Carrow Road ain’t what it used to be. Where once we had joy and noise, now we have nerves and angstThu 29 Sep 16 by Rob Emery
Roger Munby, former Norwich City chairman, once uttered the immortal phrase: “This club can go as far as its fans want to take it”.
From that viewpoint, the season to date has certainly been something of a dichotomy – top of the Championship with victory over Burton, yet with fan concern bordering on discontentment to a level that but a few short weeks ago threatened to scupper both Alex Neil’s obvious ambition and the players’ confidence at Carrow Road.
Now, four successive league wins have silenced the doubters, but there’s no question the undercurrent remains; certainly so far as some of the reaction against Burton showed as the defence creaked at one end and presentable chances were spurned at the other.
Sensible analysis and considered thought has, perhaps, never been the occupants of the Main Stand’s strong point, but loud cries for several players to be substituted (I’m sure “Get him orf” is a Norfolk catchphrase given how often it emanated from behind me) were hardly likely to engender confidence either in individuals or collectively.
In the era of Munby, Andy Cullen and Gordon Bennett City fans were realistic, supportive, loud and proud. The phrase “togetherness”, corny though it was, fitted the mood perfectly. The vibrant atmosphere and near certain sell-outs drove the team forward, drove the club forward, and made Carrow Road an enjoyable place to come to.
Even as the key players behind the scenes moved on, it should have created a legacy for subsequent guardians to nurture and develop, and for a while it did.
Yet it wasn’t sustained. Carrow Road today is but a pale shadow of those glorious days, even compared to our relegation season to League One. Nervousness pervades.
Establishing a two goal lead was once a trigger for more noise, more celebration, more backing and more confidence. Now it just brings anxiety as soon as the opposition threaten, which palpably transmits itself to the players. Just look at what happened against both Wigan and Cardiff.
So how did we get to this stage? How did a group of positive, happy fans morph into a lynch mob with pitchforks, ready to put Delia and Michael’s heads on display outside the castle? (A slight exaggeration maybe).
I’d suggest it was a mix of expectation and a (quite probably unhealthy) degree of entitlement.
So what caused that?
There’s no question in my mind that back when Munby was chairman, the club felt more inclusive. We all belonged and all felt a part of it. Prices were sensible, people felt looked after and were prepared to reciprocate.
It felt like our club, more so than at any time over the previous 20 years, evidenced by the response to the first share issue following the collapse of ITV Digital… and then we got relegated to our lowest level for 50 years.
Of course strong action was required to protect the club and secure its future and of course David McNally and Alan Bowkett were initially the right people to deliver it but somewhere along the line the relationship between club and fans became strained to breaking point as tranches of the support suddenly had benefits cut as the club turned from co-operative to business.
Success came, but at a price, quite literally in the case of attending games, which became astronomical for casual admission. The community ethos led and encouraged by Delia and Michael was set aside as they themselves became ever more marginalised in the boardroom.
What was bred in the fan base as a result was a not unreasonable expectation that increased financial contribution should lead to increased success. Successive promotions to the Premier League held things together, but the underlying dissatisfaction was still there.
It occasionally reared its head – a boycott of a League Cup game over pricing, then the reaction to Chris Hughton’s stewardship. The longer the period of struggle – which culminated in relegation and a quiet transfer window – the greater the level of dissatisfaction.
The Carrow Road of Munby, Cullen and Bennett seems a lifetime away right now. Even when we’re winning the atmosphere is muted expectation; when we struggle it’s hostile; when we win it’s relief rather than joy. It’s an experience to be endured rather than enjoyed, and that’s terribly sad.
Never has the first verse of OTBC seemed more appropriate:
In the days to call, which we’ve left behind,
Our boyhood’s glorious game,
And our youthful vigour has declined
With its mirth and its lonesome end;
You will think of the time, the happy time,
Its memories fond recall
When in the bloom of your youthful prime
We’ve kept upon the ball.
In my supporting life, I’ve been lucky enough to live through some fantastic occasions. Those memories will abide with me forever and will always send a shiver down my spine and put a smile on my face.
Today’s supporters, those coming to Carrow Road for the first time, haven’t yet been so lucky. They’ve seen mostly misery, negativity and backbiting.
And I hope for their sakes that Munby’s words all those years ago are turned into a positive rather than a negative. The club, and its fans, sit on the brink of going one of two ways. We are still the glue that holds the club together.
Let’s hope for all our sakes there are enough people with glass half-full views to keep the ship steady.
Interesting days indeed.