The chilling curse of Norwich City’s number nine continues

PUBLISHED: 09:00 09 August 2016 | UPDATED: 12:25 09 August 2016

Grant Holt wore City's number nine shirt until his exit in the summer of 2013. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

Grant Holt wore City's number nine shirt until his exit in the summer of 2013. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

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Norwich City’s first opening-day win for 14 years has left me with a severe case of number blindness.

Hard to not feel sorry for Rovers fans

After finally scratching that 14-year itch of waiting to see my team win on the opening day of the season, it was hard not to feel a tiny element of sympathy for some of the Blackburn fans.

The stomach knot that greets that moment when the players run out for the first time in any season is like nothing else. The cautious optimism that this could really be our year tempered by a massive feeling of trepidation that everything could be about to go wrong.

Norwich and Rovers fans will both have been suffering from that gut curdling right up until the moment Jacob Murphy announced himself on the Championship from 25 yards. Twelve minutes into the season, bright yellow chests in the stands and on the pitch all seemed to puff out while those in blue and white halves suffered a shuddering shoulder slump.

One swallow doesn’t make a summer but one win in 15 opening-day attempts ought to be enough to help blow away any cobwebs of doubt left hanging in the dark corners of the minds still scarred by relegation in May.

On that evidence Rovers are in for an awfully long and hard season but a terrible campaign doesn’t necessarily follow, as City fans can tell you after seeing their team fail to beat Bradford, Crystal Palace (twice), Coventry (twice), Leeds, Preston, Colchester (that one in particular), Watford, Wigan, Fulham, Everton or Wolves since the giddy heights of a 4-0 win over Grimsby in August 2002.

It’s not just the startling statistic that at long, long last the Canaries have started a season with a win that has been cause for a headache.

On Friday lunchtime City made what for me was their most important announcement of the summer. On the eve of the trip to Blackburn the club finally published its official list of squad numbers for this season.

This is a commentator’s currency. For the next 10 months I need to have it ingrained in my brain that 14 is Wes Hoolahan, Jonny Howson still wears eight and which of the Murphy twins is 22.

Of course there are other ways of telling players apart and, even with my questionable eyesight, I know my Ivo Pinto’s from my Timm Klose’s no matter how far away the commentary box is from the pitch but the numbers are crucial. During a fast flowing attacking move, of which we saw plenty from City at Ewood Park, sometimes a quick flash of a number is all you get as an attacker disappears into a packed penalty area to tap in another goal.

Howson and Hoolahan are among the players to have kept the same numbers that they’ve been wearing for years but there have been one or two sneaky little changes that will catch me out over the opening few weeks of the season. Martin Olsson has been 23 since signing for the Canaries but has now been furnished with the more traditional three that those of us old enough to remember the halcyon days of one to 11 every week would associate with a left-back. Klose has moved from 17 to 15 and Graham Dorrans is suddenly four having been 18 last season.

This may seem like a trivial thing to pick up on after such a barnstorming start to the season but let me try and explain quite how frustrating a player swapping numbers can be when you think you’ve got them off by heart. You know that feeling when the local Chinese takeaway posts a new menu through your door and your favourite chicken chow mein has been moved from number 45 to 123? Or when you pop to the supermarket to buy something as simple as eggs only to discover that the latest brand reshuffle means they’ve been moved from being near the baking ingredients to the other end of the shop next to the fridge with the milk in? Well that’s what I’m going through right now. The most obvious omission from this season’s Canaries bingo card is that once again they have no number nine listed. It’s the fourth summer in a row that shirt has been vacant. It’s almost as if Grant Holt, inset, placed a curse on it when he left the club in the summer of 2013.

Ricky van Wolfswinkel was the next Norwich number nine and we don’t need to go over all that again. Following relegation under Neil Adams, Kyle Lafferty (now 19, number fans) took on the mantle and would score just once before being loaned out shortly after Alex Neil’s surprise arrival in the manager’s office. Last year, after a huge search, Dieumerci Mbokani emerged as the latest possible answer to this City Sudoku. He did better than the rest but of his seven goals, three were in defeats, two came in the final home game against Watford that turned out to be meaningless and another was a late goal to turn a 1-0 lead over Aston Villa into a 2-0 win just after Christmas.

Perhaps this is the real reason Ross McCormack didn’t fancy joining City. The story of the chilling curse of the Norwich City number nine shirt has started to travel.

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