Cory Varney: Fond farewells but don’t look back in anger - The definitive Norwich City story
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It was the calculated gamble that led all the way to the Premier League. Norwich fan and writer Cory Varney recalls a sad goodbye or two for a couple of magicians, and the green shoots of a recovery under Daniel Farke.
Just weeks ago, Norwich City trudged off the Carrow Road pitch to boos. This time, it’s different.
January 2018. They have just held Premier League champions, Chelsea to a 0-0 draw in the FA Cup third round, setting up a replay at Stamford Bridge. It follows seven points in their last three games.
“The guys had a plan and were able to fulfil it on the pitch,” says Daniel Farke. “We were so close to a big sensation. Everything worked but a bit sad not to have this lucky punch for a determining goal.”
The mood is good. It’s the best it’s been for a while.
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Then, Alex Pritchard leaves for Huddersfield Town.
A frosty club statement makes a point that Pritchard missed the first four months of the season after an ankle injury in the summer and how he only made his first appearance at the end of November.
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At no point does it wish him well.
Stuart Webber will later reveal Pritchard wanted to leave just two games into his comeback from injury though in the here and now, Farke cuts a frustrated figure.
“The club is not here to make me happy,” he says. “It is the other way around. I am here to make the club happy and bring the club success. It is up to me to find some solutions to be successful.”
Farke does find solutions at the weekend. Norwich beat Bristol City 1-0 courtesy of a James Maddison goal and some Angus Gunn heroics.
The gap to the play-offs gets cut to seven.
“The manager at Norwich has come in with a different philosophy,” says Cameron Jerome, who has just become the latest to leave Carrow Road. Jerome has joined Derby, following loan moves for Russell Martin to Rangers, and Yanic Wildschut to Cardiff.
“It’s in every day, with no days off, and British-based players aren’t used to that sort of thing,” Jerome continues. He admits it’s been a “hit and miss” season and covering 10-15 kilometres a day in training is far from ideal for a 31-year-old. Farke, however, is a “great, great bloke” with a fantastic philosophy, he says.
“Hopefully, the long-term project works down there at Norwich because it’s a fantastic club and the gaffer is a fantastic guy.
With some of the old guard bidding farewell, newer faces have been getting the chance to break their way through.
Jamal, Toddy and the new wave
Jamal Lewis is one. The left-back was thrown in at the deep end for his first start of the season away at Birmingham. And he wants to repay Daniel Farke’s trust.
“From the first session, he told me I am part of the first-team squad. I listened to him and he has given me new ways to play left-back, to play a little higher, to make different runs to get in a high position.”
Lewis certainly gets high the following day, ghosting in to head home a last-minute equaliser as Norwich take Chelsea to extra-time in their FA Cup replay.
But as it was at the Emirates back in October, Canary hearts are broken again.
Penalties, this time.
“We should all be proud of them,” says Farke on his lads, several of them with tears in their eyes in the dressing room because of the emotion they played with. “They were so sad because we were so close to a win. For me, it is more like I am really proud because of this attitude and togetherness.”
Another cup hangover follows. Norwich lose 2-1 to Sheffield United.
Steven Naismith becomes the latest experienced head to leave. Kenny McLean kicks off the incomings, arriving from Aberdeen. Although, McLean will remain up in Scotland until next season.
In the here and now, Dennis Srbeny, a striker from SC Paderborn, Onel Hernandez, a speedy winger from Eintracht Braunschweig, and Moritz Leitner, a midfielder on loan from Augsburg all arrive at Carrow Road.
City youngster, Todd Cantwell, leaves on loan for Fortuna Sittard on loan.
It’s all part of the plan.
Farke runs through how he believes young players should be playing the senior game in hard leagues at high levels. The move abroad will also be good for Cantwell’s personality. Farke notes that Cantwell plays a “pretty important” role in his summer plans.
Norwich make it five wins in seven, ending Brentford’s 13-game unbeaten home run thanks to James Maddison, again, before beating Middlesbrough at Carrow Road.
Despite the good form, Farke has little interest in discussing a play-off charge.
“It is important right now we continue to plan for next season,” he says, talking realism. “We are building a new squad with young lads who are greedy to play for Norwich.”
Yet, Norwich impress again, drawing 1-1 at promotion chasing Derby.
“If City had found this sort of rhythm a little earlier in the season, they would be in with a real chance of cracking the top six,” says BBC Radio Norfolk’s, Chris Goreham.
If it is not this season, however, reaching the Premier League in the longer-term is not mission impossible, assures S Webber.
“Enough clubs have done it with financial constraints,” he tells the Pink’Un. “The hard part is the short-term, while we go through selling Pritchard, Dorrans, Howson, Murphy. They were not just the best players in our team but in the league.”
Their replacements won’t be the finished product.
“The balancing act we have is seeing potential and then having a coach who can develop them to the right level. We have no other choice. That is what takes a little bit of time but 100%, we can achieve it.”
Super Timmy Klose
It’s derby day.
A fan march to Carrow Road seeks to spark a raucous atmosphere, however it’s just one corner of Carrow Road singing as the clock ticks towards 90. The Ipswich fans. At last, they look destined to get one over their rivals.
Luke Chambers headed home in the 89th minute.
Now they’re counting down the seconds to taste their first derby success since 2009.
But Timm Klose denies them, rising like a salmon to delight Carrow Road and break blue hearts.
“They had a lot of possession, a lot of tippy tappy stuff but they’re not the team they were three years ago when we played them. They are nowhere near that level, hence the league position,” says Luke Chambers at full-time.
A ‘greedy and rebellious’ Norwich head to a Wolves side destined for Premier League football.
A famous old name in the game enjoying their own revival under the reserved but hugely effective Nuno Espirito Santo and a core of supremely talented players from his Portuguese homeland. Too good for the Championship.
But Norwich come back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2, as Nelson Oliveira ends a goal drought to score in the final seconds.
Although John Ruddy may not wish to review the manner Oliveira’s speculative long range effort squirms through his grasp.
It’s Bolton next. Opportunity knocks. Victory could really haul the play-offs back into view.
They draw 0-0. Their third stalemate at Carrow Road this season. City carve out a substantial amount of chances before the break but lack the ruthless killer instinct required to turn themselves into top six candidates. Yet.
When Norwich’s trip to Barnsley gets postponed due to the weather, Farke takes the opportunity to reflect on his team’s progress so far.
“It is always a process,” he explains. “There will never be a moment when I say, ‘this is exactly what I want’ because four days later is another game when we have to go and prove it again.”
They are getting closer, though. Now is ‘not so far from how I want to play football’ compared to the start of the season.
“In the first-half against Bolton it looked like a team from one level and a different level. We have improved in nearly all the topics. Scoring is the last topic. If we are able to score more goals, then we are really pretty close.”
Norwich draw 0-0 to Nottingham Forest in their next game.
Another Carrow Road stalemate.
My word is my bond
It is now March 8 2018 and Norwich City launch their Canaries’ bond.
The aim is to raise funds to upgrade the training ground, introduce a new permanent structure, gym facilities and pitch improvements, and replace temporary buildings. It comes with the promise that investors will be paid a 25pc bonus if the club is promoted during the bond’s lifetime.
It is set to last five years.
It has to be done. Norwich are ‘quite a way behind in terms of being an elite academy,’ says Webber.
Managing director Steve Stone, meanwhile, suggests supporters – who can pledge a minimum of £500 – would be investing in their ‘confidence in us to be able to run the club and to be able to develop the academy, bring the players through, giving us the best chance of getting into the Premier League and being able to repay that debt in five years’ time.’
The bond won’t even reach public launch.
It hits its £5m threshold, soaring past its £3.5m target.
“The speed of it has surprised me the most,” says Webber. “I was speaking to Daniel about it and he agreed it was unbelievable – the feeling for this club from the supporters and the community. It is overwhelming.”
While the improvements are needed, Webber admits it means little unless the first-team feel the benefit.
That’s where Farke comes in.
Why was he appointed? Norwich wanted someone open-minded to foreign players, someone with a clear style of play – “we are not there yet but people can see it and are starting to get the idea” – and they wanted someone who would give young players a chance.
“No-one can argue that,” states Webber. “not only our academy players, but guys like Christoph Zimmermann and Tom Trybull who most people had never heard of before they came here.”
Webber points out Farke threw Lewis in at Birmingham. That shows his quality and how he’s bought into the club’s ethos. He expects more youngsters will follow, noting there are others who will not be a million miles away in the next 12-18 months.
On the pitch Norwich’s promising start to 2018 fizzles out.
A Maddison hat-trick is not enough to beat Hull – they lose 4-3 – while a draw at Barnsley is followed by defeats to Fulham and QPR.
Season tickets become available for the first time in years.
Norwich topple promotion chasing Aston Villa 3-1 in one of their best performances of the season, before drawing 1-1 to a Sunderland side in the midst of consecutive relegations. A salutary lesson perhaps of what can happen when a big club is mis-managed at all levels of the business.
Norwich have failed to beat any of the bottom four in the division.
“We need players who are able to be there with determining goals in games when we don’t create so many chances,” says Farke. “When we think about the transfer window, we will try to add some players who can score in difficult situations.”
They won’t have £15m to spend.
They will have to be creative.
Farke does welcome another late equaliser, though. Ivo Pinto pops up in the 89th minute to deny the League One-bound Black Cats.
“That shows our fitness. In the last 15 minutes of games, no-one has scored more goals than us.”
Next game, however, it’s Cardiff City celebrating late goals.
They win 2-0 at Carrow Road.
“Definitely, we’d like to feel that in 12 months,” admits Lewis, watching Cardiff players, staff and fans get excited of a looming return to the Premier League.
Norwich are snug in mid-table.
“I think we’ve given the fans tasters of what we can do,” the young left-back continues. “Some games we’ve played well and not won. Some days we haven’t played well and won. So, it feels like it’s about putting those performances together and being clinical in both boxes.”
That, says Lewis, will be key to next season.
And he wants to be a part of it.
The Irish Messi
One man that won’t be, however, is club legend, Wes Hoolahan.
Webber admits it was an incredibly difficult decision to let Wes go, though promises he will get a testimonial.
“Wes is a player we should all celebrate,” he says. “If you like football, then you like Wes Hoolahan.”
Farke is full of praise. He wishes he could have worked with Wes when he was 26.
The man himself writes a long open letter, talking through the highlights of his time in yellow and green and what promises to be an emotional occasion against Leeds. Norwich’s final home game of the season.
His big farewell.
“Time flies, but I’ve enjoyed every moment of it. See you on Saturday,” Wes signs off.
Of course, he scores.
Of course, Norwich win.
“It took an eternity to go in,” Wes reflects on his goal afterwards, having been showered with tributes from fans, ex-managers and team mates in the days leading up to the game. “I thought it was staying out. I think 27,000 fans were cheering it on. They sucked it right in, and it was great to see it go in.”
That was for the equaliser, after Kalvin Phillips had given Leeds a first-half lead.
Hoolahan assists Josh Murphy for Norwich’s winner.
A perfect send-off.
Misery for Madders
Maddison wins player of the season before the game.
But the stage is Hoolahan’s. “Some of the things he has said to me, he won’t remember, but I’ll never forget. He’s just a brilliant guy, I’ve run out of words.”
Wes is substituted, allowing him to take the applause of a stadium he has lit up many times over the best part of a decade.
“I had a little tear in my eye and then the fans cheered me on, and it was an amazing feeling,” he admits. “I had to go back inside to calm myself down and relax, come back out and then cheer the boys on. That send off at the end will stick with me.”
It’s going to be a wrench to walk away. He’s met a lot of good friends. He knows a lot of people. His kids were born here.
“And you know what, after football I’ll probably end up coming back here.”
While Wes Hoolahan’s Canary career ends in style, Norwich City’s season doesn’t.
They lose 5-1 at Sheffield Wednesday for the second season in a row. A pitiful end with, an injury sting in the tail.
Maddison hobbles off early and is on crutches at the end of the game. City finish below Ipswich Town for the first time since 2009.
No more parachute payments.
No certainty whatsoever of what happens next.
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’