Whatever happened to Norwich City?
The question is simple and to the point - and it comes from a supporter of one of the country's biggest clubs. Posting on the message board of www.pinkun.com a Liverpool fan outlines his respect and regard for Norwich City and simply wonders why they have reached the predicament they are in now - on the verge of relegation to the third tier of football for the first time in 50 years.
The question is simple and to the point - and it comes from a supporter of one of the country's biggest clubs.
Posting on the message board of www.pinkun.com a Liverpool fan outlines his respect and regard for Norwich City and simply wonders why they have reached the predicament they are in now - on the verge of relegation to the third tier of football for the first time in 50 years.
The poster - going by the name of concerned-scouse - writes: “Whatever happened to Norwich City? I have felt the need to join your forum to find some answers to the possible demise of a proud family club.
“Norwich City: One of the last teams to play proper passing football.
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“Norwich City: The last team to play in front of the Spion Kop, and a good game of passing football with genuine respect between fans of the beautiful game.
“Norwich City: On the ball City, never mind the danger. The oldest song in football.
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“Norwich City: Despite losing out on Europe because of the actions of a few Liverpool louts, I saw three of your scarves on the Shankly gates, a different class of fan.
“Norwich City: Respected on my part of Merseyside for passing the ball, the way Shankly would enjoy. We loved the 2-0 against Fergie's Mancs as well.
“Norwich City: For me and my mates, can you tell us what happened to the beautiful game at Carrow Road?
“Norwich City: You have some fans in Liverpool that will be praying that results go for you this weekend. You simply do not deserve to go down with your proud history of passing football.
“Norwich City: Good Luck this weekend.”
One Canaries supporter, Shaun Lawson, has received a number of plaudits for his response:
“So, what went wrong? Here's a potted modern history of Norwich City Football Club.
1. Failure to quickly remove John Deehan as manager when it was clear he was floundering. That win in front of the Spion Kop occurred under him - yet having inherited the greatest side in our history, he won just two games out of 19 over the rest of 1993/4. Victory at Anfield was like a tribute to the European heroes of six months earlier - but it already felt like a distant dream. The club went into decline the moment Mike Walker departed for Everton, and Ruel Fox and Chris Sutton left soon afterwards.
2. Failure to back him properly, especially in terms of strikers - and Deehan's failure to adequately replace Bryan Gunn when, on one of the most pivotal days in our entire history, he broke his leg in a 1-0 defeat at Nottingham Forest in late December 1994. Open, passing sides need a great goalkeeper. We'd already been winging it for much of that season; in his absence, we suddenly had no protection. Cue one of the worst second half of the season collapses in Premier League history, and relegation right at the moment when big money was starting to come into the game - but wiser fans had seen it coming.
3. Failure to come straight back up. Chairman Robert Chase appointed Martin O'Neill on the proviso he would be given ample funds that weren't there. When O'Neill realised this, it was only a matter of time before he left; when he did, the atmosphere around the club quickly turned poisonous, and the team started to slide. As soon as it became clear we weren't going to achieve promotion, the banks called in their debts - and suddenly we faced a battle for the club's entire survival. Thanks to the late, great Geoffrey Watling, who to my mind did more for NCFC than anyone else in our history, Chase was forced out - but having started 1995/6 confidently expected by pundits up and down the land to swiftly return to the top flight, we ended it severely diminished, and effectively back at square one.
4. Our financial position meant many years would have to be spent fighting our debt, meaning little or nothing was made available either to the returning Mike Walker or his successor, Bruce Rioch. Appallingly, and to their eternal shame, Delia Smith's new board sacked Walker - who against his better judgement, had effectively ridden to our rescue in Summer 1996 - prematurely; then treated Rioch quite disgracefully, hanging him out to dry, describing him as a "square peg in a round hole", and appointing Bryan Hamilton, despite a managerial CV which made Alan Ball look like Bill Shankly, with catastrophic effect - and by Xmas 2000, Norwich were staring at the abyss of the old Third Division.
5. Now, more by luck than judgement, the board finally got something right. Hamilton was replaced with his assistant Nigel Worthington, and relegation avoided. With the board under mounting pressure because of their poor record and Ipswich's success around that time, Worthington was able to face them down and demand real funds, which he spent wisely. ITV Digital's deal with the Football League had enabled us to push the boat out a bit; but when it collapsed, it effectively forced us into gambling on promotion. Spending money we hadn't yet received meant we could only recoup it through a return to the Premier League, and failure could've left us in an even worse position than we are now. Darren Huckerby's permanent signing later, as well as those of Leon McKenzie, Matthias Svensson, and the loan signings of Peter Crouch and Kevin Harper, helped us sail to the title in 2004.
6. But here, the mistakes started again, and have never stopped since. Worthington's decision to release talismanic captain Malky Mackay left the side short of leadership and spirit in the top flight; the board's failure to sign Dean Ashton in Summer 2004 rather than January 2005 left us short of goals. Even then, the appalling lack of quality within the bottom four that season left us with every chance of survival - but Worthington had never figured out how to win on the road (if you look at his record with Northern Ireland, he still hasn't!), and leads in crunch games were thrown away like confetti. Norwich were relegated thanks to a humiliating 6-0 clobbering at Fulham: a defeat which has cast a pall over the club ever since, and we've never recovered from.
7. Back in the Championship, we were again expected to challenge - but something within the team was wrong. Very wrong, in fact. The manager's new signings flopped badly, and we spent much of the first half of the campaign in or near the relegation zone. Nigel was clearly past his sell by date, as happens to all except the most exceptional managers eventually; but rather than quietly take him to one side in late Autumn 2005, thank him for the memories and send him on his way, the club staggeringly failed to act. Worthington was allowed to flounder on amid a divisive atmosphere, our crucial parachute payments over halfway to being exhausted.
8. When he finally left in October 2006, time had already almost run out. Into our second and final season of parachute payments, the club needed to appoint a proven manager with a decent track record: some sort of equivalent of Tony Mowbray, if you like. Instead, we plumped for completely unproven Peter Grant. Grant certainly loved the club, and did his very best - but his utterly non-existent man-management skills, appalling signings and tendency to be a one man slag it off if it moves brigade led morale in the dressing room to collapse, and Norwich to slump to bottom of the table - now minus parachute payments - just after his departure in October 2007.
9. Our fast deteriorating financial position meant the idea of any return to the Premier League was now risible. Making matters still worse was the club's decision to build the new Jarrold Stand in 2003, and securitise it against future season ticket sales. This increased capacity - but also meant a large proportion of the extra revenue brought in must now necessarily go towards interest on and paying off the loan taken at the time. Other investments in property around the stadium by the board proved wildly optimistic too.
10. Caught between a rock and a hard place, instead of appointing the equivalent of, say, Neil Warnock, who knows his way around this league and even this year, has kept Crystal Palace in a comfortable position while Norwich and Southampton, relegated with Palace in 2005, have plunged towards League 1, the board yet again got it wrong by appointing Glenn Roeder. To be fair to him, Roeder inspired a revival at first; but the signs were bad even by the end of last season, with his and the club's disgraceful treatment of Darren Huckerby a sign of how out of touch and arrogant he and they were becoming. This season, it became far worse: Roeder's obsession with loan signings destroying any cohesion or continuity within the team; his contemptuous dismissal of paying supporters who dared question his judgement - and were horribly aware of his dire CV in management - threatening to destroy the one positive remaining at the club: the bond between it and its public.
11. The board had already openly acknowledged it had run out of ideas, and made a complete mess of the approach of wealthy businessman Peter Cullum last summer, as well as losing an anticipated �2m of investment through the abrupt departure of Andrew and Sharon Turner. Just how hard they sought new investment is open to question: many believe Delia's insistence on only a bona fide Norwich fan being suitable effectively made it close to impossible, and her board's apparent over-pricing of the club did the rest. With City again in serious relegation trouble, surely this time they'd look for a proven manager? Someone like Aidy Boothroyd, with prior connections to and genuine affection for Norwich, say? But no. Instead, in an utterly reckless gamble, they gave the job to club legend Bryan Gunn - with no prior managerial experience whatever - on the strength of one single game as caretaker.
12. What has followed since has hardly been Gunny's fault: we all love him, and he stepped up to the plate in extremis. But he should never have been put in such a position in the first place: our predicament demanded wisdom on the part of the board, and they failed utterly. It's not working for Alan Shearer at Newcastle; it hasn't worked for Bryan Gunn at Norwich.
Relegation - barring a wholly undeserved get out of jail free card being brandished on Sunday - hasn't come out of the blue. In truth, there's been a smell of death about Norwich City FC for at least four years now. You may have noticed the lack of "whatever happened to Norwich City?" articles in the press, in contrast to pieces looking at Charlton, Southampton, or before them, Nottingham Forest, Sheffield Wednesday or Leeds. There aren't any because the club sells itself so chronically short. Despite almost 25000 fans continuing to turn up to watch utter dross for four straight seasons, despite being the only club in an entire county, despite the entrepreneurs who've moved to Norwich in order to travel into London over the past decade (I appreciate the credit crunch has put the kybosh on this now, but it hardly did so during ten years or so in which the rich got richer and football clubs grew out of all recognition), the club styles itself as "little Norwich", unable to compete, and unwilling to either behave ruthlessly or what it myopically perceives as sell its soul in order to succeed.
For Delia Smith's board, community comes first every time; winning a poor second. Preposterously, this led them to term our relegation season of 2004/5 a "success"; it's also led them to place an impossibly high bar on securing new investment and, indeed, to think it'd be alright on the night if we appointed a "Norwich man" as manager. Abundantly clear throughout has been the chronic lack of real footballing expertise within the board, and more latterly, a complete lack of vision or any plan for the future. Smith's strategy failed when we came down in 2005 and failed to go back up by 2007: she may even have been disillusioned by what modern football seems to have become. But rather than throw the kitchen sink at courting a new buyer, she spurned Cullum's advances as the board muddled on to nowhere fast.
Some observers admire this club for its refusal to bend to the realities of modern football, and maintenance of high principles. But while it's all very well having a Unique Selling Point, it's another thing entirely when that refusal to change just results in ever more precipitous decline. Within the last week, Ipswich Town demonstrated their very obvious ambition by appointing Roy Keane as manager, and promising him substantial money to spend on players. Ipswich were taken over last season by someone who is considered good enough as a donor by the Liberal Democrats, but wouldn't have passed Delia's fit and proper person test in a million years. Their future is risky, hard to predict in the longer term, but bright; ours - the fabled community club - is all set to be at our lowest level in almost 50 years. The contrast could not be more stark: and if one group of people are to blame above all else for the decline of this football club, it's Delia Smith and her board. And - perhaps worst of all - I don't think they've learned a thing throughout the entire journey.”