MY FAVOURITE SEASON 2014/15

04/08/17

Tom Parsley fulfilled a childhood dream as Norwich finally returned to Wembley after 30 years. We all know how what turned out, but let Tom give you his personal tale....

When Alex Pritchard calmly converted his penalty to seal a 2-1 win for Brentford at Carrow Road in late January 2015, very few of us were predicting that, 120 days later, any yellow and green dreams would be coming true.

A season in which we'd looked certainties for automatic promotion after the first couple of months had swiftly fallen off the rails with the kind of indifferent form that leaves teams stuck in the second flight for years (naming no names).

Rewind 30 years to March 1985, and here's nine-month-old me, sitting on Mum's lap while Dad was at Wembley, watching our famous Milk Cup triumph at the home of football.

It had been a dream for as long as I can remember to watch my beloved NCFC at Wembley with Dad, and I'd have done anything practically possible to make it come true, but instead had to rely on Norwich City to deliver it. Hence why, after more than 20 years as a season ticket holder, sat/stood bellowing next to Dad from the age of eight in the Arthur South and then Jarrold Stand, I'd kind of given up on realising it.

We went into the season with Neil Adams, appointed at the bitter end of Chris Hughton's reign, a strange period for the club as we were relatively successful in terms of where we sat in the football league pyramid but many felt the link between fans and players (and, more importantly, the playing style) was 'broken'. Indeed, "We've got our Norwich back" was sung in the early-season games, which after a false start at Molineux quickly saw us rise to early promotion contention.

That early optimism gradually faded to form that rose up and down like a whore's drawers. Too many teams of seemingly lower ability on paper demonstrated that wedging even a couple of Citroen Picassos, let alone a bus, in front of the 18-yard box would stifle our goal threat.

Adams resigned after finding no plan B; a run of two wins in 13 games between the end of September and late November meant any chances of a swift return to the Premier League looked remote at best.

The fans implored the board to go looking for the mysterious 'new manager bounce'. To his eternal credit, Adams made the all-too-rare and noble decision to step aside and allow his beloved Canaries to go looking for a new leader while the season was young enough to be saved.

Upon Alex Neil's unveiling, "Who?" was probably typed into Twitter more regularly than after the recent Time Lord reveal. There were no informed hot takes from the usual insiders; "done well in Scotland" was about all we had to go on.

Both Dad and I only knew Paul Lambert had gone into management because of the Colchester drubbing and that recent memory of an unproven manager's success made us only slightly less appalled than some of the hand-wringers at Alex's appointment.

The similarities of his first five months in charge to Lambert's went beyond the accent and short shrift given to journalists. There was a real injection of spirit.

Alex Neil presided over a Norwich team that both came from behind and won away, the hallmarks of a team with outstanding character and mental focus. We won six on the bounce in March and April, a feat only matched that season by Bournemouth, who were cantering to the title.
There was a big gap to close to the leaders when Neil took the reins, and how close Norwich came to turning around a faltering season into an automatic promotion place was admirable.

We ran out of steam, though, and a particularly frustrating game was the Middlesbrough home defeat in April, from Tettey's ridiculous own goal to the worst time wasting I've ever seen in professional football going unpunished. Seven frustrating minutes of nail-biting injury time was about half of what should have been accrued. Patrick Bamford, a loanee from Chelsea, was chief culprit, apparently able to stop play at will by just sitting down and holding his ankle. Referee Robert Madley bought every trick in the book at face value. That result, even with three games left, effectively confirmed that it would have to be the long way up if we were to achieve our final goal that season.

The following week that realisation only became clearer, as those of us who made the trip to New York (stadium) were rewarded with the Norwich season in microcosm versus Rotherham. A sublime wonder volley from Gary Hooper was cancelled out by Lewis Grabban earlier seeing red for a bonkers punch on the half way line after a nothing challenge. Then our porous defence (some things never change, eh?) couldn't keep out the lowly Millers and an 86th-minute equaliser made for quite the long miserable drive home.

The last round of results simply confirmed the beautifully inevitable. Just like in 1985, Norwich (finishing third) were one step away from Wembley and the only thing in their way were two legs against the filth from down the A140.

Unlike the 1985 semi final, no extra time nor last-minute heroics were needed this time around. After a nervy draw at that state of a shed that they call a 'ground', we enjoyed one of the most one-sided and enjoyable derbies I've had the pleasure of watching. Singing que sera sera with all its tradition and pomp, at the expense of your local rivals - could there be a sweeter experience than that? I opted not to go on the pitch at the full-time whistle (sorry, but I thought we were above that).

I vividly remember the excitement of booking our Wembley seats, using the clever tool online that showed you what view of the pitch you'd get from each precious, hallowed square of plastic on that special day. We opted for a corner-flag-angled, half-way-up option and I bought three tickets, for me, Dad and Colin (his schoolfriend and neighbour at Carrow Road for more than five decades) and immediately it felt real.

Middlesbrough had apparently turned Trafalgar Square red the previous night, with many of their contingent opting to make their comparatively much longer journey the day before. And we have to concede they were the louder, seemingly more co-ordinated end, from pre-match until 12 minutes in, when Jerome robbed former Canary misfit Daniel Ayala of the ball and poked home at the near post.

From that point on, the Boro fans never raised more than a whimper, and for good reason: we controlled the game like few others I've seen from a Norwich team on anything resembling a 'big occasion'. Nathan Redmond's goal a few minutes later effectively killed the game even with so long to go. We kept the ball with ease and genuinely never looked like conceding.

Bamford was completely ineffectual all game, making Seb Bassong's pocket his home. And it was sweet to have the last laugh over the pantomime villain of several weeks ago.

As the minutes ticked down, I kept saying to Dad and Colin: "We're watching us win at Wembley!" I just couldn't believe my luck that a dream was coming true and I needed to say it out loud to relish it even more.

Our heroes lifted the trophy, paraded round the pitch and it took a very, very long time until we felt like making our way back to the car.

The journey home down the A11 was nothing short of a carnival. There were the same scarves from windows we'd seen on the way down, but every service station had Canaries fans beeping horns and dancing round the petrol pumps. Residents of those odd rural in-between bits of Norfolk were standing on the overpass walkways waving down to the cars streaming back that evening, like we were soldiers gloriously returning from the front.

Oh and here's my son, Reuben, at four months old sat on my Mum's lap while Dad and I were at Wembley. Maybe in 30 years he and I will make a joyful trip to that hallowed place while another generation waits at home.

But I've got a feeling football may never feel as good as that again.

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