Now, we’re not saying Norwich are doomed. Absolutely not. But this is the second part of Richard Jeffery’s look back at our three worst relegations in history. Today it’s 2008-09, when Norwich slumped to their lowest ebb in 50 years
So here we go. Our worst relegation.
The 2005 relegation was the beginning of the drawn-out end of the Nigel Worthington era. His departure also began a painful decline and what seems with hindsight an inevitable further, and potentially fatal, relegation.
Which is why I make our drop into League One in 2009 my worst.
Worthington’s time in charge finally dragged itself to a close – like a mortally wounded sloth trying to crawl up a down escalator – more than a season after our 2005 relegation. It came after the Worthy Out campaign had split our support smack down the middle and culminated in cheers from Norwich fans as Burnley scored against us.
This led to our then chief executive – our gift to Scotland, the incompetent and unambitious one – appointing Peter Grant as manager in October 2006 and giving him all our remaining transfer cash. Grant was a novice manager, who wasted the vast majority of that money and turned out to be the most disastrous managerial appointment we’ve ever made. The next two managers were as bad in their own ways, don’t get me wrong, but under Grant the guts were ripped out of the squad and an unstoppable chain of events was set in motion.
Grant’s departure less than a year after his appointment begat the arrival of Glenn Victor Roeder; how I wish I’d missed his tenure. Roeder turned things around initially, and eventually got us safe from relegation in the season he succeeded Grant. It was the next season that things started to go badly wrong.
To be fair to Roeder he’d inherited a mess. He had bad luck with Dejan Stefanović’s injury, we had Mark Fotheringham, we had a squad thin in both numbers and quality, and very little cash. Roeder decided the only way to deal with this was to bring in hordes of uninterested (with some exceptions) and crap (with some exceptions) loanees (15 in total that season), which earned him the nickname ‘The Loan Arranger’. He had other nicknames.
This combined with his crashingly bad interpersonal skills, dreadful man-management, baffling selections and tactics led to a toxic atmosphere around FCR. The incident which best sums up the pettiness of Roeder is how he handled the departure of Hucks, which has been covered in depth elsewhere – not least by the man himself. It showed him up for the small man he is, a spiteful, arrogant man who seemed to relish discord.
He departed in January 2009, leaving us teetering on the brink of the bottom three of the Championship. We were *ahem* on a Roeder nowhere with him in charge.
Bryan Gunn, club legend, Sheriff of Norwich etc. etc., was given the caretaker role and we duly beat Barnsley 4-0 in his first game in charge. Against most people’s judgement, this won Gunn the job on a full-time basis to the end of the season. Thrust into a situation which was by now beyond salvage, and into a job it quickly became evident he was not up to, we slid inexorably into League One.
This relegation hurt in many ways.
During the season, we’d commemorated the boys of ’59, by playing in 1950s replica shirts in an FA Cup replay against a woeful Charlton side (more of them later). To say the (losing) performance that night against Charlton – who hadn’t won in 18 matches – was unfitting to the spirit of the 59ers would be an understatement. It was Roeder’s last game as our manager though, so every cloud.
We won our preantipenultimate game against Watford, giving us a glimmer. But then had to go to play the Shitland Ponies (© Karl Minns) in Shitland in our antipenultimate game. They beat us 3-2 which gave us a mountain to climb. The club was in a bad way: if it was an animal, we’d have been off down the vets with it. We were heading one way, and the Tractor Twats were heading the other.
Only the season before they’d been taken over by a rich mystery benefactor who was going to pump limitless cash into them, hire the best manager and players available and propel them into the stratosphere of football. They came to FCR, sang that they were fucking loaded and waved their tenners in the air. We felt worlds apart. How did that work out lads? Lads?
We then lost our penultimate game at home to Reading but, incredibly, were still in with a chance on the last day of the season away in our ultimate game at Charlton, woeful Charlton. Woeful, already relegated Charlton. As it turned out our result didn’t matter anyway due to results elsewhere (we lost 4-2), but it was the abject nature of the performance which angered the travelling Y’Army. We were down, along with woeful, already relegated, bottom-of-the-table Charlton.
Despite this, and in the face of no evidence whatsoever that he was the man for the job, the club in their wisdom decided Gunny, former Sheriff of Norwich etc. etc., was still the man to take us forward. So there we were; skint, with a very weak squad both in terms of numbers and quality, newly relegated to the third tier and at our lowest ebb for 50 years.
We were staring at the very real possibility of administration and the 10-point deduction that would have brought, with a demonstrably incompetent manager at the helm (playing legend though he was etc. etc.) who was looking to consolidate in League One.
One of the saddest things about this relegation is that it tarnished Gunny’s reputation at the club somewhat. We should be able to look back upon his time with Norwich and remember him as a fantastic player, a crowd favourite, one of the best keepers we’ve had, and present at some of our best moments as a club. Without this hanging over it all.
This all led to a day which trumped Fulham (A) as the most embarrassing day in our history, when we were thumped 7-1 at home by Colchester United in our first game back in the third tier of English football for 50 years. Season tickets were flung, seats vacated, and it seemed we might exit League One at the opposite end to the one we wanted to.
We were holding out for a hero, but that’s another story.
So there you go. Our worst relegation. But it was also the catalyst for a fantastic time to be a Norwich supporter, led to our financial salvation, oh and another relegation.
But will it lead to two? Alex, it’s over to you.