This has happened before, but only once I think. Paddy Davitt* sees Norwich City week in, week out. He feels the emotion when they win, was thrilled by the Wembley playoff win and ‘cares a great deal about Norwich’s fortunes’. But he is not a fan. Paddy is the chief Norwich City writer for the Archant media group that includes the Eastern Daily Press. But he supports that infamous bête noire for Sunderland supporters, Coventry City. I think we had a WBA ‘Who are You? interviewee who was in a similar position (reporting on Albion, not being a supporter), though he didn’t declare his true allegiance. See what Paddy made of our questions (posed before we knew of his footballing preference) ahead of a match he predicts the Canaries will win, leaving us pointless and – he believes – doomed along with Watford and Bournemouth …
Salut! Sunderland: So you’re back, probably feeling you shouldn’t have gone down in the first place. Will this stay be more successful and can Norwich establish itself as a Premier side?
It’s certainly good to be back. Even if the opening weekend against Crystal Palace didn’t go quite to plan. Yes, I think if you speak to a lot of the players who were here in 2014 they felt they were good enough to stay up. Obviously no one in Norfolk needs reminding what an unbelievable run Sunderland went on which effectively put the final nail in the coffin. This time around, with the momentum from that Championship playoff win and under a young, hungry manager in Alex Neil there is a feeling Norwich will try to attack the Premier League in the way they did when they first came up under Paul Lambert.
They know some games they will have to take their medicine, but they feel that proactive approach over the entire piece will be good enough to stay up.
The playoff final produced a remarkable form upset but I must have been a marvellous day out for Norwich supporters
Yes, Middlesbrough had won both league meetings, although the first one at the Riverside was before Alex Neil took over. To be brutally honest, once Norwich had got past their bitter local rivals Ipswich in the semi-finals there was just this feeling Boro would not beat them at Wembley. Boro’s late season 1-0 league win at Carrow Road was due to a fast start from the visitors.
But at Wembley the tables were turned and City were 2-0 inside 17 minutes and it was effectively game over. For the 40,000 fans it was a day that will live long in the memory. That was Norwich’s first trip to the new Wembley and first since, dare I say it, beating Sunderland in the 1985 League Cup final so there was a feeling of destiny 30 years on. The chief executive made it clear they could have easily shifted 60,000 tickets.
What is the best business Norwich have done in the pre-season and where are still weaknesses?
On the evidence of pre-season, Youssouf Mulumbu arriving from West Brom on a free looks a canny piece of business. City were quite light on that defensive-minded holding midfielder and Mulumbu is still only in his late 20s, but with all that top flight experience under his belt. Sadly, he broke his foot in the final pre-season fixture and will be out for at least the first two months.
The manager is still in the market for a striker and another defender. Top end of the pitch was ultimately why they went down before. They didn’t score enough goals and will need to put that right this time around.
Delia, Bowkett and Neil: a dream team? How far can they take City?
You also need to include the chief executive, David McNally, who really is the hands on, day-to-day figurehead away from Alex Neil on the football side. City do not have the super-rich wealthy backers you see elsewhere in the Premier League. They have to look for self-sustainability and spending effectively only what they bring in in revenue. That is why it was so important to bounce back at the first attempt.
But in the last set of accounts they had no external debt on the balance sheet so from this point onwards every spare penny will go back into the playing side. In Neil, they have a manager who is being talked about in the same way Roberto Martinez was at Wigan. Everything he has done so far in his short managerial career suggests he could be destined for big things. He signed a new contract following the Wembley triumph and believes he can build something here at Norwich so the future looks very bright.
Give us this season’s likely top four in order, and the bottom three. If not mentioned, where will our clubs finish?
1 Man City, 2 Chelsea, 3 Arsenal, 4 Manchester United.
20 Watford 19 Bournemouth 18 Sunderland (sorry)
I think Norwich will be in that 15th to 17th segment.
Guess the Score in SAFC vs Norwich: City fans warmly invited to enter. It may be just for fun! Go to https://safc.blog/2015/08/safc-v-norwich-city-guess-the-score-time-to-bounce-back/
You’re probably far too young to remember the Milk Cup final. If not, what memories do you have; if yes, what have older supporters told you about it?
I mentioned earlier with it being the 30th anniversary last season there was a commemorative dinner at the football club attended by most of the players and my company produced some souvenir material as well, so just to hear the anecdotes again brought it home just what a special occasion that was for Norwich to win their first major trophy at Wembley.
Obviously everyone knows about the Friendship Trophy which sprang out of that game. I’ve also read Len Ashurst’s book, which gives you a real insight into Sunderland’s perspective on that Wembley run. I think the one overriding thing you take is how special it was back then to reach a big final for two clubs who traditionally do not savour occasions like that. (1973 aside of course!)
What do you make of Sunderland – club, fans, city, region, Advocaat, links between the two (Bruce and Michael Turner being obvious recent ones)?
Like Norwich, it is very much a one-club city so that for me means if you love football and live in either of those places you are going to support Norwich or Sunderland. The City captain Russ Martin said to me this summer you walk around Norwich and you don’t see too many, if any, children wearing Man United or Man City or Chelsea tops.
It is Norwich City and I suspect that would be the same for Sunderland. Obviously Advocaat is a hugely experienced manager who clearly had a galvanising effect last season. As you say, there are one or two links. Michael Turner always seems to get a good reception up there so clearly he did well. He has struggled to get a look in under Alex Neil, however, and I wouldn’t expect him to feature this weekend either.
Is there any player in our current squad that you wouldn’t mind seeing in Norwich colours?
Jermain Defoe in his prime! Sebastian Larsson is clearly a threat with his quality on the ball. In the past, Kevin Phillips was a goalscoring machine under Peter Reid. On the same theme I remember Danny Dichio was not exactly prolific on Wearside.
Now we know you’re not a Canaries fan at all, can you explain to “lay” readers what hoops you have to go through to cover, professionally, a team that is not your own?
None, really. For the simple reason they are both in different leagues and have been for a number of seasons. I’m still waiting for that favourable cup draw to pitch the two clubs together and then it might prove a touch difficult!
We sometimes get stick from fans of your club, Coventry, for bearing a grudge over the night in 1977 when your team, and Bristol City, having kicked off 15 minutes late (“traffic congestion”), simply played out that final quarter of an hour with the mutual aim of keeping it 2-2, Jimmy Hill having had it announced we had a lost at Everton so that a draw at Highfield would keep both clubs up at our expense. But bear it we do! Any thought/memories – even if handed down?
Sadly not of that incident as I’m a bit too young although there was an even more marked incident in 1984/5 when they had to win their last three league games to send down Norwich, who of course had a few months earlier beaten Sunderland in that League Cup final.
The last game was, for back then, bizarrely played on a Sunday morning at Highfield Road against an Everton side who had won the title and the European Cup Winners Cup and to be frank looked like they had celebrated those achievements. City won 4-1, I still remember it vividly, and of course the fact Norwich went down has been pointed out a few times since I started covering the Canaries. I’ve actually just looked up a piece with the club historian and last season’s final day “great escape” in League One was the 16th time it has gone down to the wire for Coventry. As they used to say when I was growing up, and they were perennially fighting to survive in the old First Division, “if the Titanic had been painted sky blue it wouldn’t have sunk”.
Even though you’ll presumably be passionate about Coventry and respect the one you report on, does respect become affection to the extent, say, of caring about Norwich results?
First and foremost it’s my career and like any job you want to do it at the highest level you can so for different reasons I want Norwich in the Premier League as much as any fan, manager or player connected to the club. The mask of impartiality did slip when Nathan Redmond slotted that second goal against Middlesbrough at Wembley in May as that was the point you felt the club was back in the top league. In my profession it really is the league that matters, in terms of interest and focus. So in that respect, yes, I care a great deal about Norwich’s fortunes….but there is only one City in my life!
What do you think of all the money sloshing around it football, but concentrated in relatively few hands?
There seems to be moves to filter it down to the grassroots, but you like to think that is not merely cosmetic because it isn’t healthy for the game if the base is weak.
It was interesting with Norwich dropping out of the Premier League last season because you see it from the other side and really financially the top flight is the only place to be. Norwich took a £50m hit on their annual turnover and those figures, without super-rich owners, are not sustainable so if you drop out and don’t come back soon really you can go the way of a lot of clubs who are now just treading water. Whilst the broadcasters fall over themselves to get hold of the new television deals every three seasons I don’t see the trend changing.
The gulf will just get wider between the Premier League and the rest.
Is it time to stop fretting about cheating – diving, feigning injury, all that pushing and shoving at corners – and simply accept it as part of the game? If not, how do we tackle it?
After last Saturday’s game I think most Norwich fans are only interested in how a bicycle kick can be deemed dangerous play! Really, what you ask rolls out into the whole video debate and using technology. I wouldn’t want to see that brought in any further to be honest. I believe some new directives have gone out at the start of this season regarding diving and feigning injury so we’ll see what impact those have.
Will you be at our game? What will be the score?
Yes, I cover all the Norwich City games. For me, this is a much bigger game now for Sunderland after losing at Leicester. The home fans, I would suggest, will look at a newly promoted club and expect Norwich to be rolled over. The longer City stay in the game the more pressure on the home side. 1-2 to the visitors.
* Paddy Davitt on himself: I am the chief Norwich City correspondent for the Norfolk regional media publisher, Archant, have covered the Canaries for over a decade and attend all the matches along with the pre and post-match press conferences. You can follow my on twitter @paddyjdavitt
Interview: Colin Randall