Norwich City and QPR - Back In The Big Time

History is bunk.

Norwich City and QPR back in the Premier League after time away History repeats itself. We ignore the lessons of history at our peril. As Norwich City and Queens Park Rangers return to English football's promised land they could do worse than study a memorable period of their own pasts and learn that, to some extent, all three adages are true.

Back in 1992-93 both clubs were thriving founder members of the inaugural Premier League; 19 years on they arrive for its 20th season in rather more fragile guise, fully accepting the virtual impossibility of repeating their feats of almost two decades ago.

In the spring of 1993 Mike Walker's Carrow Road side finished third and Gerry Francis's QPR fifth. Since then, the dramatic changes in the domestic game's financial, demographic, scientific and cultural landscape have left the Premier League almost unrecognisable.

"The biggest difference between then and now is the influx of foreign players. In 1992-93 the only senior overseas player at QPR was Jan Stejskal, our Czech goalkeeper," says Les Ferdinand, the former England striker who was part of that Rangers team. "Our dressing room was a very happy, united place."

Quite apart from being overwhelmingly British, the prevailing culture was fairly forgiving. "Attitudes towards alcohol – and other things like diet – were certainly more relaxed," says Ferdinand.

"Footballers attracted a lot less attention and weren't generally treated as stars. There was less pressure; you could get away with a bit more than today. Not that we ever did anything untoward, of course … Things were different for us; we enjoyed a lot more freedom."

Yet if Russian oligarchs, oil-rich Arabs, expensive imported players, suave continental coaches and something called Prozone have effected a shift so profound that the early 1990s sometimes feels like a piece of remote football history, former glories are not necessarily irrelevant.

At Norwich Ian Culverhouse knows he can never recreate the past but, instead, uses aspects of it as a template to help shape a bright future. Now Paul Lambert's assistant at Carrow Road, he served as Walker's impressively incisive right-back in 1992-93.

At a time when the long-ball game still enraptured many coaches, a playing philosophy based on building from the back proved Norwich's hallmark under Walker who, like Francis, presided over a tight-knit, harmonious dressing room.

Two decades on Culverhouse draws on those experiences as he helps evolve the current team's pleasing, memory-provoking possession game. The big difference is that, these days, he and Lambert trust their diamond formation will stave off relegation rather than secure European football.

"We're under no illusions about how tough it's going to be," says Culverhouse. "Survival is going to involve a hell of an achievement. People must realise the magnitude of the challenge. We've gone from League One to the Premier League in two years. That's an enormous jump."

Pride and excitement is tempered by a little trepidation. "If you can't enjoy being in the best league in the world you're in the wrong game but there are pros and cons," he says.

"Things change quickly. Chris Hughton and Roberto Di Matteo did fantastic jobs after promotion last year and then, suddenly, Newcastle and West Brom were looking for new managers."

If burgeoning wage bills do little to promote boardroom patience, spiralling incomes have heralded a new, intensely professional era. The price of such progress includes the disappearance of "renaissance man" polymath managers in the Francis mould.

Not content with establishing a high-quality QPR side as London's top team, the former England captain, now assisting Tony Pulis at Stoke, enjoyed a rich hinterland involving antique collecting, pigeon fancying and even film production.

"At QPR we didn't even have a fitness coach and Gerry did the coaching himself," says Ferdinand. "Pre-season involved running up hills. Prozone had not been invented; if anyone had told us about it we'd have thought they were talking science fiction." Dressing-room camaraderie was generated by English humour. "Foreign players have improved the Premier League dramatically but when people speak different languages you inevitably get cliques," says Ferdinand.

The greatest divisions at Loftus Road this summer have occurred upstairs, over transfer policy. "It seems a shame when QPR have waited so long and worked so hard to get back to the top division that this [boardroom] wrangling might prevent them making the most of their chance," says Ferdinand. "But Neil Warnock will treat staying up as a crusade. Unlike Paul Lambert, who is one of the new breed of young, scientific, "laptop" managers, Neil is very much old school. But his methods work.

"It's encouraging that QPR don't just play one way. At times last season they played some very good football but at others they went direct. In the Premier League you have to find the right formula for your players but you also need a Plan B."

Nineteen years ago, a combination of brainy football and locker-room brio paid rich dividends for Norwich and QPR. Their parochial predecessors' pre-season and refuelling routines may now look prehistoric, but the classes of 2011 at Carrow Road and Loftus Road would be foolish to forget history's lessons.

Powered by article was written by Louise Taylor, for The Guardian on Monday 8th August 2011 00.05 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

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