Our team of Yellow Birders – Jon Rogers, Dan Brigham, Clare Thomas, Zoë Whitford and Seb Ward – preview the season: from golden bidets to farting horses via some actual proper football chat
Are you excited about the exciting the return of exciting football?
Jon: To be excited about excitement is, in some ways, counter-productive. Therefore, I will sit and watch the proceedings like Ivan Lendl watches Andy Murray’s tennis’ matches. Basically, I won’t move a muscle until we win at Wimbledon.
Dan: I’ve been looking forward to it ever since Ireland got knocked out of the Euros. And then I saw Wes in pre-season against Coventry looking magnificent, and now I’m more excited than that time my mate showed me that he’d taught a horse to fart on command.
Zoë: It comes around earlier every year, doesn’t it? I was ready for a break, to be honest, after the distressing climax to last season. The heart needs time to mend and prepare itself to be broken again. But as much as we can try and pretend that football before the end of the school holidays doesn’t count, here it is, and it’s very difficult not to feel that familiar quickening of the pulse and slackening of the bowel that can only mean football is back.
Clare: I AM SO EXCITED. Genuinely. I love the Championship. People will scoff, but I always feel like we are pretending in the Prem. You know like when you splash out and go to a really posh restaurant and pretend that you live like that all the time, but actually have no idea what cutlery to use and one starter costs the same as a weekly jaunt around Sainsbury’s. You feel uncomfortable. And you would much rather be in Nando's. Unpretentious, honest and fun. That's the Championship for me. Well, fun as long as we are winning…
Who is Norwich's key player?
Seb: This is probably a boring answer, but his football is far from it. A pleasant smile was spread across my face at the news of Wes' contract extension. Some people believe less is more: golfers, minimalist artists, Michelin-star chefs. But when we're talking about our little Irish magician, more is definitely more. And the idea of a 'Westinonial' is both amusing and refreshing in a footballing world which seldom sees such loyalty.
Clare: Cameron Jerome. Get him back to the back heeling 'thug life' mode and we will get promoted. Yes. I did just say that.
Zoë: While I remain convinced there is no reason Timm Klose has stayed at Norwich other than him being our guardian angel, I think our midfield is going to mark us out from many other teams this season.
If Alex Tettey and Jonny Howson can both stay fit all year, which might be a bit of a tall order given their recent luck, they will out-work and out-fox most that come before them. Tettey offers leadership, spirit, arms and legs seemingly independent from his body, and at least one shot that goes in the top tier of the Barclay every game. The Premier League takes itself so seriously that we can easily forget that funny football is an essential part of enjoying football. Tettey’s a crucial player but he also makes us smile, and surely that’s what matters, in the end?
Meanwhile, Jonny was made for a wet Tuesday night in the north and it is a constant concern that he seemingly has no concept of just how good he is. His instinct to drive forward and enforce change can grind down the opposition. He’s also key for the nation’s wildlife. Any animals venturing onto the pitch will know they’re safe while he’s around.
Dan: Timm Klose. Obvs. We’re lucky to have him, the Championship is lucky to have him, Snapchat is lucky to have him, and all of our other centre-backs are lucky to have him.
Jon: Keys unlock doors. The Doors were fronted by Jim Morrison. That sounds a little like James Maddison. So he’s your man!
I’ve YouTubed Maddison a few times, so of course I am now fully qualified to announce the second coming of Wes. This guy is a talent. He has that swagger Jack Wilshire had when he burst onto Arsenal’s first team. Skips past people like they are plastic bags in a breeze. He will go to the top. And by top, I mean sold to a mid-table Premier League team, until he is destroyed by the tabloid press for having a golden bidet.
If you could have one Norwich player back from the last three seasons, who would it be?
Zoë: A man-bunned, tattooed, roaring Bradley Johnson who won every header and smacked it into the net from every which way. In my memories of him from two years ago, he’s not wearing a Norwich kit, he’s in an animal pelt, has a necklace of rocks and he’s carrying a club. What a hero he was.
Dan: Lewis Grabban. Obviously I wouldn’t, because of what went on, but obviously I would, because of all those goals he scored in the Championship. He fitted perfectly into Neil’s system – and I’m not quite sure we’ve replaced him yet. Wouldn’t surprise me to see him loaned out to a Championship club this season, and doing very well, and then I can shake my fist and say I BLOODY WELL TOLD YOU DIDN’T I.
Seb: A much younger Joseph Yobo? Okay, I guess that's not really allowed. Dieumerci Mbokani would rip up this league but there's no way he'd be back.
Clare: Bradley Johnson. 2015 version. Not the one that tried to hit us Upper Barclayers with every shot (although it was exciting to nearly touch the ball). The rip-roaring, beard-touting, slam-dunking version. And I won't lie. He'd up the aesthetics level too.
Jon: I’ve struggled with this one. I don’t think we’ve lost someone who has gone off and changed their new team’s fortune or reduced our abilities. I think Gary O’Neil was bang in form. His fitness, never-give-up attitude and ability to swallow teeth with his forehead hasn’t been replaced.
What new thing will fans moan about first? The quality of the new big screen, whoever the new striker will be not scoring a hat-trick each game, Sergi Canos not beating all opposition players and finding a Norwich player with every cross or something else?
Clare: If Ross McCormack had ever pulled on the yellow shirt all the talk would have been that he's fat, unfit and a waste of money. We've saved ourselves from that at least.
Zoë: Isn’t it just one continuous moan which started so long ago no one can remember a world without moaning and which will continue until long after the polar bears have vanished? I’m so fed up of the moaning. The blokes behind me once spent 15 minutes complaining that John Ruddy wasn’t warming up his ‘weak side’ correctly. It’s all too much.
Jon: The massive TV. Easily. I want every 50/50 decision replayed endlessly so we can BOO the ref and players from first to 90th min.
Seb: Probably those in the Upper Barclay complaining about not being able to see the big screen. Or the pixelation being inadequate for those on the far side. Or Alex Pritchard having a haircut that's not the classic short-back-and-sides. Or the inevitable deadline day transfer of both Martin Olsson and Robbie Brady and the meltdown when we miss out on Britt Assombolonga and re-sign Johan Elmander on a season-long loan to solve our striking options.
Which teams are the main threats?
Dan: Newcastle must be odds-on to reach 100 points and 10,000 goals. Brighton have bought and retained well (sorry about Pritchard), while Leeds have got themselves a very good manager in Garry Monk and could be that team who everyone in April says they predicted would do really well but no one actually did.
Zoë: Newcastle is an obvious one. I think this is a big year for Derby – they’ve had a ridiculously strong Championship squad for a few years now but have had no stamina and have underperformed. Nigel Pearson surely won’t let them fade away this time. If they get a good start I expect them to remain in the mix until the end of the season. Sheffield Wednesday have money and they’re a bit of an unknown quantity since we were last in the Championship. They’re going to continue to invest and they’ll want a repeat of the playoffs last season at the very least.
Clare: Newcastle are obviously going to win the league by 300 points and take all three promotion spots themselves because they are THAT good. In fact they'll probably take all 24 spots. Are we sure there are any other teams in the league? Is it not just Newcastle?
Do Norwich still need to strengthen?
Seb: Yes, but probably not to the Grand Theft Auto rob-the-bank standards some fans would have you believe. A first-team striker is definitely needed – we all know that. I wanted McCormack, but to pay £21 million (with wages included) would have been extortionate. It's also worth remembering that Jerome is prolific in the Championship; if anyone embodies the clichéd phrase of 'finding their level' it's him. This season that's a good thing. But I will be disappointed if another proven striker doesn't darken the Carrow Road doorway, and replacements for Brady and Olsson, whom I expect to leave, will equally be required.
Dan: You always need strengthening (not in a Lance Armstrong way). It sounds like a striker is definitely coming in and, if either or both of Olsson or Brady go, then we’re going to need another left-back – especially if Neil returns to pushing his full-backs high in the Championship. Unless Steven Whittaker fancies a go there? Yes? No.
Clare: This last week has taken more turns than the London Eye stuck on turbo mode. At no point have I thought 'we need another attacking midfielder' but, as it’s Pritchard, I'm not complaining. The last time we signed the best opposing player it was Wes. That went pretty well.
Our apparent plan to collect all the best No.10s so no one else can have them is cunning, but we still need strikers. As much as I'm a CamJam fan-girl I'll admit he needs a tad more support. Goals win games and wins mean points and points mean PRIZES. Assombalonga please.
Zoë: With all this fuss over a striker, has everyone just forgotten we still need a centre-back? Michael Turner may have returned but I think we’re a couple of years past having a Bassong-Turner combo in central defence. Ryan Bennett probably isn’t going to have a whole season injury-free so it’s a real worry. Not that Klose couldn’t just sort it all out by himself, but I don’t want to put too much pressure on him.
Pick the first XI you want for the season?
Clare: (4-7-1) Ruddy, Pinto, Klose, Bennett, Olsson; Tettey, Howson, Wes, Naismith, Brady, Canos, Josh Murphy; Jerome. What do you mean you can't have seven midfielders?
Dan: (4-2-3-1) Ruddy; Pinto, Klose, Bassong, Brady; Howson, Tettey; Canos, Wes, Pritchard; Jerome. Nice and narrow, with Pinto and Brady bombing on. A bench consisting of some of Naismith, Maddison, the Murphys, Dorrans, Jarvis (when fit), and New Striker is really very strong.
Zoë: (4-4-1-1) Ruddy; Pinto, Bennett, Klose, Olsson; Canos, Tettey, Howson, Brady; Wes; Jerome.
Jon: (4-2-3-1) Ruddy; Pinto, Bennett, Klose, Toffolo; Tettey, Howson; Pritchard, Wes, Maddison; Jerome.
Seb: (4-2-3-1) Ruddy; Pinto, Bennett, Klose, Olsson; Howson, Tettey; Canos, Pritchard, Hoolahan; Jerome
Who will be promoted and where will Norwich finish?|
Zoë: Distressingly, I think Newcastle are going to walk the league. At this early stage, after the signings they’ve made and Rafa staying on, something’s going to have to go seriously wrong for them not to win the thing. There’s no reason why Norwich can’t go up automatically though, given the current squad and the resources available to invest in a proper push once we get to January. I think Derby will go up too – so it’s either second or another Wembley win for us.
Seb: Norwich will finish somewhere in the playoffs I think, with Newcastle going up as champions. But let's be honest - who can call it? It'll most likely be a toss up of six or seven teams right up until the final weeks. That's what makes things so exciting, and this a cop-out answer.
Dan: Unless they lose Aleksandar Mitrović and Ayoze Pérez before the transfer window shuts, it’s really difficult to look beyond Newcastle. It will be interesting/hilarious/terrifying/terrifyingly hilarious to see how Pearson goes with Derby County, Gary Rowett is doing really good work with Birmingham, and, as mentioned above, Leeds have themselves a really good manager. Norwich’s mix of Wes, battle-hardened players, Wes, genuine quality in all departments, Wes, and a sprinkling of youth should see them going one better than their previous Championship season: automatic promotion.
Clare: Providing the other teams have the bravery to turn up and offer the Geordies some opposition, then I think Sheffield Wednesday will be second*. We will finish third and win playoffs. Largely because winning at Wembley was frigging awesome.
*I actually believe we can get automatic promotion** but I didn't want to seem cocky....
** this largely depends on actually signing a few strikers and not selling Brady or Olsson***
***I'm not holding my breath.
Jon: Newcastle, Derby and Nodgey City! Third. Wembo again.