Listen up all you moaners, grumblers and naysayers. Forget Bradley Johnson, forget the transfer window: Zoë Morgan is here to wipe away your tears and remind us why we love the current Norwich side
Let's take a moment and leave aside the deadline-day meltdowns and Southampton-related panics. Norwich have had an eye-catching start to the season, allaying many fans’ early fears that the side was going to be well out of its depth.
What remains is the feeling we’re watching a special incarnation of Norwich City, one that is to be savoured. But why? Here are five key ingredients to truly liking your side.
1 Big Old Boys
During Cameron Jerome’s first home game for Norwich, my dad was heard to remark, with an element of delighted surprise in his voice, “he’s a big old boy, isn’t he?” This was a mark of approval.
Big players are innately more likeable than normal-sized ones (see also: very small ones.) I have heard Seb Bassong and John Ruddy called ‘Big Seb’ and ‘Big John’ on separate occasions. Let’s be clear, though. This is not about thinking ‘not bad for a fat lad’; Gary Hooper is not a ‘Big Old Boy’, he is overweight and has the turning circle of a bin lorry with punctured tyres.
Big Old Boys are a special brand of tall (often lumbering), likeable footballer who we want to see do well. Literal focal points, if you will. Like lighthouses.
2 An angry manager
Now Alex Neil is not angry most of the time, as far as I can tell, but it is quite obvious that this guy could destroy us all singlehandedly using a combination of Scottishness, fists and his gleaming hairless forehead. The very mention of him wanting a ‘wee chat’ could turn you into a quivering wreck.
There was something rapturous about his dressing-down of Lewis Grabban after his player went for a well-publicised wander, especially the somewhat sinister “Lewis has been a silly boy and will bear the consequences.” Stern but fair.
Alex Neil will look after us, just like he looks after his mum. He’s on our side. And if he doesn’t convince everyone that the transfer window went ‘exactly as planned’, I’ll eat my ‘Canaries Flying High Over Europe’ baseball cap.
Finally we have a Norwich side that loves a shot. Some of them are ghastly, mind you – the ones that go in the top tier or are shanked for a throw-in are prime examples.
The current crop of players seem to be working on the premise that they’re in the entertainment industry, so, as long as they score eventually, the mis-hits purely contribute to the rich comedic tapestry of every football match. Trying to add an element of fun to proceedings could also explain the resurgence of the once-extinct foul throw, or perhaps some of our defending.
A Norwich side in full-flow, playing ‘proper football’ (the polar opposite of Stoke going full-Pulis) and attempting to produce a meaningful end result is a joy to behold. It also results in – for those of us who live outside of Norfolk – ‘Monday Morning Smug Face’, when some cad in the office praises the content of your Match of the Day highlights package.
4 Competing in midfield
As has already been documented on these pages, Norwich’s current midfield is possibly the best it’s been in 20 years, even without Bradley Johnson (it’s currently too soon AND TOO PAINFUL for me to say anything more about that).
There have been countless seasons over the past two decades where the ultimate flaw in the City side has been an inability to compete in midfield. Remember when a 17-year old Kieran Gibbs played central midfield? I do, unfortunately. Not this year, though – the current bunch all have staggeringly different strengths and weaknesses which create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Amid all this is the epitome of charisma himself, Johnny Howson, who comes alive on the football pitch, who looks as if he were born to play in the rain, and who drives the midfield with a purpose, with an end goal.
5 The fans’ favourite(s)
Insignificant sides in a club’s history, or those that weren’t doing very well, often have one thing in common: everyone’s favourite player. Look back at dreadful teams and they often only had one stand-out performer; perhaps a ‘trier’ or the only one who could manage more than four goals that season. In successful, or likeable sides, the mantle of favourite is a far more hotly-debatable topic. Grant Holt is an anomaly here, but his awesomeness transcended the rules and all the hipsters liked Wes Hoolahan better anyway.
Everywhere you look in this Norwich team there are players to be fond of, to be proud of, and who have loads of ability. There is Alex Tettey, Bringer Of Joy; Elliott Bennett, Nicest Man In Football; Hoolahan, The Lynchpin; John Ruddy, The One Whose Son Is Always Mascot. I haven’t even touched on ‘most talented’ or ‘greatest potential’ (both possibly Nathan Redmond), but that is the delight of this side.
So, for those of you who have barely stopped shaking with rage/weeping uncontrollably since you saw that Vine of Bradley Johnson in a Derby shirt, cast your minds back. Seven days ago we were in love with this side. And I think you all know, despite the events of the last week, we still are.