Fans earn credit for taking it on chin

There is a point at which the Football League season almost seems to run away from you and the finishing line in the annual marathon is in sight.

There is a point at which the Football League season almost seems to run away from you and the finishing line in the annual marathon is in sight.

And when you realise in the final stages of the race that you're not going to be on the podium taking gold, silver or bronze, you could be forgiven for having a certain desire to get the whole thing over and done with.

We have reached that point again with just three Coca-Cola Championship home games left for Norwich City in 2006-07, now that today's visit of Stoke City is out of the way.

Yet there will be a very real sense of regret that, for the second season in a row, the Canaries have reached mid-March effectively with nothing to play for.

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Impressive performances against Luton, Barnsley, Derby and Birmingham in recent weeks - one could not really include Cardiff - have hinted at what might have been if only City had displayed this kind of form sooner.

Of course, manager Peter Grant has found it virtually impossible to field a settled team and the loss of 17-goal striker Robert Earnshaw in mid-January was a huge blow to the Canaries' chances of having a say in the promotion race. Neither has the goalkeeping saga helped matters.

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But in truth, much of the damage was done before Earnshaw's groin injury, which he suffered in training two days before the disastrous home match against Plymouth on January 13.

Grant's arrival as boss in mid-October triggered a run of five wins and two draws in nine league games and City reached the end of November in the top half of the table, just four points adrift of the top six. But between December 2 and New Year's Day, they won just once in seven league games. The next two Championship games after Earnshaw's injury were both home defeats, but City were well off the pace by then.

By the end of January, despite clinging to the notion of making a belated bid for a play-off place, the game was up as far as a promotion challenge was concerned. Another year older, another season up in smoke.

So it is to City supporters' credit that they have taken this disappointment on the chin and once again given the club a major boost in terms of season ticket renewals, which, remarkably, are showing a one per cent increase on the same period last year. It seems the stoicism of the Carrow Road regulars knows no bounds.

The Canaries must know, however, that they cannot afford a third successive season of mid-table mediocrity.

City will go into next season at a huge financial disadvantage to some of their rivals, but they didn't have the benefit of a £7m Premiership parachute payment when they won promotion three years ago, so it can be done.

The Championship table in mid-March 2008 will need to look very different if the patience of City's loyal paying customers is not to be exhausted.



Sportswriter Ian Wooldridge, who died earlier this month at the age of 75, won an endless stream of awards in 46 years with the Daily Mail.

Obituaries recalled that he covered no fewer than 10 Olympic Games and was one of only two sports journalists inducted into the Newspaper Hall of Fame.

But he had an even more important assignment - he followed Norwich City's FA Cup run of 1959 for the News Chronicle, the paper for which he worked from 1956 to 1960 and which was later swallowed up by the Mail.

It is 48 years ago tomorrow that the Canaries' heroic bid to reach Wembley ended with a 1-0 semi-final replay defeat by Luton at St Andrew's.

After that, the Norfolk News Company - publishers of the EDP, Evening News and Pink 'Un - produced a souvenir booklet called “Canary Crusade” as a tribute to the Canaries' giant-killing exploits.

Wooldridge was a guest contributor, and he described his visit to Carrow Road to see City manager Archie Macaulay on the day before their FA Cup third round tie against Matt Busby's Manchester United.

He had already prepared his match preview and was predicting a 5-0 win for United, but two hours with Macaulay convinced him he was about to witness a footballing miracle.

Wooldridge recalled: “It wasn't really an interview.

For two hours Macaulay just talked . . . and talked . . . and talked.

And again and again, in a low tone of absolute assurance, he repeated the words: 'You know, we can BEAT Manchester United.

“I know their weak points.

“I know my boys are good enough to exploit them.”

He dashed back to his hotel room, tore up his original story and instead wrote: “Norwich City can cause the soccer sensation of the season tomorrow by beating Manchester United . . .”

Indeed they did, winning 3-0, the start of the most amazing nine and-a-half weeks in City's history.

“It was their job to make the news.

“And it was our job to write it. We had to live with the team, travel back and forth across Britain with them, tell the world everything about them,” said Wooldridge.

Who needs a trip to the Olympic Games?

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