Michael Bailey: Norwich City's rise goes beyond the table and a new role for defunct radio personalities
In his weekly column, Norwich City correspondent Michael Bailey looks beyond the Canaries' Championship table improvement and finds a role for defunct radio personalities
It was the 39th minute that Yanic Wildschut fired Norwich City into the lead at Ashton Gate back in March 2017. We will never know where the club would be now had the Canaries held on to that lead over Bristol City – yet something tells me, it wouldn’t be the healthy position laid out before us.
And I’m not just talking about the Championship table.
While Robins boss Lee Johnson was getting it in the neck from his own supporters until their equaliser 12 minutes from time, it was Alex Neil who got the bullet three days later – kicking off a period of considerable and cultural change at Norwich; one now reaping so many rewards.
That was officially the March moment City decided to rip down the house and start again. You could argue they went a year earlier than absolutely necessary in addressing their sporting structure and correcting their financial plight – but had they waited another 12 months and for the parachute income to stop, the pain may have been catastrophic.
Coaches, playing staff, style on the pitch, culture off it – so much about City now is different to then.
There are the obvious things. Things like branding and advertising of the club’s redefined values to those who make it work.
No doubt some with a cynical mind wouldn’t give all that stuff the time of day. If any of those people did exist inside the club, I imagine they now have little if anything to do with ensuring those values are played out on a daily basis.
Things like the ability to look at Colney’s tired set-up and actually create a situation, plans and funding from nothing – to give the place the love and investment four seasons of Premier League money couldn’t achieve.
But there are subtle things too. Things like inviting club legends to present City’s debut makers this season with their first competitive shirt.
Again, some may see all that as PR irrelevance or unimportant. Yet placing such worth on those starting their Norwich journey by marking it with the help of others so dearly loved by the supporters so many years on, is a chemistry-creator.
Things like City hero Jeremy Goss finally returning to where he played and later worked so hard for; being visibly moved by the work that has gone on at his club – and a glint in his the eye that suggests he won’t stay away for so long next time.
I spent 10 years as a season ticket holder willing Norwich City to shoot towards the Barclay every second half. It just made sense when that end was the one vocally willing the ball in the net.
In all honesty, I love that simple switch this season – to both eliminate the away supporters getting time and space to connect with their side in Norfolk, and the aim to make the Barclay and Snakepit a genuine driving force.
Sure, it might have had no real affect on anything this season – after all, Mario Vrancic’s late penalty in the 1-0 win over Wigan came in front of the River End.
By the same token, can you write it off entirely after such stirring and relentlessly positive finishes against Bolton and Millwall – even the second half against Aston Villa?
What you see on the pitch right now is a clear plan of attack, and in Daniel Farke a coach with a clear idea of what he’s doing and how to get his players to do it.
But away from that has come some of the most focused, strategic and long-term leadership I’ve seen Norwich City hold.
The things being put into place make you believe this little rise – that could yet become a miraculous journey – is about something more sustainable and substantial than any other Championship club of City’s size could achieve without the open chequebook of their owners.
And from all I’ve seen, there is one man driving that focus and leadership: Stuart Webber.
There’s no hiding City’s first sporting director has plans beyond his current role and club. His own honesty in admitting that at this year’s annual general meeting said plenty about the transparency he and the club’s directors want to permeate through from here on in.
As when talented coaches and footballers that mastermind something special on the pitch foster recognition for it, the same should apply to those mastering it from slightly further afield.
If you liken being a head coach to steering a nimble speedboat and all the swift changes in feeling and direction that come with it, then a sporting director has a tanker to turn: it takes ages to change direction – but once you get your course right, it can be impossible to halt the momentum.
It really has been some journey since that 2017 midweek visit to Ashton Gate. Norwich’s current rich vein of form and favour almost certainly won’t continue. Football simply doesn’t work like that – and when the setbacks come, it will solely be about how City deal with them.
Yet away from that matchday cycle, spare a moment for Webber and his numerous colleagues – the ones ensuring City’s change in direction and culture across a far wider area, takes hold and makes a lasting difference.
Arguably those are the changes that make you think this time, the Canaries really could build short-term success into something that leads the way far beyond Norfolk’s borders.
• My dear colleague Peter ‘Sportsdesk’ Raven – a regular voice on the PinkUn Podcast – recently visited Malmo; more pertinently ice hockey outfit Malmö Redhawks as they took on their fierce derby rivals Rögle BK.
It sounded like quite the fact-finding mission – although Pete did still officially label it a holiday.
First there was a mini ‘puck truck’ that delivered the key piece of furniture to the rink. We simply don’t see enough robot wars in football, so maybe this is something our own sport could look at introducing.
The crowd had its conductors to get and keep the atmosphere going. I’m sure there would be volunteers at Carrow Road for this – although the requirement to only look at their fellow crowd and never the action on the pitch seems a high price to pay.
But the one tale that caught my attention was of the two teams running out – the hosts to epic music, a light shows, indoor fireworks and all the razzmatazz any side could wish for.
Meanwhile, their nearest and dearest were given the sounds of a fiddle band to welcome them, with a few laughs to follow.
It’s hard not to think that in a world of marginal gains and pink visiting dressing rooms, City could look to more of the same epic energy for Norwich City’s Carrow Road entrances – while maybe employing radio ‘personality’ The Moose to play a kazoo to welcome City’s opponents on to the hallowed turf.
In fact, I’d go as far as to say that would be a very good scenario for English football.
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