What do we think of when a match against Norwich looms? The “friendly final”, when we played abysmally, handing the Milk Cup to City in 1985? Yes, if you’re old enough. Games before that? Yes, if like Salut! Sunderland you’re prehistoric. For younger fans of both clubs, up against each other in the Carling Cup at Carrow Road tomorrow night (Monday), it may be hard to get past that opening day scoreline: Norwich 1 Colchester 7. How did these once high-flying Canaries fall so heavily from grace? Two City fans, found at the admirable Wrath of the Barclay fan site, responded in good-hearted fashion. First let’s hear from Nicholas Mead* …
So what on earth has gone wrong?
How long have you got? The first thing to say is that there is a significant body of opinion that does not accept that ANYTHING has gone wrong. As a group of fans we are not at ease with each other at the moment. In fact it has been the culmination of a number of things – we lack the infrastructure to put a decent team on the field: our Academy has produced nothing for years, and our scouting system has led us to sign some of the most useless apologies for footballers that there have ever been.
You will enjoy sitting in the South Stand on Monday night – but the debt incurred in its building hamstrings us now and will do for years to come – the board seems to have badly miscalculated the profit that the club would make from its other property dealings and as a result we are crippled with debt.
Norwich City’s present plight is neatly summed up thus: in the most recent accounts the debt incurred to buy the small car park behind the South Stand was greater than the monetary value attributed to the playing squad. .
Can it be put right and how soon?
Of course an injection of money would go a long way to putting everything right – but with the way the club’s debt is structured that is unlikely to happen. Otherwise we may now be at a turning point. We have a new Chief Executive who has impressed us all by going to Colchester and taking their manager away in a most ungentlemanly fashion. I’m writing this on Paul Lambert’s second day as manager so really don’t know how he will do – but he can’t be worse than the last bloke (actually I’ve said that about the last 3 managers and been proved wrong – so don’t quote me on that).
The Academy has also finally produced a player this year – Tom Adeyemi – who might just be the real deal, so that’s encouraging. Unfortunately our scouting system seems no better – many of our dozen summer signings have been greeted with a mixture of disbelief and horror.
The new Chief Executive has come in determined to make Norwich City a more efficient and much nastier operation – if he is allowed to do that then I can see us being back in the Championship within 3 years. If he fails then there seems to be no depth to which we may not fall.
Epic Games between Sunderland and Norwich?
Yes I went to both the League Cup Final in ’85 and the FA Cup semi-final in ’92. My chief memory of the final is getting drenched in beer as we all went crazy when Asa scored, and getting soaked again a couple of minutes later when Walker missed the penalty (Chrissy Woods had it covered anyway). The trauma of losing to an offside goal in a semi-final means that my brain has wiped all my memories of that grim encounter.
Other memories linking our clubs?
The name I forever associate with Sunderland is Mr C. B. White of Harrow who refereed the promotion showdown at Carrow Road in 1975. Bobby Moncur and the rest of the Sunderland team niggled and fouled their way through the 90 minutes with Mr White oblivious, until he eventually sent off Charlie Boyer and one of your lot for fighting. Now that WAS an epic encounter – and we had the last laugh that season too!
I never got to go to Roker Park, and – you’ll hate me for this – my one visit to the Stadium of Light was a disappointment. It was, I think, just after Mr. Keane was appointed manager so we were both at a low ebb, but the lack of atmosphere astonished me. Very good chip shop near the ground though! And before you all come looking for me on Monday night I will point out that I’m not impressed with any away ground that we’ve lost at. It’s just the way I am.
What about players and staff associated with both clubs?
I’m struggling there. Gary Rowell who just missed out on our League Cup Final squad of course. David Hodgson who nearly scored for you in that game played a handful of games for us a couple of years later. In goal for us on Monday night will be Ben Alnwick – hopefully he’ll want to put one over on you! Darren Ward was on our books for a couple of years although to the best of my recollection he only actually played once for us. Chris Brown came to us with a poor reputation and I don’t think the crowd ever really gave him a chance. Personally I wish we’d never let him go.
And Roy Keane’s now your neigbbour (or nearly) …
Ah Mr. Keane and Ipswich! A marriage made in heaven! I’m glad he’s no longer with you, because it means I can go back to quite liking you rather than willing you to lose. As far as I can see his reaction when Mick McCarthy stood up to him tells us all we need to know about him. And as for Ipswich – did you know that one of their fans has just been done for nicking the tributes placed to Bobby Robson outside their ground? League position is temporary, class is permanent. Norwich City always were, are now and always will be THE PRIDE OF ANGLIA.
Should I really have asked Rick Waghorn and Delia Smith have written this column?
Well Rick’s a proper journalist so he’d have explained how David McNally had bolted Team Paul onto Norwich City, and how we are going to slam fifteen stones of Cumbrian muscle into our forward line on Monday night. I could never come up with stuff like that. Delia Smith should stick to what she knows about.
The best you can hope for this season?
In all honesty right now I’d take fifth bottom and not getting beaten by a non-league team in the FA Cup. It’s hard to say – we don’t know what Lambert is going to do, and we don’t know if he has any financial room for manoeuvre. At this level the defence we are playing now is not too bad – but I’d like us to secure Alnwick for at least the season. We still have Dejan Stefanovic on the books, put him back in and suddenly we look good at the back. Holt and MacDonald is a useful combination up front, and if Stephen Hughes gets a run in midfield then he will create stuff for us. IF it all comes together, if we stay fit, then the play-offs are a possibility – but I wouldn’t put money on it.
Will Man City break into the top four?
I don’t bother my head over much with the Premier League I have to confess. If I had to pick a team to break into the Top 4 it would be Spurs, hopefully at the expense of Liverpool. Manchester City are just never going to be any good, Hughes will be gone by Christmas and some hugely expensive Italian coach will come in. Champions? Chelsea I would think. To go down? That’s tricky. Burnley, obviously, but I think Blues and Wolves will be good enough to survive. Portsmouth possibly, and hopefully Wigan – because they’re not really a proper football club are they? Sunderland will be OK – you have a good manager and, though I hate to say it, a good strike force. Mid-table and an FA Cup semi-final.
2-0 Norwich. Or, more likely, we hold you for 89 minutes and then Gary Doherty concedes a needless free-kick on the edge of our box…
And the question we forgot to ask?
You didn’t ask me about Steve Bruce! He scored the most famous goal in our history – the late League Cup semi-final winner over Ipswich, so although he left under a bit of a cloud he always has a place in our hearts. He nearly managed us too, way back when we nearly got Bruce & Gunn instead of Rioch & Hamilton. If only…And you may look at Steve Bruce’s career with some mystification. With Norwich and Manure he was the best English centre back of the late 80s – yet he never got a cap. Look at the CV of the then England manager and the truth becomes clear.
* Nicholas Mead on Nicholas Mead:
I’ve been supporting Norwich City through thick and mostly thin for 40 years. I lived in West Cornwall for many years and still managed to watch City regularly – but I am back in East Anglia now, and have a season ticket in the rather swish new South Stand. Football plays far too important a role in my life; if it weren’t for Norwich City I’d be rich. But I did have the good fortune to meet my wife through our shared love for the club. My favourite player of all time is the peerless Duncan Forbes, and I know for an absolute FACT that Ron Saunders is the greatest football manager that ever drew breath.