It’s been done to death. I’ve heard it where I work, I’ve heard it from Norwich fans, I’ve heard it from non-Norwich fans, I’ve read it online. Most of the time it’s simple; “you’re gonna come straight back down.”
There are variations on this theme. Some Norwich and non-Norwich fans have said, “I’d rather stay in the Championship. It’s more interesting, and at least you can win it.” I’ve heard others say, of the Premier League, that Norwich “will never be the sort of team who challenge for Europe, who’ll be up the top. It’s just treading water.”
On August 12th 2006, Stoke faced Birmingham in front of 12,347 people, with the match finishing 0-0.
Five years later; Birmingham won the League Cup and a European trip beckons. And Stoke? After consecutive seasons of improvement, they are to face Man City in the FA Cup final, guaranteed of a place in Europe as a result of City’s high league finish.
Who ever saw that coming? Who, five years ago, saw Stoke in a cup final? Saw either team in Europe? None but the die hard fans, the eternal optimists.
Paul Lambert is a winner. David McNally is a winner. And, years removed from ‘prudence with ambition’, Delia is on for the ride. The feeling at the club, of everyone pulling in the same direction, of everyone reaching for the top, is unlike any I’ve known in nearly 20 years as a fan. Paul Lambert makes all the right noises, deflects credit to the players but it is an absolute truth that he is the most valuable person in the whole club, and one we must fight tooth and nail to keep and protect.
But assuming we do, why couldn’t we follow in Stoke or Birminghams footsteps? What rules out a cup win? What rules out a top half finish, a challenge on European places?
Ultimately, it isn’t history or fanbase or reputation that gets you the spots in Europe. Fulham and Middlesborough both made it to the UEFA Cup Final (or Europa League, whatever you fancy calling it). Both unfashionable clubs, both struggle at times (and in history) for attendances. Both got there because they had a manager with talent, players who got the job done and a board that gave them the chance.
There isn’t a glass ceiling, and anyone who says there is is just making excuses. Fooball comes down to 90 minutes, a bunch of times a season. When you’ve got a manager who makes things happen, players who want success and a whole club that wants to win, who is anyone to say we’ll find a level? Who is anyone to say we’ll tread water? Who is anyone to say we’ll have nothing to play for?
If we keep Lambert, all bets are off. He is a winner. Every game, he wants to win. Every year, he’ll want to do better than the last. Every year, he’ll want to go further than the last. That’s what ambition is. That’s what this club has now. The moment the club stagnates, the moment we accept a level, accept just making the numbers and never challenging to win every game we play, we lose Lambert.
And if we have that attitude, there isn’t much point, is there?
Winning’s winning. For the first time I can remember we have a club that wants to win, that isn’t prepared to be little Norwich.
So next year we make sure we stay up. Then, who knows what the future holds. But let no one say it can’t be us.