Norwich march into the Promised Land

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It has been a good few days for those attached to Norwich City. Firstly, those who follow snooker will have seen Barry Pinches sporting a waistcoat in the colours of the Canaries as he beat Jimmy White at the world championship at The Crucible in Sheffield. Secondly, the football team themselves earned promotion to the Premiership, when Sunderland's defeat against Crystal Palace made definite what has for the majority of this season seemed a probability.

Norwich's official website shows the current manager Nigel Worthington alongside Delia Smith, the club's saviour, rightfully toasting their success with Champagne.

Worthington, the manager since January 2001, is not known for getting carried away and he showed the bubbly had not gone to his head when he said: "We have achieved promotion, what we all wanted, but now we have to try and focus on trying to complete the job and get the title to Carrow Road."

Smith, who acknowledged the significance of her team's achievements this season, said: "We have had a long, hard trek in the desert and now the Promised Land is there. We know how tough it is going to be [in the Premiership]. Our football club does not have the money, but my god, it has got a lot of spirit.

"I'm totally overwhelmed. We're [Smith and her husband and fellow director Michael Wynn-Jones] both absolutely thrilled. We'll be having an imminent board meeting now to find out exactly how many funds will be available and we'll go from there."

But in a week when European football has also been in the limelight, it is a reminder for Norwich fans everywhere exactly how far they have fallen in exactly a decade.

It was 10 seasons ago that the Norfolk side, then managed by Mike Walker, stole the hearts of many a footballing neutral by beating Bayern Munich in the Olympic Stadium and knocking them out of the Uefa Cup. Eventual elimination came at the hands of another giant of continental competition, Internazionale, and although no one was to know it then, they had reached their zenith.

Just 16 months later, in May 1995, they were relegated after three seasons in the Premiership and glory nights in Europe were replaced by midweek trips to Grimsby. The intervening years have seen the club face bankruptcy before steadily finding a sound financial footing and that is why the present feeling at the club is one of such high elation. The defeat for Sunderland came on Wednesday when Norwich were not in action and, so the saying goes, they went up without kicking a ball. That, of course, does a disservice to the amount of ball-kicking they have done in their 42 games to get them to this point. They lead their division and have suffered only seven defeats, the joint fewest along with West Bromwich Albion who should also be promoted this weekend. They have the second most prolific attack, behind their East Anglian rivals Ipswich Town, and have conceded the fewest goals.

Judging by a host of comments on internet messageboards, Norwich's promotion has been well received. Fans from clubs as diverse as Blackburn Rovers, Cardiff City and Millwall have all posted their compliments. Understandably, any coming from Ipswich, who could still go up through the play-offs, are thin on the ground.

It is Smith, along with Wynn-Jones, who has rescued Norwich from oblivion and the possible fate of financially-stricken clubs such as Bradford City and Sheffield Wednesday. They will both be in the Second Division next season yet, like Norwich, were once in the Premiership as well.

The question now arises as to whether Norwich will turn out to be like Wolverhampton Wanderers, who went up last season but appear doomed to the drop, or more like Bolton Wanderers, who have made it three consecutive seasons in the top flight.

Being lumbered with too many players on exorbitant wages was what nearly drove Norwich to the wall when they were relegated nine years ago, but while those lessons have been absorbed, relegation next year is already being spoken about as a possibility if they do not invest.

It is a Catch-22 situation that is presently being looked at by Smith and her fellow directors. She has poured in £7m of her own money during her time on the board. But irrespective of any new investment in the playing side, Worthington already knows it will be tough but is looking forward to what August will bring. "We know it's going to be difficult," he said, "but we are going to enjoy it. It's a real challenge and that's how I see it."

He accepts the long-term financial security of the club must not be put in jeopardy. "We will be looking to add more quality to the current group to maintain Premiership status," Worthington said. "It is a massive jump - there is no underestimating that. We haven't got the money to throw around at this football club.

"We are a sensible , well run football club. If there is something there to spend, we will try to spend it wisely, if there is not then we will get on with what we have got. Team spirit can take you a long way and the one thing I am very strict on is discipline, so with that and a fair amount of talent, hopefully, that can take us a long way. You will compete against Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Newcastle - they are mega-wealthy football clubs and have world-class footballers within their ranks. It is a David and Goliath situation, but you know who won that fight, so we are up for it. "

The Premiership will not be completely foreign territory for all Wilkinson's squad, with Darren Huckerby and Matt Svensson recent alumni of Manchester City and Charlton Athletic. There are also players such as Philip Mulryne, who came through the ranks at Manchester United and Marc Edworthy who spent some years with Coventry City. By contrast goalkeeper Rob Green is a product of the club's youth system and impressed Sven Goran Eriksson enough to be called into last month's squad for the England friendly in Sweden.

However, while youth is on the side of the squad, they lack strength in depth and additional players are needed if they are to stand any chance of competing. Come next May, just staying up might give Norwich the sort of warm glow beating Bayern did all those years ago.

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