Ten reasons why Norwich City should love being in the Championship
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
As Norwich City begin their preparations for life outside of the elite, sports reporter GAVIN CANEY looks at why there's still plenty of reasons to be cheerful once the pain of Premier League relegation eases.
1 FRIENDS REUNITED
The shockwaves triggered by Bradley Johnson's early-season exit were that strong they probably could be felt as far afield as Derby. The departure of the fans' favourite from Carrow Road on the summer transfer window's deadline day stunned most Norwich City fans. Many were distraught that they never got the chance to say goodbye properly. But they will be able to do so next season – if of course he remains with Derby and they do not achieve promotion via the play-offs (highlly unlikely after Saturday's home defeat). Johnson's starring role in getting City up via that route 12 months ago will never be forgotten, and nor should it. If 'Jonno' isn't able to get a hero's welcome in Norfolk next season, then there will be plenty of other familiar faces to welcome back. Chris Hughton, Robert Snodgrass and Gary Hooper could also return next season depending on the play-offs – although their receptions may certainly be on the cooler side of warm.
2 MASSIVE CLUBS
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Yes, the Canaries have lost the chance to lock horns in league combat with the 'big boys'. Trips to Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool are no more – outside of cup competitions. But football has a past you know. And while Sky Sports might want you to think the beautiful game was only formed in 1992, there's plenty of people out there who prefer the good old days. Leicester fans probably don't – and who can blame them after their stunning rise to the top. But the Foxes' success will perhaps remain a one-off story of not quite rags to riches. It may never be bettered. And while their achievement was one of gigantic proportions you could argue that in terms of history and fanbase, their stature in the English game remains half as big as some the clubs who will now be lining up in the Championship in 2016/17. While the debate rages about just how massive Newcastle United actually are, few clubs can hold a candle to the heritage of fallen giants like Aston Villa. Their demise now sees them level-pegging with clubs that once considered themselves to be the 'big boys'. Leeds United, Nottingham Forest. These teams may be second tier, but in the history books their past is far from second rate.
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3 DERBY DAYS
It didn't take long did it? Before the death knell had finally sounded during the irrelevant 4-2 victory over Watford, the yellow army had already turned their attentions to next season. There were no cries of 'We'll be back' though. Just a full focus on the return of the matches that matter most. Because you can forget your all-singing, wallet-busting trip to Stamford Bridge. Or your admiration at the backs-to-the-wall effort in the delightful surroundings of the Emirates. It's only playing against those chaps from up the A140 that really gets the juices flowing. Whether that's in Norfolk or enemy territory there's nothing quite like an East Anglian derby. The passion. The noise. The atmosphere. Everything else isn't even close to second best. Luckily for the Canaries, they've had a great time of things lately against Ipswich Town. City's last stint below the gravy train of the Premier League served up four showdowns against their fiercest rivals. That's unlikely to happen in the top tier anytime soon, unless the Tractor Boys really do, ahem, mind the gap. That distance may only be 40 miles between the cross-county clubs but Town have been light years away when it's come to recent clashes between the two. The play-off semi-final success of 12 months ago sparked some of the most joyous scenes ever witnessed at Carrow Road. While victories over Town may not spark such jubilation this time around, it will at least keep the bragging rights in Nelson County.
4 ANOTHER RIVAL
Norwich are known for being one of the friendliest clubs around. It's why one Manchester United fan within earshot following their recent trip to this part of the world said 'it'll be a shame when Norwich go down, it's a nice trip over here'. City have since been relegated but it does at least set up a couple of tasty matches next season. Nothing will compare to the head-to-heads with Ipswich Town (see point three). But in the shape of Wolves Norwich can lock horns with another rival – well according to the song that goes: 'We only hate Wolves and Ipswich'.
5 MORE GOALS
Even if Alex Neil doesn't sign some much-needed firepower this summer, there'll still be plenty to celebrate about in the Football League. The simple fact is it's harder to create – and in City's case – and score during a relegation battle, which last term was always going to be. So even if Norwich's bid to come back up at the first time of asking, again, goes desperately wrong, it's an absolute certainty that there will be more moments of pandemonium in the Barclay. Norwich will score more goals next season. That's a given. And if they're flying at the top, they'll have probably netted around or more than double the tally they did during their inability to beat the drop. In 2014/15 and 2010/11, City scored more than 80 goals. There's nothing better in football than going wild when the ball hits the back of the net. So that's something to get excited about. And rather than bemoaning a lack of cutting edge – and berating players like Cameron Jerome for failing to produce the goods – the attacking verve which swept City up should return to lift some of the frustrating gloom that threatened to completely engulf almost all of City's squad in 2015/16.
6 HAPPY TIMES
Norfolk welcomed Alex Neil with open arms in January 2015. A virtual unknown, the little Scot got all connected with Norwich City smiling. So seeing that grin wiped off people's faces – including his – last season wasn't much fun. Time and time again the rookie cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines. Did he make mistakes? Of course. Was he alone? Certainly not. But now it's time to forget about the misery and focus on bringing back the good days. City's fans showed Neil he is the right man for them with an outpouring of love after relegation was confirmed which humbled him immensely. He will be desperate to repay their faith. Neil did outstandingly well to get City up. And if he hits the ground running again this season, the happy times will surely be just around the corner.
7 NEW ADVENTURES
Where do City go from here? It's the multi-million dollar question. Will they get promoted? Who will stay? Who will go? Who will replace David McNally? So many posers, so few answers. The rollercoaster ride that is supporting Norwich City has suffered another dip but you wouldn't bet against scaling the heights along the way. It's time for new heroes. New favourite moments. And new places. Burton Albion's rise up the footballing pyramid has been so staggering that City will really begin a new era when they play the club for the first time next term.
8 MORE MATCHES Why have less when you can have more? It's all well and good being in the Premier League but let's not forget that's at least eight matches a season less to embrace. And that's before you even think about the play-offs. Swap 38 for 46 and that's the amount of games you can watch City play next season with three points the prize. More games equals more goals. More goals equals more wins. And more wins equals more points. Regardless of that, further matches creates more opportunities for away days. Extra coach trips. Days on the beer. Weekends away. It might mean you spend more petrol but that expense seems less costly when you return home having seen City win on the road.
9 NO LONGER LITTLE
We've all heard the tiresome jokes about what life is like living 'out in the sticks'. Most of them are not suitable for a family newspaper. But it's not just those yawn-enducing stereotypes that grate when it comes to supporting Norwich City. Because when the yellows fly high and achieve their status as a top-flight club they are immediately pulled back down to earth by the national and international media. Insert little in front of the name of the club and you start to get the drift. Little Norwich City, as they are known, remains a lazy cliche for hacks that do not understand how massive the club are in Norfolk. Yes, massive Newcastle United are a one city club, but the Canaries are a one county team.
Little Norwich are no smaller than very little Bournemouth – sorry, plucky Bournemouth. The patronising tone is disrespectful and should disappear now City are a big-hitter in the Championship. Hopefully the same thing will happen to those stale cooking puns thanks to Delia Smith's involvement at the Carra.
Love them or hate them, the end-of-season shoot-outs are here to stay. They might not be fair. They might not be right. But they're not going anywhere soon. And that's great news for everybody who embraces the drama that the play-offs create. For a huge host of clubs it keeps the season alive well into the second part of the campaign. That can only be a good thing. And if your club finishes in one of the prized positions, it can create the best possible finish to a season. A lifetime of memories can be built on getting to Wembley and winning the final – just ask Norwich City fans.
Their trips to the national stadium are about as regular as a vegetarian's visits to the local butchers. So no wonder the Canary faithful the capital a beautiful shade of yellow and green when they took on Middlesbrough last May.
Promotion is the main aim again next season and it doesn't really matter how it comes. But if you fired out a snapshot poll for fans to answer, it wouldn't be a surprise if most opted for going up via the play-offs rather than finishing in the top two.