Two years is a long time in the life of a Norwich City fan
11:50 18 November 2011
There are times when you have to pinch yourself to make sure you haven’t been dreaming. Tomorrow, City take on, as virtual equals, the might of Arsenal, a team packed with internationals and a fixture in the Champions League.
However, that sort of fixture seemed the stuff of dreams two years ago, when, as the fifth place side in League One, they lined up away to Paulton Rovers of the Zamaretto League in the FA Cup first round.
From the line-up for that game, only Grant Holt and Wes Hoolahan were starters at Villa last week and only six other players in the squad of 18 are still at the club, with two of those out on loan. While the reconstruction of the squad by Paul Lambert has been gradual, it has been as comprehensive as it has been ruthless.
Sentiment is a dangerous emotion in football, and while senior players like Darel Russell and Gary Doherty had, without doubt, served City well over the years, they were considered wanting at Championship level and would be shipped out the following summer. Equally, youth and potential alone were not seen as the answer, with Tom Adeyemi going out on long term loan and Korey Smith becoming a fringe player in the Championship.
Much has been made of Lambert’s preference for taking a chance on young, hungry, but unproven, players, yet the success rate of those he has brought in shows how well researched each purchase has been.
Interestingly, eight starters at Villa were playing in League One in November, 2009.
Inevitably there will always be those who don’t quite show their full potential in the yellow and green, but the overwhelming majority of players brought in under the current regime have made significant contributions to the club’s success.
An atmosphere has been created where players know their role, trust the system they’re required to play in and, crucially, know that they won’t be hung out to dry by their manager when things go badly.
Off the field too the extent of the changes are remarkable as the club’s recent forum demonstrated.
The debt that had threatened to destroy the club around the time of the Paulton game has been renegotiated and reduced, with an achievable plan in place to eliminate it completely.
David McNally has proven the antithesis of his predecessor, Neil Doncaster, realising that actions are more important than words, and that our status as Little Old Norwich was actually a veiled insult, not a compliment.
Even the development of Carrow Road is back on the agenda with plans for an increased stadium capacity of 35,000 if we can maintain our Premier League status for another two seasons.
Inevitably there are some who hanker after a time when the previous Chief Executive seemed to spend most of his time answering emails from fans, but that doesn’t fit with the increasingly business orientated approach to top-level football.
Put simply, we had to move with the times or be left behind, if, indeed, we continued to exist at all.
However, all this has been achieved without City becoming a foreign owner’s vanity project or by pawning the family silver to try to keep pace with the big spending clubs.
At some point, when the bubble created by Sky’s money has burst and the game returns to reality, that policy will stand Norwich City in very good stead.
Of course, none of this guarantees that we’ll stay up this year, but even if we don’t, nothing should be allowed to detract from what has been achieved in the last two years. Long may the dream continue.