2013-08-16 11:01 PM
LONDON (AP) -- Five things to know about Norwich going into the 2013-14 English Premier League season:
NEED MORE GOALS
Lack of goals almost cost Norwich its hard-earned Premier League status last season. With two games left, Norwich had scored just 34 times and was flirting with relegation. Two wins and seven more goals secured a flattering 11th-place finish.
Manager Chris Hughton has since spent a combined 13.5 million pounds ($21 million) on forwards -- that's 13.5 million more than Arsenal -- to avoid another tense finale. Responsibility falls on Netherlands international Ricky van Wolfswinkel, a club record signing from Sporting Lisbon, and Englishman Gary Hooper, who arrived from Celtic.
For the first time since 2009, Norwich is without talismanic striker and captain Grant Holt, who joined second-tier Wigan. The one-time tire fitter defied his many doubters by firing Norwich to two promotions, guided by manager Paul Lambert, and a mid-table Premier League finish in 2011-12. Holt's 15 goals then prompted talk of joining England's European Championship squad. Under the more defensively minded Hughton, Holt could seem disinterested and tested fans' faith even as his eight goals proved crucial. At Carrow Road, swapping out Holt with van Wolfswinkel is seen as necessary as the team matures.
Holt typified the honest virtues of Norwich's unlikely recent rise: mostly British, team-first personalities, with many having spent time at semi-professional clubs outside of England's four established divisions. Even today, six of Hughton's squad -- including Hooper and club captain Russell Martin -- have played in the so-called non-League ranks.
Norwich has tried to sweeten its style with high-class additions -- van Wolfswinkel, Dutch midfielder Leroy Fer and England Under-21 attacker Nathan Redmond -- without losing an identity which served the club well. More pace and creativity, without losing the defensive solidity which kept 10 clean sheets last season, is needed to take Norwich higher.
Norwich would be runaway champions if the Premier League was decided by TV ratings and book sales scored by club directors. The majority shareholder since 1996 is Delia Smith, the long-reigning queen of British television chefs. She later recruited Stephen Fry, the actor, writer, wit and gay rights activist who has recently been a prominent critic of Russia's anti-gay legislation ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Fry is as likely to regale his 6 million-plus Twitter followers with Norwich match updates as rallying cries against Russia's Vladimir Putin. Both Smith and Fry are genuine, long-standing fans who live locally. In a league of teams owned by absentee American billionaires, Russian oligarchs and Arab sheiks, Norwich stands out as a club which is of and about its community. And no other English team wears yellow and green.
DEBT-FREE -- TIME TO EXPAND?
Norwich is a rarity among European football clubs -- effectively debt-free. The cozy Carrow Road stadium holds a little more than 27,000 spectators, and 22,000 are season ticket holders -- more than AC Milan has. There's a waiting list to secure a seat and Norwich has long wanted to expand capacity. The current main stand was built after a major fire in 1984 and seems too modest in an era of multi-billion-dollar television deals. Still, Norwich needs to maintain Premier League status to justify the investment and avoid a potential financial tailspin.
A fast start from Hughton's side this season, and fans may see the height of Delia & Co's ambitions.