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What a champion effort

PUBLISHED: 12:33 06 May 2010 | UPDATED: 10:16 02 July 2010

David Powles

This time last year relegation forced many of us to contemplate how, why and where it had gone so horribly wrong. How had our once fine club sunk to its lowest level for five decades with a rag-tag team of other club's rejects and our own woefully out-of-form and low-on-confidence players?

While the fact that nearly 20,000 people still signed up for season tickets showed that few were considering abandoning their beloved club, many were nevertheless mulling over how far their commitment would stretch should things not improve - and fast.

This time last year relegation forced many of us to contemplate how, why and where it had gone so horribly wrong. How had our once fine club sunk to its lowest level for five decades with a rag-tag team of other club's rejects and our own woefully out-of-form and low-on-confidence players?

While the fact that nearly 20,000 people still signed up for season tickets showed that few were considering abandoning their beloved club, many were nevertheless mulling over how far their commitment would stretch should things not improve - and fast.

At the time, in my final column of the season, I tried to look to the future of the club in five key areas. Twelve months and promotion on, it seems an apt time to see how much has already been put right.

t THE BOARD

What I said: “NCFC needs a shake-up, a root and branch overhaul so we can pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and start again.

“A large chunk of the blame for the demise has to lay with the board. The parting of the ways between the club, Doncaster and Munby can only be welcomed. While their departure should not be taken to mean they are solely to blame, it is a bold statement of intent to fans that things will change.

“It's quite clear, to even Delia Smith and Michael Wynn-Jones, that while their input into the club has been generous, its time the pair were able to take a back seat ... not only is fresh investment needed, but ideas too.

“But of course it's not as easy as that.”

Where are we now?

We all wanted change and change is what we got and our joint majority shareholders Delia and Michael deserve credit for acting so swiftly.

New chief executive David McNally and the new board members may not have brought with them great investment, but they have given the club some fresh impetus and ideas.

Prior to relegation I criticised the board for having no plan. The club was lurching from one crisis (and manager) to another with no real idea of where it wanted to go or how to get there.

We are now told there is a five-year plan in place, the ultimate aim to get us back into the Premiership.

If, as seems the case, McNally was the prime mover behind the decision to bring Paul Lambert in, his judgement has already proven to be sound and he deserves our trust.

We may now effectively be in the same position as two seasons ago, but it feels like we are heading in a completely different direction - onwards and upwards. But what of the so-called Stowmarket Two? I have never doubted their passion and am eternally appreciative of their devotion to the club, both in terms of finance and effort.

They would, I'm sure, still be the first to admit that fresh investment could help us in the long-term. But with clubs all over the country falling into administration a money-bags investor seems unlikely. Unless you happen to be in the top tier of the Premier league that particular bubble seems to have well and truly burst. Delia and Michael it probably is then, which is absolutely fine, as long as the club has learned from the lessons of the past.

t THE MANAGER

What I said: “I am going to stand by my comments that I would like him (Bryan Gunn) . . . to be around next season to put things right.

“I am fed-up with the constant revolving door at Carrow Road and feel that if the club is going to make sweeping changes elsewhere, why not make this one stable area and give him a proper chance to put his stamp on the job, bring in his own players and ultimately get us out of League One?”

Where are we now?

We'll never know where we would have finished under Bryan Gunn, and to be honest there's no point wasting breath speculating about it.

We have Paul Lambert now and there surely can't be a fan out there unhappy with his appointment?

We just need to ensure we keep him. It was five seasons ago when we last ended the season with the same manager that started it. If we can put that right in 2010/11 then this club might actually be going somewhere.

t WAGES

What I said: “I am sick and tired of the wages pampered players get from the game. At Norwich, during the last financial year, wages cost us £8.5m, when the break even point was £3.5m lower. Our now departed chief executive repeatedly harped on about the need for a salary cap to be introduced in the Championship. Ironically, that's no longer where we are, but how about we become pioneers of this movement and introduce our own salary cap? You might think smaller wages means less able players. But it doesn't . . . it's not what you spend, but how you spend it.”

Where are we now?

We now know that prior to this season our ridiculous obsession with loans had a big impact on the size of the wage bill.

For a while we were living well beyond our means and we will never know how much thanks we owe to an understanding bank manager for ensuring we have not found ourselves in the same position as Portsmouth, Crystal Palace, Southampton - all of whom have gone into administration this season due to mounting debts.

As yet, there's no way of knowing how well this issue is being addressed, we simply have to put our trust in McNally and Lambert that it has been.

t PLAYERS

What I said: “We can never allow a situation to arise again when so many loan players are used in one season . . . I want to see Norwich City players in a Norwich City shirt, not other teams' cast-offs.

“Quite simply, I don't want people who have no desire to get us out of League One, playing in yellow and green.

“For too long we have looked upwards when trying to identify players, rather than to the lower leagues.

“Cody McDonald is just one example of the talent and hunger that exists in leagues below - and they're often cheaper to buy and pay.”

Where are we now?

There's no questioning the commitment of the current playing squad. One of the key components of this season's success has been desire - from Grant Holt chasing apparently lost causes up front to the bounce-back-ability of Gary Doherty in defence.

Another is team spirit. Lambert summed it up himself when he said one of the first things he needed to do when he took charge was get everyone playing as a team - not individuals.

He won't want to lose that team spirit for next season by making wholesale changes to the squad, and as he has so rightly pointed out, the players who got us up deserve the chance to keep us there.

Some strengthening will be needed though. If Fraser Forster can't come back a goalkeeper is a priority, young Declan Rudd is good but not quite ready for the Championship.

I wonder if we also need a closer rival for Adam Drury at left-back, one more quality midfielder who can not only pass and tackle, but perhaps weigh in with the odd goal or two, and also some quality like-for-like cover for Grant Holt. An effective plan B for when Wes Hoolahan is either injured, being marked out of the game or out of form, is also a priority.

t FANS

What I said:

“There's one opinion doing the rounds - Norwich City fans are culpable for the demise. That by turning up week in, week out and renewing our season tickets, we have in some way given the message to the board that we accept what has happened.

“What tosh. The Norwich fans are currently one of the few things about the club of which we can be proud.”

Where are we now?

With all the plaudits the City supporters have received this season it is hard to believe that a year ago this was a commonly held view.

It was tosh then and it's tosh now. Let's make one thing clear, if it wasn't for the fans' constant and unwavering support instant recovery would have been made so much harder.

Would chief executive David McNally have been so keen to come to the club were it not for the potential he spotted in its fanbase?

Would incoming players like Grant Holt have chosen Norwich over other suitors if we did not get so many supporters per game?

Would previously out-of-favour players like Wes Hoolahan, Darel Russell and Doherty have been so keen to rekindle their futures here if it weren't for the supporters?

And would Lambert have been prepared to jump ship to a club he had so resoundly beaten just a few days earlier if he could not spot the fact that Norwich City Football Club is all about its fans and without them it would be nothing?

t For a free souvenir review of the season and to read my views on the promotion season see next Thursday's Evening News.

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