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Dr. Jonathan Zizmor

Interview with Mackay

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Real Mackay back on top

Football: Michael Grant hears why leaving Celtic was the Norwich vice-captain’s best move

MALKY Mackay is much too long in the tooth to begin playing yo-yo. Winning the Nationwide Division One is an achievement which guarantees praise and then detraction. When a club secure promotion there is usually an assumption they will yo-yo into relegation a year later. Mackay, the vice-captain, epitomises the quiet confidence with which Norwich City intend to disprove the sceptics.

If Norwich continue the recent trend they will survive their first season in the Premiership, not go down. The last four champions of the First Division have all avoided relegation at the first attempt. Charlton, Fulham, Manchester City and Portsmouth set a precedent and Norwich feel capable of extending the sequence. After a nine-year absence, the club are returning to the elite with the swagger of champions.

Mackay left Celtic in 1998 and after six years in the English first division is a time-served observer of the English scene. Most impartial observers would assume that Norwich will be out of their depth at venues like Highbury, Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge, but he is unperturbed. Next season, Portsmouth will become a rival, but for the time being they are the type of club Mackay regards as a role model.

“What we are looking at is what Portsmouth did this season,” he said, while back in Scotland for today’s inter national against Trinidad & Tobago. “At home they defended their ground like a fortress. You have to be hard to beat at home, which we have been in the First Div ision. We have a tight little compact ground and we’re well organised. If we’re hard to beat at home and can nick a point or two away then we’re really looking for the fourth-bottom spot.

“You could structure the Premiership into three parts: bottom, middle and top, and we have to believe we are as good as anything that’s going to be in that bottom area.” There will be no need to feel inadequate in the company of the likes of Everton, Fulham, Birmingham, Blackburn, Tottenham, Southampton and West Brom. Norwich are not the small fry they might seem and the comparison with Portsmouth, whose passionate supporters provided an intimidating and inspiring atmosphere at Fratton Park, is valid. Carrow Road will almost certainly be full for every Premiership game .

Norwich’s most famous champion will be more prominent than ever. Stephen Fry is a supporter and the city is Alan Partridge territory, but no-one eclipses Delia Smith. She has been a supporter for 30 years – her husband, Michael Wynn Jones, a director of Sainsbury’s, has been one for 40 – and becoming majority shareholders was a declaration of their commitment to the club. “It’s not a publicity stunt,” said Mackay. “She’s actually taken time out from her book and her TV career to structure the club. The catering side makes a good healthy profit for Norwich now.”

Delia and Michael eat once a month at the training ground to cement the connection between the board and the players, and every couple of months she takes the players’ and coaches’ wives for a day out, recent outings having included 10 Downing Street and Newmarket races.

“At the start of the season she always has a wee look at what the girls are cooking for the players at the training ground. They all cook from her books anyway.”

That sense of togetherness has transmitted to the team. Norwich are a workmanlike, well-organised unit sensibly managed by Nigel Worthington. It was when the club missed out on promotion by losing the 2002 play-off final to Birmingham that Mackay sensed Worthington had them heading in the right direction, although they finished eighth in 2003.

“I thought that was the start of the manager structuring a team that was geared

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