A special day in Norwich City’s calendar – regardless how it pans out
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
You never know at this point whether those late spring weeks are going to be some of the most memorable, exciting times either following, supporting or covering a football club. Sometimes it can be the other end of the spectrum – the run-in bringing the sort of misery supporters somehow feed off.
But the start of a new season, the build-up to that first outing in anger, is far more reliable.
In fact, it’s arguably the most reliable thing you will find in football – that opening day optimism. Without it, the following nine months are going to be pretty hard work.
I remember as a child that it was hard to sleep on the Friday night before the football season kicked off.
It never mattered how many signings had been made, who the opening opponents were or what chance City had of doing anything remotely resembling success. The lead up to that first kick-off was a wonderful, nervous frenzy when the clock would tick at a snail’s pace until the ball was first played from the centre circle.
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Then rather perversely, reality never took long to kick in.
A good season can see that 2.59pm optimism last beyond the opening weekend. Occasionally, it has already evaporated before half-time. But you always get to enjoy it for a bit.
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So if you’re an early Saturday bird reading this, I hope your morning doesn’t drag too much before you leave for Carrow Road – or at the very least log into our live text coverage of City’s opener with Everton at pinkun.com (sorry for the lack of subtlety).
Listening to Jonny Howson and Chris Hughton speak at their pre-match press conference yesterday at Colney, players and managers share the excitement that kick-off brings – you can get a sense of that from the City boss in Paddy’s piece on page two of this very supplement.
That excitement is the norm. But for Norwich City this summer has been far from the usual.
Fortune offered the perfect example of past times this week when I got to chat with former City boss Peter Grant. A man who had to cope with the continuing fallout of Premier League relegation, and who felt forced to make a choice between blooding youngsters and recruiting free transfers or loans.
The Scot was a joy to talk to, but the task he had at Carrow Road during his time in charge was definitely unenviable.
Yet by far the biggest surprise came when I had to work out how long ago those days were.
The answer? Seven years; under six if you run from the end of Grant’s reign. That’s no time at all and a little too close for comfort.
It also marks the much-talked of progress the Canaries have made.
From five-figure signings – and that was a good day – City have quickly managed to produce a wonderfully successful rise that means the reported £6m cost of Gary Hooper was seen as decent value and under what a lot of fans feared Hughton would need to pay.
It’s not just City in this boat of course, given the new multi-billion pound TV deal taking hold of the English top flight. Newly promoted Crystal Palace have spent £6m on a new striker; likewise, Cardiff have already reportedly shelled out £8m on two occasions this summer.
So it is a sign of the times – but that doesn’t mean it won’t take time to absorb for those travelling to Carrow Road and beyond.
The collective gulp when Hooper was stretchered off against Panathinaikos seven days ago was louder than usual for six million reasons – and not just in the Carrow Road directors’ box.
But it’s OK. This is pre-season – one that feels like it has a bit of momentum.
Yes, the games may be pointless beyond the minutes they put into the players’ legs. After all, get sent off in a friendly and it gets forgotten in time for the real stuff.
Score a goal and no one adds it to the competitive totals.
Still, the way City finished last term and the signings they’ve made since, plus that home crowd…
See – the optimism is in full flow again, with a hope it doesn’t need to be curtailed at the first opportunity.