Nobody truly knows how this season will pan out for Norwich City...
PUBLISHED: 10:30 01 August 2017 | UPDATED: 15:57 02 August 2017
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How are Norwich City going to do this season?
It’s a question that has come up from colleagues, friends and Canaries fans time and time again this summer.
I’ve done my best to avoid answering it but, like a tail end batsman facing a bombardment of bouncers knowing that the best you can really hope for is to hold out for a draw, it’s got to that point where those probing for a pre-season prediction won’t take a non-committal shrug of the shoulders for an answer.
With Craven Cottage and another Championship season looming large on the horizon, those of us who make a living from covering the Canaries are expected to have finished sucking the end of our pencils thoughtfully and to be ready with some sparkling insight into how the next 10 months will play out even if it is based largely on whatever hunch the seemingly endless procession of pre-season friendlies has created.
The final warm-up match against Brighton at the weekend underlined that this new-look Norwich City is an unknown quantity even to those of us who are supposed to know all about them.
The XI picked by Daniel Farke included seven players who have joined the club during the summer plus Yanic Wildschut, who started just six games after joining from Wigan in January, and James Maddison, who played little more than an end-of-season cameo once Alex Neil had packed the contents of the desk in the Carrow Road manager’s office into a cardboard box.
Russell Martin and Cameron Jerome were the only familiar faces in that starting line-up on Saturday. Not just the only survivors from the Wembley win in 2015 but the only ones left who could consider themselves to have been regulars just three months ago. That’s how much things have changed at the club this summer.
That sense of revolution has been artificially hastened by the fact that Alex Pritchard, Timm Klose, Ivo Pinto, Wes Hoolahan and Josh Murphy were unavailable because of injury. All five would have considered themselves as being in with a good chance of starting against Fulham, while Steven Naismith was understandably left on the bench against Brighton to give some game time to those who are not suspended for the first two matches of the campaign.
Pre-season for me has been all about trying to get used to all these new players that I’ll need to be able to recognise quicker than you can say Christophe Zimmermann for commentary purposes.
Three months ago I couldn’t have picked out Mario Vrancic or Marley Watkins in an identity parade and Marcel Franke could have stood next to me at the bus stop on Castle Meadow and I would have had no idea that he was a strapping central defender ready to take on the relentless challenge that is a season of Championship football.
That’s what makes this countdown to kick off so much more exciting and intriguing than almost any other I can remember when it comes to following City.
Most years supporters have a fairly good idea as to whether it’s going to be a relegation scrap or a promotion push over those harsh winter months. At Carrow Road there are more questions than answers.
Most supporters wanted change after an underwhelming campaign but can any Championship club really sell Jonny Howson, Graham Dorrans and Jacob Murphy while reducing their wage bill and expect to improve?
Players like the aforementioned Vrancic, Maddison and Harrison Reed have all impressed in pre-season and have undoubted promise but can so many new players really gel together so quickly?
I’m going to answer those questions in exactly the same way that I’ve bravely attacked the one in the opening line of this piece; I honestly don’t know but I think it’s going to be fun to find out.
Son of a Gunn
My first game at Carrow Road was on November 4th 1986. Norwich City beat Coventry in a Full Members Cup tie.
While it was the start of something special for me, my debut was overshadowed by the fact that a goalkeeper called Bryan Gunn played his first game for the Canaries that night.
The rest is history, or rather a story that is still being told thanks to the arrival this summer of his son Angus.
Apart from making those of us who watched Bryan play, sent him interview requests for our school newspaper and then commentated alongside him, feel very old there is no doubt that having a Gunn in goal for City again is enough to give supporters of a certain age a warm fuzzy feeling inside.
If Gunn junior does really well in between the City sticks this year then I am ready to claim some credit for his development into a goalkeeper good enough to represent his country at under 21 level.
There was a time when Angus would accompany his dad into the old BBC Radio Norfolk newsroom in Surrey Street once a week.
While Bryan, who was working for the club’s commercial department at the time, performed an entertaining weekly slot on the Breakfast Show with Stewart White, Angus was left to kick a sponge football around our office with the great Roy Waller as he warmed up for his Country Music show ‘Rodeo Norfolk’ in the only way he knew how.
I spent a couple of early Saturday morning shifts joining in with these games.
Part of my ‘work’ was to keep goal while Roy and Angus attempted to fire the ball between two bins.
It’s harder than it sounds when you have to keep one eye on the clock to ensure you don’t miss a scheduled sports bulletin.
Maybe those goalkeeping performances inspired the youngster on his career path.
Or maybe he had some other influence on his life that taught him a thing or two about making brilliant saves.
Perhaps we’ll never know.