In the very midst of glum times, a lone ray of hope has flickered. Lucy Chen asks how much longer Jonathan Rowe’s pure, inspiring light will shine in our direction.
“It is part of football, but what I went through was the extreme part of that. Coming back, getting injured, having surgery, coming back again, then getting injured again at a point when I could have played – it was tough mentally.”
2022 was a challenging year for City winger Jonathan Rowe.
Long an exciting youth prospect, Rowe finally broke into the first team in the 21/22 season, making 12 league appearances as the Canaries struggled to stay afloat in the top flight. Though there were hopes City would rebuild around talented young players such as Rowe and rediscover their footballing identity in the Championship, those hopes never came to be. The then-19-year-old winger was beset by injuries, making only three appearances towards the end of the season.
As Rowe told the EDP, being forced to spend almost a whole year on the sidelines was difficult. However, as fire forges steel, adversity is the making of man. Having survived his trial, Rowe knew this: “It gave me the confidence to know that if I can get through that, then what on earth can stop me? I’m looking forward to getting on.”
The next thing City fans knew, their side was unbeaten in five games across all competitions, and their number 27 had scored in each of them.
More confident than before and more resilient than any 20 year old should have to be, Rowe was hungry to get back on the pitch. And, as everyone soon discovered, showed he had what it took to make an impact. The young winger scored in the dying minutes of the first half to level the score for the Yellows in their opening game against Hull City. And again in the 4-4 thriller against Southampton. And again during the visit to QPR in the EFL Cup. The next thing City fans knew, their side was unbeaten in five games across all competitions, and their number 27 had scored in each of them.
There was a new star in NR1, and Norwich City, it seemed, was back after two disappointing seasons. Of course, the good times didn’t last. Multiple injuries exposed City’s paper-thin depth, and our standings in the table plunged from second to 17th by matchday #15 – six precarious points above the relegation zone.
That sunny August felt like the beginning of a new dawn but in the end, it was little more than a blip.
Tension between supporters and club management had long escalated into open dissent, and the players – dedicated as they were – seemed just as unconvinced by their direction of travel (or lack thereof). There were hopes the arrival of Ben Knapper would revitalise the club but realistically, there’s a long road ahead for him.
And so Norwich City went into the first East Anglian derby in four years like a raft adrift in the ocean, praying that the currents would carry them to land before what little fresh water they had left ran out. Meanwhile, Kieran McKenna had taken Ipswich Town back to the Championship and started life in tier two flying.
When Nathan Broadhead put Ipswich ahead in the 34th minute, defeat looked like a foregone conclusion.
The Suffolk side came into matchday #22 a whopping 21 points above the Canaries and were considered prohibitive favorites by pundits and fans alike. Fatalism gripped City fans and the game began as badly as they’d feared, with Ipswich pinning City deep in their own third and creating chance after chance. When Nathan Broadhead put the hosts ahead in the 34th minute, defeat looked like a foregone conclusion.
Even at their lowest points, the Canaries could always find comfort in the knowledge they were still head and shoulders above their bitter rivals – that as far as they’d fallen from those glorious days under Daniel Farke, they were still top dog in East Anglia. But things had been steadily going downhill in recent years, and with their first defeat in the East Anglian derby in 14 years looming, it seemed as if City had hit yet another new low.
In the Canaries’ most despondent hour, a saviour appeared.
But the night is always darkest before dawn and in the Canaries’ most despondent hour, a saviour appeared. Just six minutes after the hosts took the lead, Jonny Rowe flung himself in the air and lobbed the ball over Ipswich defender Luke Woolfenden into the far post. Jack Stacey’s cross had unleashed chaos inside Ipswich’s box, and chaos was where Rowe – a winger who attacked the box with the hunger of a poacher – thrived.
Rowe would prove this again just four minutes into the second half, latching onto the header from Shane Duffy and sending his shot past Václav Hladký into the net. And just like that, City were ahead.
The game ended in a draw and chances are Ipswich will secure the automatic promotion spot come the end of the season – iif not win the division outright. The gap between the East Anglian sides has narrowed disconcertingly since 2021, and Ipswich have now overtaken Norwich at long last. But even at the height of their power and on home ground, Ipswich still couldn’t beat Norwich.
The football on display was woeful to say the least, and that continued into the holiday season. Wagner was a high-pressing coach without the courage to tell his side to press high, so where did that leave City? There was no coordination to be seen in their press and no compactness to be spoken of in their defensive blocks. Just a vague idea of trying not to concede and playing on the break, praying the ever-reliable Angus Gunn would defend his goal long enough for one of their many talented attackers to sniff out a chance to produce a moment of brilliance.
When Wagner resorted to parking the bus with a 5-4-1 low block against Southampton at home on New Year’s Day, the Barclay Stand could only sigh. To think that City won the division just two and a half years ago.
Former City player Russell Martin was in the away dugout, on course to leading Southampton back to the Premier League during his first season in charge. The Carrow Road faithful could only rue the path not taken. How different would things be today if, instead of Wagner, Martin was the one who took over from Dean Smith?
Rowe stepped up in City’s hour of need yet again and put Josh Sargent through on goal for the equaliser.
His side dominated proceedings throughout and deservedly took the lead in the 70th minute – but it wasn’t to be for the Saints. Rowe stepped up in City’s hour of need yet again and put Josh Sargent through on goal for the equaliser. Once again, City were woeful; once again, Rowe pulled one out of the hat to salvage something for his side. And as the final whistle sounded, Martin and Wagner would agree on one thing – that there is something brutally arbitrary about football. One moment was all it took for the game to be turned on its head – for a brilliant performance to come for nothing and a dishonourable game plan rewarded.
“I want to get the fans off their seats,” Rowe said back in April, “and then see if we can hit our ultimate goal for the end of the season, which is reaching the play-offs and (getting) back to where we belong in the Premier League.”
Nothing – not even their magical number 27 – can get the Canaries back to the Premier League this season now, not with this head coach and these owners still in place, but Rowe has certainly gotten the fans off their seats. He is fun in a side that is challenging to watch, and brilliant in a side that is uninspiring.
He’s the new star on a stage that once hosted the likes of James Maddison and Emi Buendía, and there’s no doubt that in 2024, Norwich is the City of Rowe. But how much longer will Rowe be Norwich’s?
Rowe has bailed his team out more times than one can count this season.
Maddison is now plying his trade at Tottenham, and Buendía has long moved on to Aston Villa. Max Aarons left for fellow Premier League side Bournemouth last summer, while Todd Cantwell and Kieran Dowell are now wearing Rangers colors. Norwich City have never had a shortage of talent, but talent doesn’t tend to linger in NR1.
Rowe has bailed his team out more times than one can count this season. If anyone deserves to play in the Premier League, it’s him. And when City inevitably fails to achieve promotion and one of his admirers in the top flight comes knocking, what then – could the owners resist a big-money bid for their new star? Would they even resist it?
Another City youth product had moved across the country to play at a higher level years ago and now has a European Championship to show for it. It may only be a matter of time before Rowe has to follow in her footsteps for his own sake.
So watch him. Enjoy him. Cherish him. Because we might not get to call him ours for much longer.
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