Twitter is a brilliant medium for debate. A medium that engages the masses, fosters awareness of contemporary and pertinent issues and one that facilitates the visibility of a vast spectrum of views. It provokes. It angers. It shapes opinions.
Such a medium invariably becomes increasingly active during periods of change, transition or importance. That intensification of activity is inevitable. Indeed, Norwich City’s summer has successfully functioned as one of those periods, a series of weeks that have served to excite, captivate and more recently enrage many members of the Canary nation.
Last Friday night was a microcosm of this period. Mid-afternoon witnessed the departure of the effervescent Jonny Howson; a player who I have admired more than any other throughout the past five turbulent years at City and one whom my respect and appreciation for has been in no way diluted by Stuart Webber’s candid sentiments later that evening.
Through thick and thin, in Premier League and Championship, at home and away, Howson conducted his responsibilities in yellow with both industry and professionalism, rarely having a bad game and being the heartbeat of a midfield that has so frequently been characterised by mediocrity and an undesirable lack of enterprise.
Following his departure, Twitter ignited. Opinions were polarised. Many – probably most – shared mine; praising Howson for his indefatigable service to City and thanking him for his efforts. Others were more indifferent, rating our former number 8 as a solid midfielder but one whom they were not overly disappointed to see the back of.
Then, there were those who were vehemently scathing towards him, criticising him for too often ‘going missing’ in games and not offering enough to the team from whichever position he was being deployed in.
Nonsense. As my favourite City player over the past few years, I’ve frequently watched Howson during games, analysing his movement and activity on and off the ball and assiduously casting an eye over his exploits. Unlike the similarly northern-bound Graham Dorrans and the seemingly City-committed Alex Tettey, he rarely passed backwards or sideways.
Howson attacked, playing with a continual sense of dynamism that we have been in such acute need of more of over recent campaigns. He relentlessly played forward, innovatively searching for openings that his teammates were incapable of finding. He defended. He created. He scored.
Life without Howson will be different. With him in our team, we were provided with an underappreciated sense of reliability, stability and strength, notions that Theresa May craved up until June 8 but failed to attain as she lost her authority.
Now he has departed, we must move on. Ode to Jonny over.
Now, Webber and his remarks. While the new era at Carrow Road has been most conspicuously associated with the widespread sale of ostensible ‘deadwood’ and the arrivals of Messrs Gunn, Zimmerman, Vracic, Reed, Watkins and Husband, the advent of a renewed transparency has been similarly well-received. And rightly so.
Under the deplorable Jez Moxey, the City hierarchy took an axiomatically invisible, unaccountable and sheltered form, most palpably delineated by the prevalence of sanitised in-house interviews and an alarming lack of specificity concerning the club’s long-term ambitions.
Under the new Webber-Farke-Stone leadership, the club has changed for the better. All three speak with eloquence, providing fans with the information they want to consume and the way in which they see City moving forward.
In his interview with MFW colleague Stewart Lewis, Stone made the financial and structural situation of the club unequivocally clear. Likewise Webber with his on-field and transfer-related intentions. Similarly, Farke has made his desire for defensive solidity and an offensive identity known. So far, so good.
It was Webber’s revelations exposed on the club website on Friday night, however, that functioned as the most polemical instance of this new-found accessibility. The outbreak of the news concerning Howson’s alleged unprofessionalism and failure to train properly surprised me as much as it did others, but the emergence of hostility towards the City legend was astonishing.
Context is important here. Yes, Howson’s behaviour is condemnable and not what you’d expect from such a long-term servant to City, but we must consider his well-being both on and off the field. He was not happy at Norwich.
While us fans are unable to diagnose the principal reasons behind his desire to move, I would suggest a wish to relocate to the north functioned as crucial. We may all love the fine city of Norwich, but you cannot help but accept it must feel remarkably secluded and inaccessible from other parts of the country,
I hold nothing against Howson for his behaviour. It must only have been symptomatic of a fervent desire to relocate, to obtain one final move to a reasonably sized club in the north and another return to the Premier League. As Robin Sainty rightly mentioned in his recent piece, Howson stuck with City through some dark times. Fans need to remember the facts.
So back to transparency. Although Webber and his justification for the sale represented a communicative and admirable new path, fans’ memories of Howson and the happiness he instilled in our hearts must not be tarnished. That mazy run and finish at the Etihad. That wonder-strike at the Britannia on a cold Wednesday night. That curling effort at Carrow Road against West Brom. I won’t even mention Forest.
Fans should respect how Howson was feeling. They should respect his desire for change. This is less a justification for his actions than it is a mere acknowledgement of how professional footballers sometimes need to put themselves and their lifestyles first. Howson was, and will continue to be, a great player.
There will be those who boo him during our impending Tuesday night trip to the Riverside. But such behaviour would be moronic.
Amidst this ensuing epoch of communication and transparency, the necessity for context and consideration is therefore paramount. Howson was a City great. Regardless of Friday night’s events and subsequent reaction, I will continue to trust Webber and Farke to put the well-being and future of the club first and construct a squad capable of mounting a ruthless assault on the second tier’s summit.
Long may the departures, arrivals and communicative transparency continue. What us fans must not do, however, is jump to naïve, rudimentary and potentially distorted conclusions that may not reflect context and reality.