Another day and another guest blog on MFW. Today it’s the turn of City fan and Radio Times writer, Hannah Shaddock.
There must be a German word for it, that simultaneous looking-back-while-looking-forward that is the constant state of the football fan.
How does this season, this manager, this match, this goal compare to those gone before? And what will this season, this manager, this match, this goal mean for us when we do it all again in a few months’ time?
Both impulses are particularly hard to resist as we approach the sharp end of the season, as the number of games remaining dwindles into single figures, and we keep sneaking glances at the table, keep doing the same sums, just in case we get a different, even more favourable answer.
In an attempt at divination, we look back: how does our record so far compare to previous campaigns, to 2004, 2011, 2015? How many points did the champions get last year, and the year before that? Can this squad’s standout performers compete with our hall-of-famers?
Tentatively, we look forward: we’re eight wins away, now seven, now six – what if we do it? What if we win the whole lot? Who will leave, who will we bring in, who could we beat, how many points will keep us safe?
What we’re really asking, over and over again, is the eternal past-present-future question: will this time be like the last time?
And yet to follow Norwich this season – to watch each week as 11 men in yellow and green play themselves into posterity – is a lesson in immediacy. This team is young, new, constantly evolving. With virtually every game the memory of last season is expunged, our expectations for the next exploded.
There have been more significant, more beautiful moments, but I keep going back to the almost inevitable instant when Onel Hernandez’s second against Nottingham Forest flew in, when all 97 previous minutes were irrelevant, gone – the whole of Carrow Road lived in that second. And it wasn’t even a winner.
Think: how many of those sublime seconds have we been given this season? How lucky have we been to enjoy ourselves so thoroughly? Yes, because of the glorious, entertaining football, but also because so few of us saw this coming. In August we looked back and grumbled; we looked forward and just hoped.
I know, it’s easy to love a team that’s winning, even more so to love a team that no one expected to win. But it’s easier than ever, too, to love this club, thanks to what’s happening off the pitch as well as on: the development of an open, mutual relationship between club and supporters, with head coach Daniel Farke leading the charm offensive; the deliberately inclusive campaign to revitalise the Barclay; the focus on long-term economic sustainability and the cultivation of young talent.
There’s more, too: a relentlessly likeable squad of players that isn’t full of competing egos, but a team in the truest sense.
There’s so much to relish: our thriving youngsters, Max, Ben, Todd, Jamal; Mo, Stiepi and Super Mario settling in, finding their form, defying their doubters; the renaissance of Zimbo, who was close to quitting football altogether; the battling Tommy Trybull and his baffling carrots hat; Emi’s magic feet and outsized influence; Onel’s head-down charges up the pitch; Teemu “on a free” Pukki confounding Celtic fans everywhere.
It’s rare for a present reality to match up both to past triumphs and the heady possibilities of an imagined future, but this (whisper it) seems to be one such season.
It’s a joy, of course, but bittersweet, too. We know it can’t last; in football, success breeds loss. This charmed team – maybe not soon, but eventually – will disband: players will be poached, the coach will move on, this feeling will slip away.
So what else is there to do but savour this? Let’s not look back, or forward. There are 12 games left in the run-in.
Don’t try to second-guess results, don’t worry about where we’ll be come the summer; this season will end before we know it.
There will be better ones, there will be worse ones, but there will never be another quite like this; even as it continues, and however it finishes, I’m already sad to see it go.
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