointed for a day and then we will go again.”
Sheffield United draw at Birmingham. Leeds win at Preston.
The gap to second becomes six. The gap to third becomes seven.
There are five games left.
Leeds win again on Saturday. Sheffield United draw once more. Paul Lambert’s Ipswich are relegated.
Norwich head to Wigan on the Sunday. They draw 1-1.
“We’ve put ourselves in this position and we’ve got to finish off the job,” stresses Max Aarons. “The fans are backing us the whole way through. They have been brilliant the whole season and now we’ve got to repay them for turning out in numbers week in, week out.”
“I don’t want to count my chickens and it is up to the boys to get the job done, but I would be absolutely delighted to be involved in any celebrations.”
Norwich’s Lord Mayor calls for the Canaries to finish the job to pave the way for a city-wide party.
“It would be the pinnacle of what has been a real privilege for me serving the city as Lord Mayor,” he says, entering the final month in position.
Norwich can seal the deal at Carrow Road on Good Friday against Sheffield Wednesday, if Sheffield United lose in the early kick-off.
They don’t. They win 2-0.
Leeds can put the pressure on if they beat Wigan, who go down to ten men early. Leeds score and it all seems set for a routine win.
Gavin Massey has other ideas.
Wigan win 2-1 and Leeds fall to third.
The Good Friday drama doesn’t end there. Norwich take the lead against Sheffield Wednesday through Marco Stiepermann, before a goal of the season contender from Forestieri and a highly questionable second from Steven Fletcher leaves them staring at defeat with seconds left.
They earn a free-kick on the edge of the area. It becomes another moment. The “VranccCCIIIIIIIIIIIIICCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCC!!!” moment.
He plants the ball into the top corner and sends Carrow Road absolutely crazy.
“I guess one of the biggest. I am just buzzing,” says Mario Vrancic afterwards. “A great moment but I would be happier with three points.”
Norwich are five points clear of both their rivals. There are three games left.
Twists and turns
Easter Monday proves a rollercoaster of an occasion.
At Carrow Road, 6,000 fans pile in for a beamback of Norwich’s trip to Stoke City. Victory, once again, could deliver Premier League promotion.
Once again, it doesn’t happen. They draw 2-2.
Sheffield United move within three points after winning 3-0 at Hull. Leeds can do the same against Brentford in the late game.
Automatic promotion, after looking a near certainty for Norwich, could yet go down to the final day.
Sergi Canos, once of Norwich, is part of a Brentford side that beat Leeds 2-0.
Norwich are six points clear of third with two games left. They have a vastly superior goal difference. The players emerge onto social media. All around there is a sense, at last, the pressure has lifted.
Norwich City are on the verge of the most improbable of promotions.
Historic home night
For the first time 1960, Norwich can seal promotion at home.
“It’s good to be a bit scared,” says Farke, looking back on the last few games. He’s happy for his players to be nervous and to doubt themselves. If you get too relaxed, you are not at your best level, he says.
“I like to see this feeling of disappointment. Especially with the young lads. To be a bit too emotional, so passionate and full of desire. It is because of this attitude why we are in this position.”
Saturday 27th April. Norwich City versus Blackburn Rovers.
The Canaries look like their old selves. Full of confidence. Weights lifted from their shoulders. Enjoying their football.
Marco Stiepermann opens the scoring. Mario Vrancic adds a glorious second.
Blackburn pull one back but there’s no sting this time. No repeat of Reading. This is Norwich’s time. It’s their moment. It’s their night.
Carrow Road gets to celebrate at full-time.
Daniel Farke’s Norwich City seal promotion to the Premier League.
Stiepermann sheds a few tears as the full-time whistle goes.
After the Hull game in March, he spoke of his difficult first season. “After not a really good season you think about the future: What should I do? Should I stay? Is there another solution?”
This season he has 10 goals and 9 assists, proving a key man.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling at the moment, even more maybe tomorrow to realise what really happened today,” he says, post-Blackburn. He never considered the possibility of promotion. “To be honest no, but I know how football works and how ugly football can be but also how good football can be.”
Tim Krul is another reflecting as promotion is achieved.
“He’s one of us, he’s the boss, he can lose his head – like on Friday in training, he proper lost his head because the boys weren’t really on it,” Krul reveals. “It’s been a crazy ride but, my word, what an achievement.”
Farke calls it a “little miracle”.
To get promoted, under the final pressure, with so many young lads and playing football the way Norwich have?! “We did something extraordinary.”
Farke hails Delia, Michael and Stuart Webber for being so brave in the way they have gone about things.
Stuart Webber, meanwhile, feels they’ve climbed Everest. Now, they’ve just got to try and get back down before climbing it all over again.
“During last year there was a lot of pain, but we said that pain was going to come and when Daniel was getting a lot of stick, it was a case of give the guy a break – he had inherited a ridiculous wage bill, a ridiculously aged squad, a horrendous culture,” says Webber, a little over two years from when he first arrived in Norfolk.
When appointing Farke, Webber said Norwich had the best coach in the league.
Nothing ever changed his mind on that.
As for next season, it is all about backing the plan. “We have come out of a financial hole, because we have been fortunate enough to get promoted to the Premier League, so what we have to do is make sure we don’t put ourselves back in that place, get relegated, and then we are at the point I was two years ago.”
Webber says learning from past mistakes is key. If it ends with relegation and Norwich have to go again, “that’s life”.
“It is an unforgiving league and we will be favourties to go down from day one. We just have to ignore the noise.”
Even Delia and Michael emerge for an interview on a special night at Carrow Road.
“The most important thing, and I really believe this, that sums up what has happened since Daniel and Stuart came here – with Stuart being the architect of course to appoint Daniel – is humility,” explains Delia.
As for Michael Wynn Jones, this promotion is as good as anything he has seen.
“The last 25 years, since we have been on the board, we have literally seen everything. From losing at Cardiff in the play-off final, to winning at Wembley and now this. I think this caps the lot,” he says.
“It is unbelievable. It is all smiles, and tears, all in one go. We are so happy. It is in our blood. We just love it. We know it’s hard, we know it’s going to be difficult. We know there will be highs and lows but it is a beautiful game.”
Though, the season is not over yet. There is still one game still to go.
A trophy to top it all off
A final day trip to Villa Park.
A chance to really finish the season in style. The league title remains up for grabs.
“I am pretty sure I will never forget this in my life,” Daniel Farke tells journalists, still buzzing after promotion.
“This is a sensation, a miracle. You have to dream big and think big. It was in the back of my mind when I came here but realistically, after this transition, then you should look to get back to the Premier League in two or three years. We are ahead of schedule. But we take it.”
There will no worrying about it being too quick.
It is a gift, says Farke. It is a great achievement and a sign of what you can achieve through hard work, sticking together and believing in your plans.
Pukki scores his 30th goal of the season. Mario Vrancic fires home a late winner. Another late winner.
Aston Villa 1-2 Norwich City.
A year after losing 5-1 at Sheffield Wednesday, a year after finishing behind Ipswich Town, a year after Norwich were left sweating over an injury to James Maddison – “Listen, that would have been a disaster,” Stuart Webber admits – a year after finishing midtable, Norwich City win the Championship.
“You have to savour these moments,” Farke says afterwards. “It was probably naïve or too romantic to think we could do it this way. It fits totally to our season.”
Tomorrow will see a civic reception back in Norwich. A chance for the entire city to pay tribute to the team.
Team Wes v Team Russ will follow it back at Carrow Road.
In the here and now, at Villa Park, the Canaries lift the Championship trophy in front of their travelling support.
“It is satisfying but not because there is a feeling we proved someone wrong. We have just created history. It is extraordinary. We broke so many rules. About needing experience or money or playing beautiful football. We showed spirit and mental strength with many young players.”
Norwich finish the season with a 14-game unbeaten run. They reach 94 points. They almost score 100 goals.
“This consistency is remarkable. We have earned more money in transfer fees than any other club in this country and perhaps in western Europe. That is brilliant for our key people who made brave decisions,” continues Farke.
“It is not a sensation Norwich now play in the Premier League, because we have done this in our history, but to do it in these circumstances is a sensation.”
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’