I’ve had a change of heart.
Feel free to comment on this article in the most strident, negative and unreasonable terms. I won’t get defensive and sniffy as usual; in fact, I’ll welcome and relish it. Do your worst.
At this point I should perhaps clarify my change of heart. No, I haven’t become disenchanted with Norwich City, Delia & Michael or (at this point) Alex Neil – I’ll try to explain why.
No – I’ve changed my mind about negativity. Football is an excellent outlet for it, while in other spheres it’s perhaps more sinister. We’ll return to that.
This isn’t the easiest time to come and defend Alex Neil. We can argue about performances from August to mid-October, but only an idiot would deny that there are problems in our club right now – and they need to be sorted quickly if we’re not to lose vital ground.
Let me quickly admit I’m writing this from about 4,000 miles away. I didn’t witness Brighton, though I’m assuming it was as bad as the worst reports (I did see Russell Martin’s interview, which spoke volumes). Criticism, including of the angry kind, is clearly due.
I still bristle at unreason though. I missed the pleasure (?) of Canary Call this time, but I did listen to it after Preston. A string of callers proclaimed that Alex Neil had been lucky when he came to Norwich, that “anyone” could have got promoted with the squad he inherited.
Needless to say, there was no challenge to those claims from the Canary Call host (though to his credit, Darren Eadie pushed back a little).
No-one saw fit to mention the most basic fact of that 2014-15 season:
Over the first 24 games of the season (before AN) the team was seventh. Over the remaining 22 games (i.e. from AN’s arrival) the same team was first. The net result was to get us in the play-offs, where Alex masterminded a tactical triumph.
You don’t need a degree in rocket science – or indeed, logic – to figure out that the manager had something to do with that success.
Before you tell me that Neil Adams under-achieved with the team in that first half of the season, a reminder that Fulham and Cardiff (who came down with us from the Premier League) were widely tipped as better placed than Norwich to return. Neither of them ever challenged the top six.
Fulham and Cardiff illustrated the psychological difficulty of bouncing back after relegation. It explains why three out of four clubs don’t, and it’s graphically described by Adam Drury in his excellent chapter of Tales from the City Volume 2.
No, it’s exceptional to do what Alex Neil did. If he were to repeat it this season, it would be a rare feat indeed, whatever the squad. We currently sit just four points off automatic promotion (and of course he’s the current Manager of the Month).
I understand why his place is being questioned now – but it seems to me premature to wield the axe on someone who has special qualities and (with both Hamilton and Norwich) a special record.
The cauldron of the Premier League was a hard learning environment for him last year. Surely though, even his harshest critics would concede that he didn’t have a competitive squad at his disposal – especially after the failure of efforts to secure a quality central defender in the summer.
At this point, a few more weeks to show his mettle again isn’t too much to ask, is it? That kind of nerve-holding certainly paid dividends for Burnley last year.
Maybe nerve-holding and rationality aren’t the thing for 2016, though. Well beyond Norwich City and football, it seems to be the Year of Discontent. And that’s what really worries me.
This forum isn’t (thank goodness) for party politics. But it’s a striking feature of this year, in Britain and elsewhere, that the consensus of how we do things has broken down. Gut feeling and primal instinct have gained influence while experts and facts are sent packing with a volley of abuse.
When fantasy (Trump claims climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese to weaken our economies) has equal currency with established fact, I believe we’re in trouble.
Granted, conventional politicians and institutions have brought some of this on themselves and need to re-engage with their people. Some of it applies to Norwich City as well. However, the retreat of reason – like the polar icecaps – has gone beyond that. Reason needs to fight back.
Is it possible for us to channel more of our anger into football matches and their immediate aftermath? To be quick to anger, then let it dissipate (ideally over a pint or two) and take a more considered view?
Another eye-catching chapter of the new Tales from the City (Mick Dennis is going to owe me a drink at this rate) is Karen Buchanan’s. She contrasts the two roles she’s played in relation to Norwich City – the analyst and the fan – in words we can easily relate to:
“One requires you to know stuff…. The other allows you to go to the pub before and after the game, moan like hell about the ref and wallow in ecstasy/misery entirely untroubled by the need to attempt rational analysis”
Perhaps I’m wrong and any outlet for anger simply encourages more, but it’s worth a try.
Over to you!