Measuring loyalty as a football fan is about as ambiguous a concept as they come.
Critically, what does it actually mean? Is it away games attended? Is it the longevity you’ve held a season ticket for? Is it money spent, or time invested in your club? More obscurely, is it knowledge and an ability to reel off facts and historic information?
A bit like Brexit, the fundamental point is that loyalty comes in multiple different forms. Indeed, the simple notion that many people miss is that it is entirely dependent on broader factors and circumstances: finances, family, jobs, schools; upcoming events or scenarios that may inhibit attendance at matches and time invested in a club.
There’s no point denying that the most basic way of showing loyalty is by attending matches. An inability to do so would be disingenuous and naive, dismissing those fans who do go home and away each week to so visibly show their support in front of the players themselves.
To merely brush aside those fans – myself included – who spend thousands of pounds each season trekking up and down the country as equal to those who simply listen to Chris Goreham’s eloquence at 3pm every Saturday would be unequivocally unfair.
However, just because I own a season ticket and was fortunate enough to go to all 23 league away games last year, do I consider myself more ‘loyal’ than those whose attendance was more limited? Absolutely not.
The point is, I have been extremely lucky over the past two seasons. I’m 22-years-old, have been a student, have had the financial means – largely facilitated by the generosity of Student Finance England – and have had no family or relationship-related issues to worry about. It’s been easy for me.
Yes, a considerable amount of money, time and effort has been invested – and it did feel slightly futile on many occasions during Daniel Farke’s first season in charge – but I appreciate I’ve essentially had a free rein to go to as many games as I desire.
But not everybody is in that position of fortune. Not everybody is able to afford the time or money to go to a Middlesbrough or a Hull on a gloomy Tuesday night. While at a firmly sodden KCOM Stadium for a Leitner-less and fluency-lacking 0-0 back in November, at times I envied them.
Young fans have exams. Older fans have jobs. Everyone has families, relationships; events in their life that are simply more important than 90 minutes of football. Yes, we’re all Norwich City fans, but we cannot allow something as contextually insignificant as 22 blokes on a pitch to solely and principally define our lives.
Of course, it does form an integral part of our identity, a source of conversation with new people we meet and a means of forging new friendships, but Norwich City Football Club is not the be all and end all.
For many fans – like me – relationships and social lives can be enjoyed in conjunction with football. I’ve been lucky enough to go to away games with the likes of my brother and so many broader friends, at times purchasing as many as 14 tickets together and enjoying memorable days at Selhurst Park, Hillsborough and Griffin Park.
But again, not everybody has that luxury.
The reason I write this piece is obvious. Twitter can be a poisonous place at times, an unrelenting cacophony of white noise where users place false labels on others based on premature presumptions and misconceptions. The club’s recent membership scheme only served to intensify that. At times, a simple search of ‘#ncfc’ could turn ugly.
The scheme was highly flawed. The abolition – albeit temporary – of away season tickets that impinged upon many people I follow on social media was a callous move by Ben Kensell and co, removing a special position and privilege for 250 heroic fans who were consistently guaranteed a ticket. Thankfully, such a move has been revoked.
However, the fact that fans like me and so many others who attended at least ten away games last season have been forced to pay what is essentially a loyalty-activation fee is farcical. Of course, those who travel the most should be given priority for tickets without having to fork out £50. The reasons why – time and money invested, effort, tangible support in front of the players – are obvious.
But does this category of nomadic, visible supporter make you more ‘loyal’? I don’t think so.
Again, and it doesn’t take a high intellect to grasp this, we are all Norwich City fans. 46 games or none, we all follow the same team and are united in a joint desire for it to succeed. That is the beauty of football. Embracing strangers when Mario Vrancic scores those late goals. Collective despondence after Leeds at home back in August.
Without trying to sound like Jeremy Hunt or any other eliminated Tory leadership candidate – why search for divisions when there is so much more that unites us?
So, please let’s drop this loyalty debate. Let’s drop these futile feuds over how we define it and what it actually means. Loyalty is ambiguous, multi-facetted and impossible to measure. Attendance at matches is, of course, dependent on so many wider factors. It’s important we remember that.
There’s more that unites us than divides us. Roll on August.