Some of you may already know Jack Holmes as the young man behind the minimalist images that have appeared on the Little Yellow Bird Project, the club’s match programme and many other publications. In addition to being a talented artist, Jack is also turning his hand to writing and is this week’s guest blogger on MFW…
As I begin my first article – my debut attempt at anything like this – I admit it’s on a topic that will likely divide opinion, but more importantly, start a conversation.
Norwich City fans, in general, feel a sense of entitlement much like other clubs who have recently been relegated from the Premier League; an inescapable feeling that we deserve to play in the top league, despite our current league position.
However, unlike clubs such as Sunderland or Aston Villa, we have little reason to feel this misguided sense of entitlement to the promised land that is the Premier League. Since the formation of the division in 1992, City have spent 16 seasons out of 24 outside of the Premier League, with it now looking increasingly likely that we will be set for a 17th.
In comparison, Swansea, Middlesbrough and Leicester have spent 13, 17 and 13 seasons respectively outside the top league, with the Foxes even boasting a fairy-tale title win in 2015/16 – a season that saw Norwich relegated from the league for the second time in three seasons.
In past years, you might have been able to fairly compare Norwich to these teams, and suggest we are of similar stature, however, it is clear that City are not on that same level anymore.
Prior to their struggles this season, Swansea had cemented themselves in a mid-table position in the Premier League for the last 7 years. Despite being in the same league as Boro, we evidently lack the financial backing they have proven to have this past year, and Leicester, well, since their against-the-odds Premier League winning season and subsequent run in the Champions League – along with foreign investment leading to record-breaking signings – it is impossible to claim City are even close to their level now.
The issue here, for me, is too many of our fans believe we deserve more than we actually do. In Stuart Webber’s recent interview on the club’s official YouTube channel, he explains how the biggest surprise since joining the club, was the ”expectation on the club” from the fans, with regard to our financial position and league position.
We are a mid-table championship side, with fans who expect us to be in the top three, spending £10m+ on a striker. We simply cannot think like that anymore. If this season has shown us anything, it’s that you don’t have to spend millions on a player for them to possess the quality we need.
Take Tom Trybull and Christoph Zimmermann for example, who both signed for City on frees from foreign lower leagues. They didn’t set the club back significantly in a financial sense, the only risk being giving them the game time to show their ability, which has clearly paid off.
These low risk, high reward signings are exactly how the club needs to act now and in the future. Our current scouting network, aided by Farke and co’s German league knowledge, along with our youth setup, is vital to our philosophy and is what must be utilised if we are to progress as a club.
We can easily sign ten of these players for fees ranging from zero, to a couple of million, and if just two or three work out, it is still much better than splashing tens of millions of pounds on ‘quality’ or ‘well known’ players at this level. Expensive signings also have an increased chance of failing to live up to their billing, or simply bring too much ego and entitlement into the squad, which is something we cannot risk right now.
This is important, because one vital ingredient to Farke’s ideology, is having a team of players that actually want to play for Norwich City Football Club. If you watched Timm Klose’s 95th-minute equaliser against Ipswich live, or even on TV or highlights, then you will get what I mean.
We now have a squad of players willing to give it their all for the badge and for the fans – and this has been achieved by lowering the average age of the squad, and bringing in players who are hungry for game time, ready to give everything they have in order to show why they deserve their chance.
One shining example of this was the determination shown by Zimmermann in our 2-2 away comeback against league leaders Wolves. As this shows, he made a mistake but was intent on making up for that mistake, as far as to literally put his body on the line to prevent the Wolves attacker from being able to shoot.
This is what it means to him to play for Norwich, as he has taken his chance and proved to us why he deserves to wear the shirt – and we owe him for saving us many times this season, with last-ditch tackles and immense headers, not to mention how he adapted to the league after struggling a little initially.
These transfers are what we need if we are to commit to the ‘Webberlution’, despite the fans who want to see us sign players for big money.
Our fans’ attitude to the club and its stature could be justified if our recent spells in the Premier League were backed up by a glorious history. However, our honours list is small, as our rivals down in Suffolk never fail to remind us of frequently.
In 1962, we won the League Cup, a trophy we won again in 1985 – which actually marks the last time we won a notable trophy. Since then, we have ‘won’ promotion as Champions on three occasions, from Division 2 in 1986, Divison 1 in 2004 and League 1 in 2010, not to mention promotion as ‘runners up’ or through the playoffs on several occasions.
One ‘honour’ which the Ipswich fans love to point out to us, is the fact we have previously referenced ourselves as ‘participants’ in the 1993–94 UEFA Cup. Even though our run in Europe will always go down as one of the greatest times to be a Norwich City fan (despite not being alive myself to experience it), it is a little embarrassing to see it used as something to cling to as an ‘honour’.
History isn’t everything, but to be a big club you must have something to be able to back it up with. We aren’t fueled by middle eastern billionaires, we haven’t won anything in the last 30 years, and our recent Premier League history only shows what could have been if the club was looked after properly, as it is under Webber now.
In simple terms, we cannot continue to expect unrealistic things from our club. Recently a lot more of our fans have come to terms with our position, but I still see so much unnecessary negativity, and unfeasible expectation based from our past.
An example of this would be the expectation for us to beat Ipswich last week. This isn’t going to be easy reading, but on player-for-player terms, we are not much better than them. Currently we are both mid-table championship sides, the only real difference being that we have more ambition, and more potential for the future than them, as shown by their joke of a manager, puppet-like CEO, invisible owner and total lack of transparency to the fans, which almost (but not really) makes me feel sorry for them.
This shambolic management of their club has not gone unnoticed by the fans, as you can see by their dwindling attendances. Clearly we are always going to feel our players are better, but if that was the case, shouldn’t we be more than a single point above them in the league, and not having to rescue a draw in the 95th minute?
But that’s not all. Fans seemed to expect promotion this season. While at times not being far off the standard, we have fallen short and by some distance. We are in transition, and wouldn’t even be ready for the Premier League if we were to win promotion this season, so for me, the important thing is not just promotion, but doing it right and being ready for what comes after instead of ‘yo-yo’ing’ back and forth.
The players get it. They understand what should be expected of them, but give so much more than we deserve. As fans, we must do the same. This isn’t a piece aiming to have a go at our fans – I love this club and its fans, but as loyal supporters we must all come together to share that love for the club and its players; in moments like the march before Ipswich at home, and the atmosphere during the game, which emphasise exactly how we need to be.
We celebrate our wins (and draws – despite what Luke Chambers feels) together, but it is important we learn from defeat together too. Webber and Farke are building something special at our club. It will take time, but it will be worth it, and the future will be a great time to be a Norwich City fan – as long as you stick around to see it.
Cheers to Jack for sending us that thought-provoking piece and also for allowing us to use a couple of his excellent images.