2018/19 – THE ACN REVIEW

11/05/19

It's been a stunning season, perhaps the best ever for some. So we thought we'd best review it. Here's some of ACN's finest (well Jon, Tom, Di, Nick and Ffion) to give you some of their highlights.

Biggest surprise?

Jon: Hard to look beyond the goal-scoring escapades of Teemu Pukki here, but I have. At the end of 2017-18 Marco Stiepermann was reportedly on the cusp of being sold back to Bundesliga II, an experiment with left back that never really worked was being ditched. With the signings of Ben Marshall and Jordan Rhodes it felt like City might be going down the 'tried and tested' route, at least to an extent.

That Farke had the subsequent bravery to slot Stiepermann into the number 10 role from September onwards was perhaps the key to City's success. Marco's physicality and ability to link the play, not just with intricate passing but a willingness to regularly carry the ball upfield, added a new dimension when people were questioning the regime. Without his assets it's difficult to envisage Pukki would have enjoyed the same space around the box he exploited to such devastating effect.

Nick: The biggest surprise is that we were lucky enough that this happened at our football club. We've often been on the stinging end of some rotten luck as Norwich fans, right back from Luton winning in the FA Cup semi-final in 1959 after some questionable refereeing decisions, to missing out on Europe because of Heysel in the 1980s, to finishing 3rd in the Premier League just six years too early, to drawing Internazionale in the UEFA Cup having already defeated bloody Bayern Munich in the round before.
This time, it's all gone our way.

Ffion: Plucking the mythical 30-goal-a-season striker out of thin air...for free. I still can't get over how good Teemu Pukki is - his finishing, his movement, his workrate from the first minute to the last - and I'm confident he will surprise a few of the uninitiated in the Premier League next season as well.

Di:That it took until April for Emi to get sent off! I noted his bewilderment at the relentless assault on his ankles at the derby and worried that it wouldn't be long before he had a red card. Throughout the season we've seen his toddleresque frustration at life's unfairness (and referees' lack of protection), hands and arms lifted high and dashed back down, eyes and mouth open i. At Hull away his hand was stamped on and he drifted out of the game for several minutes, staring at his hand in disbelief and raging at the ref.ByMarch and Rotherham away he almost seemed to thrive on it https://twitter.com/norwichcityhq/status/1106967177385725954

So in the first half of the QPR game I turned to my neighbour nodding sagely that Emi had matured - and remembering (with some amusement) how anxious I'd been earlier in the season that he might react to the serial injustices...

Tom: I think the strength in depth this squad has shown, is frankly insane. We were concerned if some of the presumed first choice XI in August would be able to cut it in English football, with the likes of Mario showing flashes of ability last season, but leaving many (this correspondent included) unsure if they could boss a midfield over a 46 game season. To head into 19/20 with few known commodities at this level felt like a risk. What would we do if Jordan Rhodes got injured? If Hanley faces a straight red suspension, that's 3 games written off with a tonne of goals conceded. Instead, it's harder to find a squad member that hasn't played a vital role in a game (or stretch of unbeaten games). No matter who went down, their replacement would seemingly add more to the mix, with only really Emi being the one talisman whose absence was tangibly felt.

Funniest thing to happen?

Jon: Do WACCOE seethes count? Probably not, so in perhaps the quirkiest season I can remember, Hernandez's love affair with retail giants Argos stands out. Onel was no stranger to integrating into new cultures given his well-documented move from the Caribbean to Deutschland, but there was something really special about him falling in love with small pens, collection points and over-sized catalogues. Never change Onel.

Nick: Keep going, keep going...keeeepppp going. Ah there they are! Last place.
Ipswich's capitulation was the gift that kept on giving. Watching the hope under Paul Hurst being quickly dashed, tuning into the highlights on Quest to watch defensive howler after defensive howler, laughing at the increasingly desperate salt from their supporters being thrown in our direction and finally enjoying their relegation to Division 3 having managed to finish below Bolton - who have entered administration and haven't paid their players for several months. All lovingly mixed together and topped with the sweet, sweet icing of Paul Lambert losing his marbles in a Derby Day thrashing and having to be held back by a police officer. Having grown up in Suffolk, it was the ultimate gift to my 11 year old self.

Ffion: You know what you don't hear much about these days? Pink away dressing rooms.

Di: So many - but the victory parade bus breaking down and Zimbo and co pretending to push it was an apt and hilarious coda. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGkKgDRUiCkThe football has been other worldly at times and Norwich City is light years ahead of many clubs in terms of its values and implementing them but there are no pretensions and for the players to be that way too is part of the Farke Plan. I imagine Karren Brady's guidance for Michael and Delia was somewhat tongue in cheek (or possibly just column inches) https://www.pinkun.com/norwich-city/brady-warns-norwich-city-they-must-spend-in-the-premier-league-1-6038911 because without doubt the majority of Premier League boardrooms will welcome them back to their clubs as a refreshing change; grounded owners who love football and turn up to support their club.

Tom: I met the Mayor at the City Hall on promotion parade day, nice bloke, called Martin. However most of the morning his hat and bell were commandeered by Kenny 'MadDog' Mclean. I think our fanbase marvelling at the elation of the Scotsman's 3 day end of season bender, and getting to see first hand the banter on offer within that squad. It's not a team short on personality or humour.

Wildest celebration?

Jon: For sheer unexpected brilliance, Hernandez's last gasp Boxing Day equaliser takes some beating. Just at a time when City were facing probably their sternest test of character, they performed miracles. It was no fluke either, Norwich had created a glut of spurned chances to grab a point before the Cuban sent the Carra into raptures.

However, there's probably one celebration I'll remember more than most, and it came from the comfort of my own home. Vrancic's second strike, to put his side three goals to the good at Elland Road, was a watershed moment. It was when I truly started to believe that promotion was not just a possibility, but a probability. That realisation was accompanied by the kind of roar that wakes up the kids and scares the cat sufficiently to scarper and hide under a bed for a full half hour.

Nick: While the Forest equaliser was absolute carnage, there's still that stupid nagging doubt in the back of the mind at the time that it was two points dropped at home, so it has to be the winner against Millwall. The bloke behind me kept shouting, looking at his watch, "there's still time, there's still time!" while I am thinking, "he knows this is Norwich City right? What you want to happen rarely ever actually happ----" And then it did.

Dragging myself onto the train home and flopping down in absolute exhaustion, legs in pieces and throat hoarse, would become a regularity.

Ffion: Being honest, Zimmermann against Reading is right up there, but I can't give it to that. Some of my fondest memories of this season came well before we even considered the possibility of promotion - Onel's second at Birmingham on the opening day, Mario's winner at Reading seconds after the home side had equalised, and the six minutes at Hillsborough in which we tore Sheffield Wednesday apart, scored three goals, and realised we were somehow sitting top of the league.

Di:Marco has had some pretty gnomic celebrations of his own goals - references to noses, 'taches fish, crabs (and twanging lederhosen braces?) but in the pandemonium of Hernandez's 97th minuteForest equaliser we saw Stiepi's spontaneous inner child. This was the celebration equivalent of musical chairs and when the goal music stopped Stiepermann leapt onto the nearest body - which happened to belong to club photographer Jason Dawson https://twitter.com/ChrisRadburn/status/1078038977985294337

Tom: Wow, a season strewn with limbs, this is maybe the trickiest pick of the bunch. The Sheffield Wednesday Mario last kick equaliser, I screamed so long and so hard that I nearly fainted and had to slump against my colleague (was with work in hospitality seats that evening, might have said some c-bombs in front of some clients, due to that referee's performance).

Two away trips in Birmingham stand out - running down the steps for Onel's second as we snatched an improbable point at St Andrews, and then hugging all around me after Mario's standing wand stroked home our title-clincher at Villa Park.

Where does this season rank among other successful campaigns?

Jon: There's strong competition, but 2018/19 just about tops the lot for me. 92/93 and the subsequent European run are close, as is Stringer's side of 88/89. All of those seasons have a common bond - the fact that the players were likeable, with real characters in the dressing room.

Yet there's been so much more to this campaign than any other. So many off the field stories which have supplemented the main event perfectly. We'll remember this forever, it's likely you'll tell your grandchildren (or anyone that will listen to you when you're older and incontinent) about those heroes in yellow and green. How Emi, Zimbo and Pukki defied the odds after we plucked them from relative obscurity.

Nick: This season is almost incomparable to other successful ones in my living memory as we did it our idiosyncratic way. The promotions under Lambert and under Alex Neil, as great and as perfectly executed as they were, all followed a well-worn blueprint that most other clubs follow when they look to be promoted to the Premier League. This campaign, on the other hand, has followed a Norwich of the early 90s style path of explosive attacking football, unknowns becoming legends and sharp intakes of breath every two or so minutes. As I wasn't old enough to remember that particular Norwich era, what a thing it is to be able to experience something similar now.

Ffion: Taking everything into account - the budgetary constraints, the low expectations, the sale of key players, the strength of the league and its teams - this has to be the best ever in my supporting lifetime (as someone too young to remember the early 90s). The football has been superb to watch, the goals relentless, and to have achieved that consistent level of performance - and turn it into a title-winning number of points - with such a disparate but likeable group is beyond compare.

Di: Frankly I've never enjoyed a season as much - romping up League 1 was close but the exquisite football, the pre-match pageantry at Carrow Road, the epiphany of even the most hardened moaners (remember the cheers when we lost at home to Stoke?) along with the demise of our nearest rivals and the edging of Leeds (we're a quasi German team - we're allowed generous portions of schadenfreude!) has made this journey difficult to follow. Though 10th in the EPL next year might do it https://twitter.com/SidBadham/status/1094582709349957632

Tom: Single best football day won't be topped by Championship playoff final at Wembley, but from a cumulative season of wonder, this one has provided the most possession and attractive football, goal of the season contenders and the feeling that for most of it, we've clearly been the best footballing team in the league. I think it ties 14/15 for my favourite promotion on balance.

The biggest reason you'll remember this season so fondly is.....

Jon: This was the year when rifts were healed. That disconnect between boardroom, players, fans, club officials and the media was just simply eradicated. Everyone ended up on the same page. That might sound easy when the team are winning, and yet in reality it just isn't. There has never been a time in my 32 years supporting this side where everyone has been so unified. Credit for that sits with all of us. We've bought into it and the players have duly delivered. It's likely that next term will provide even more difficult challenges and we need to harness that collective sense of belief that's been built to ensure we are a force to be reckoned with not just for now, but for seasons to come.

Nick: This was my first season as a proper season ticket holder. Yes it really was!
What a journey. What a season to pick. It's impossible to stuff all of my thoughts on how this stroke of luck manifested itself here, but my god I will be forever grateful that I rang up the ticket office on that June afternoon.

Ffion: Jon hasn't said it, so I will...the brilliant work of Along Come Norwich and Barclay End Norwich in turning the lower Barclay into a sea of green and yellow, and encouraging the rest of the ground to join in with pre-match marches and scarves held high. I've long thought that we should make more of our colours and celebrate our Fine City's identity, and to have done it all ourselves - fan-designed, fan-funded, fans putting the flags out and fans handing them back - is a million times more satisfying than being handed a clapper with a sponsor's logo on it to bash inanely.

Di: I feel vindicated! (it's all about me!) - I had a great feeling about Webber and Farke's plan coming together and was transfixed at the prospect of Buendia, Hernandez and Leitner playing together - so I had a sense that promotion was a very real possibility. Seeing the youngsters get their opportunity and develop as we watched and having a virtually no holds barred open dialogue with the club has complemented the business of advancing up the table; it's been like our very own reality show. Except it's seemed unreal. I'm looking forward to season 2.

Tom: Along Come Nodge came of age the same season that Farkeball did. I've had a front row seat for the hard work that Lawn & Punt have put in, alongside our Barclay End Norwich chums and their merry band of flag disciples; dutifully turning up a couple of hours before every kick off to painstakingly adorn our singing stand with colour. In the run-in, more sections of the crowd were positively vocal, less disgruntlement, more patience when we still need a goal, in the shared belief that it will come and us grumbling won't assist the players in finding one more quickly.

Oh and me and a couple of mates interviewed players and staff, got to know and share some of the most triumphant moments with the owners of the club, and that's not happened before. Quite memorable.

Hopes for 2019/20?

Jon: That the fans stick with the players and the direction the club has decided on. Hero status can swiftly turn to you being the latest scapegoat when a few results or performances don't inspire. The supporters' role is to challenge the norm - don't barrack Todd Cantwell because you're looking for someone to blame as an Aguero or Mane put us to the sword. Don't question the philosophy when we are on the end of a tonking or two. Don't blame Delia for failing to splash the cash when our expectations are very much being set right now. We're Norwich City, we do different. Let's continue to celebrate that, never mind the danger.

Nick: I really hope we stick a fork in the eye of the guffawing-into-the-sleeve anonymous glory hunters who usually have a close up picture of a Man Utd, Arsenal or Liverpool player as their Twitter profile picture, a bizarre in-joke one word profile and reply to any tweets from BBC Sport about women's football with a brazenly misogynistic comment.

While there are genuinely proper supporters of the aforementioned clubs, this particular self-entitled sect, who can only reply with "they'll go back down" to mentions of Norwich being promoted (missing the point that we really don't give a shit if that happens, as it means more fun seasons like the one we have just had), could really use a kicking or two as a result of blitzkrieg performance of perfect Farke Fussball from our ragtag bunch of unknowns to teach them it isn't all about the fat cats who reside in the top six of the Premier League.

Ffion: That we ignore the noise, as Webber would say, and keep doing things our way. I don't even need to hope for it, because I know that's exactly what's going to happen. But if we can pick and choose, a decent cup run would be a lot of fun too.

Di:I mentioned the bus but without doubt it won't be used in any metaphor for our defence next season; it sounds like we will probably see a lot of goals conceded and I'm ok with that if the core team that have shared the responsibility for chalking them up at the other end continue to so with the help of some exciting new signings. The Home Player rule doesn't fully extend to the EPL so we may see Yellow and Green loyalty spreading further around the globe - and we can expect more cultured young feet (and minds) to be honed at the redeveloped Colney and Academy. Can't. Wait.

Tom: That we don't come straight back down. That when the opposition lets us have a turn with the ball, we knock it about with the confidence we did this year. That Ben, Zimbo, Max & Jamal give us another year of development before the inevitable cash in. It would be enjoyable to give a few of the "big" boys a bloody nose, based upon the seismic difference in playing staff budget, and the deliberately alternative and conservative approach we have taken to building a winning team. I will probably predict relegation for us by the time August gets here. Which means we'll presumably lift the league cup and head into Europe.


While you're here. We're running a competition with our friends over at Art of Football to win one of their exclusive new t-shirts celebrating this season. Click on the tweet below for more info.

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