Norwich City’s Wembley dream will have to wait another year
On Sunday 29th January after our win the previous day at West Brom in the FA Cup fourth round I settled down in the afternoon like many fans to watch the fifth round draw live on television. Trepidation and excitement abound for fans across the country especially from my generation when the FA Cup was very special, who would we come out of the hat (bowl?!) with?
After spending the bulk of my life growing up and living in Leicestershire and being told by school friends and work colleagues alike that Leicester City are a far bigger club (confirmed by Richie Wellens, Leicester’s captain for the day on the morning of the match in The Express) and “who are little old Norwich?” being brandished around on more than one occasion, you can imagine my feelings when we drew Leicester City, bring it on!
The dream of Wembley just two matches away with the semi-finals in the modern day era being played at the national stadium, the opportunity to catch up with old friends who would make the journey for the match and the beating of MY old enemy, as Lou Reed sang “Oh what a perfect day!”
For this article I really wanted to see what a similar size club’s fans (yes Leicester fans similar size, and that’s being kind to you!) perspective of the game, Leicester’s struggle to become a Premier League club once again after significant investment and the rise of Norwich City over the last few seasons. So here are those thoughts.
“Less than three years after your relegation to League One during which time Leicester have invested heavily in their playing side, we were going to be the underdogs for this cup-tie. Despite my delight at the prospect of a weekend with Gary in Norwich I never realistically expected our cup exploits to continue. A season which promised a lot for Leicester as delivered very little, although the re-appointment of Nigel Pearson backed with the ambition of our owners will deliver in the long term. Norwich were written off pre-season as relegation fodder but went into this game with 35 points on the table and safety all but guaranteed and the only issue at stake is how high you could potentially finish, particularly as every position is worth so much prize money.“
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“My friend Alan back in Leicester predicted a 2-1 win but he is forever the optimist but when Gary and I met up at The Nelson I sensed an air of despondency amongst the faithful. Two of the party predicted a 2-1 win to Leicester too. Was this a wish not to jinx the game through apparent complacency or over confidence? As I delved a little deeper though the concern was plain to understand. According to a contact Grant Holt would not be playing and your third choice keeper would be between the sticks. I was cursing the fact that our former loanee Kyle Naughton had been given clearance to play but where was he? This I feel sent a very clear message to the Leicester players and supporters that this game may not be quite as big as a priority as it was to Leicester who desperately needing something to cheer about in a disappointing season. As Norwich’s season has not been disappointing maybe there lie the answer but I will come back to the wonderful period we enjoyed under Martin O’Neill when we often had league cup semi finals and FA Cup fifth rounds to prepare for in February when we had nowhere near the points Norwich have deservedly accumulated during the season to date. Martin always wanted to win everything and every game and if our teams looked weaker on paper it was because he was down to his ‘last lolly’ as he referred to his stretched resources.”
“I know Paul Lambert is a great admirer of Martin and here is a great lesson he can learn from the master. I had a great evening on Saturday talking to Norwich fans who had plenty of praise for Leicester seizing the initiative, but no-one felt the FA Cup should have been taken lightly either in leaving out players who could have made life more difficult for Leicester or for the apparent dropping down a gear by some who were picked. Despite Gary being the same age as me he has not had any opportunities to visit the old or new Wembley with his team, whereas I can boast six visits (four play off finals and two league cup finals). As clubs of similar size this imbalance seems unfair. My wish for my good friend Gary and all the people I met who looked after me and were very sporting on Saturday evening, is that the next time you are getting that close to the possibility of a visit to Wembley you will embrace it with the belief that your players are good enough to tackle success on more than one front. After all the FA Cup is a great opportunity for clubs like ours and the taking lightly of it can be left to those who value the Champions League. Look at how seriously Stoke took the competition and have gone on to enjoy further benefits through their European experiences this season.“
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“I hope Norwich finish as high as possible in the Premier League as they and Swansea are proof that hard work and good organisation can still compete with the richest clubs and provide some sort of level playing field.”
Oh well so my dream of seeing the Yellow and Green running out at Wembley in the FA’s showpiece final will have to wait at least one more year!.