“Balls” is a word often associated with my writing on this site. Perhaps for once I can be the one to introduce it, rather than others.
In the context of Norwich City, Friday afternoon was dramatic. Though the sacking of Alex Neil may not have quite the historical significance of the Kennedy assassination, many of us will remember where we were.
I was in the Carrow Road Holiday Inn. Preparing for An Evening with Ed Balls in the Norfolk Lounge, I’d passed the afternoon penning a sage column on the Board’s (apparent) decision to stick with AN. Ah well….
It was an interesting, enjoyable and instructive evening. I learnt much (not least, what a ‘fluffer’ in show business is); more importantly, Ed did much to satisfy the curiosity of the City fans in attendance.
Our timing couldn’t have been better, with Ed literally joining us straight from the Boardroom. Even before we had the first course, he addressed the issues on our minds: what had just happened, why had the Board sacked AN, and why hadn’t they done it sooner?
Among his points: the Board reviewed things in December, found Alex Neil still full of purpose and drive, and bore in mind the second-half charge he’d orchestrated before; their faith seemed to be rewarded with an upturn in January, but recent results and performances (notably Burton and Sheffield Wednesday) had made clear what they should now do.
The decision to terminate AN’s contract was unanimous. AN received the news with complete dignity and professionalism.
Ed’s explanations won’t have satisfied everyone. The real point was that he gave us an explanation. We could see the Board as a group of human beings wrestling with the challenges, committed to the good of the club but also trying to act with sense and decency. Even if you disagreed with their thinking, it was suddenly harder to be angry with them.
Before the decision, it was actually much more difficult for the Board to say anything in public. The lack of communication, though, allowed a malicious and unhelpful set of untruths to gain traction.
Anyhow, that’s now behind us. While it’s tempting to rake over coals and argue about what’s past, there’s a crucial period ahead of us. We’ll have a new manager; the Board will share with us a less emotive but equally important plan for a revised structure to take the club forward; and we’ll have a major turnover of players in the summer.
It might be better for us all to focus forwards rather than backwards.
Pondering these things, I was reminded of an important theme for Labour during Ed’s time: rights and responsibilities. Going back to President Kennedy, it’s a similar theme to “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”.
I always had a slight problem with Kennedy’s suggestion. After all, isn’t it both rather than either/or? Nonetheless, it’s an idea at least as relevant today as in 1960. We tend to be very conscious of our rights and others’ responsibilities; perhaps we might spend some more time on the flipside of the equation.
In the context of Norwich City, we have reason to complain about the past eighteen months. We have a right to expect a team that performs to its capability in front of us, and a decent recruitment performance. In both cases we have grounds to feel disappointed and short-changed, and to say so.
Some will probably argue that in paying our money, we’re buying the right to criticize anything, to have any expectations we choose. There I’m not so sure.
It seems to me we have some responsibilities too, and they include a basic recognition of finances. Relegation reduced City’s income by around half. The club’s good housekeeping, the relegation clauses in its contracts and parachute payments have helped to mitigate the situation, but they don’t fill the gap.
It was necessary for the two transfer windows of this season, and will also be necessary next summer, to deliver a surplus in the playing budget (i.e. transfer fees + wages). It’s fair to ask fans, in my view, to understand and accept that reality. The more communication from the club on these matters, of course, the better.
At a more mundane level, some fans on Saturday showed less than the degree of football knowledge I think they actually have. When Dijks was dismissed, some yelled for us to leave all our creative players on the pitch and play three at the back. Hang on. Three at the back means wing-backs. I can see Pinto as Dijks in that role (though it’s not the way we play); can anyone really see Josh Murphy, Wes or Pritchard doing it?
Let’s re-focus on the future. The coming summer will be interesting as some high-earning but low-contributing players will leave at the end of their contracts, potentially freeing up cash to bring in lower-earning but more impactful replacements.
There may not be an end to austerity in sight – but if we can get it right, there are more exciting and better times ahead for Norwich City.