Congratulations, Norwich City, and thank you. It’s been a real blast
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Young guns, the best free transfer ever, and people with faith in The Plan - all part of Norwich City's promotion success, says Chris Lakey
Congratulations to the players, management and staff at Norwich City for gaining promotion to the Premier League – and finally ending the nervous tension that has been building in recent days!
There are many things to be proud of in this fine county of ours, and Norwich City is one of them – not least because of the manner in which promotion has been gained.
The team has performed with brilliance, exceeding every expectation, playing magnificent football and, in truth, in a sporting way.
It's been a team that has been a joy to watch. The charge through the Championship season has left a trail of beaten managers who have sung the praises of the team. Even rival fans have conceded that City have been a class apart.
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After a steady, somewhat unspectacular opening, things clicked into gear, and City rarely looked back... or up for that matter.
Daniel Farke has become a club owners' dream as a manager: you won't catch him fighting on the touchline, going nose to nose with referees or bad-mouthing fans. Quite the opposite: he's respectful, insightful and genuinely warm towards the supporters.
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And don't forget, this was a manager who some doubted could cut it here in Norfolk.
Not Stuart Webber, the sporting director, and not the owners. They bucked the footballing trend and gave Farke time to work his magic.
And how grateful are we that they did?
As Farke himself said: 'Our first season was really difficult, but from my first day it did really feel like home. I have a home base in Germany and it could be in years I work back there, but I will only have one home base in Germany. It feels like it will be the same for me here in England.'
Daniel Farke is truly one of ours. As is Webber.
Bringing in, and regularly playing, so many young players isn't unique. But it certainly isn't the norm. Max Aarons, Jamal Lewis, Ben Godfrey and Emi Buendia have thrilled us to bits with their performances and their desire. And they have been fortunate to have mature heads around them – Christoph Zimmermann perhaps the outstanding example of a captain leading from the front.
And Teemu Pukki, arguably the best free transfer in the club's history. Free!!!
As other, more-high profile clubs know only too well, it is all very well having the players in the dressing room, the hard part is getting them to gel, to work together in harmony. That's the trick.
If you are Timm Klose or Grant Hanley for example, you may feel you have a right to feel disgruntled at losing your place in the team. Ditto Moritz Leitner and Mario Vrancic. Keeping footballing egos in check is an art form. But what is even more impressive is if you sign footballers who don't feel the need to run off to their agent every time they are named on the subs' bench.
It really has been a team effort and the strength in depth of a squad that appears to have few weak points in terms of character as well as ability has been a major part of the success of this season.
City have spread the love to the stands as well. It is only fair to say that Carrow Road, in recent years, hasn't been the noisiest of grounds. The atmosphere has lacked a little. Part of that is due to the quality of the football, but even in the good times, you sometimes felt other stadiums would have been shaking to their foundations. That's the way it is with City fans, it is the supporter base the club has: it is loyal, quite affluent I'd suggest, and not of the variety that sings from the rooftops, whether to encourage or in response to success.
What City have done is work with fans groups to make it more colourful, to build up an atmosphere and a noise that helps the team. You know that thing about footballers not hearing anything from the terraces? Rubbish. They've admitted it themselves. Which means they hear your criticism but they hear your encouragement and appreciation as well.
So, in return for performing out of their skins all season, they are now getting the rewards from the stands.
The flag waving, the mosaics, the foam hands, the noise, the yellow and green so symbolic of the fine city – it is all fantastic and I have no doubt it has helped lift a sagging shoulder or two when times have become a bit difficult.
In return, you have a manager and a playing staff who have returned that love by the bucketload. There's no heading straight down the tunnel to rejoin the insular life that footballers lead.
Now City are promoted, it will become tough. But stay together and help each other. One City Strong.
Congratulations, Norwich City, and thank you. It's been a real blast.